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A 60-Second Guide to Scott Walker

Everything you need to know about the newest 2016 Republican presidential candidate.
July 13, 2015, 11:02pm
Photo by John Pemble via Flickr

On Monday morning, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced via Twitter that he is running for president, becoming the 15th Republican to pile into the clown car that's careening into 2016.

I'm in. I'm running for president because Americans deserve a leader who will fight and win for them. - SW — Scott Walker (@ScottWalker)July 13, 2015

If you thought Walker was already running, that's understandable. Such is the derangement of our national electoral process that Walker, who has been in the news as an all-but-certain candidate for more than a year—and as a frontrunner in the Republican race since April—is only just now officially declaring his candidacy. Thankfully, he's also the last top-tier candidate we were waiting on to get in the race, so with the exception of a few stragglers like Ohio Governor John Kasich and some dude named Jim Gilmore, the field is now set, which means the race now moves into its knockout round.

With his formal campaign launch Monday, Walker cements his status as one of the GOP's leading options. Currently, national polls show Walker with about 9 percent support among Republican voters, trading off with Donald Trump for second place behind Jeb Bush. As far as Republicans go, Walker is sort of a compromise candidate—a Midwestern middle ground for conservative voters turned off by Bush's center-right blandness, but who haven't gone so far down the rabbit hole that they think Ben Carson is a reasonable option.

That's not to say Walker isn't an arch-conservative. A small-government, big-business governor, Walker has become a national political celebrity thanks to his union-busting, surviving a 2012 recall election after signing a budget bill that dramatically curbed collective bargaining for public-sector workers. Walker's relationship with organized labor is so nasty and antagonistic that AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka's entire statement reacting to his announcement was, "Scott Walker is a national disgrace."

Walker's other actions as governor — including cutting taxes for the wealthy, despite growing budget shortfalls; slashing spending on public universities; signing right-to-work legislation; relaxing gun control laws; and implementing Wisconsin's strict voter ID bill—have only solidified his reputation as a conservative hero, and as Public Enemy No. 1 for the political left.

Walker isn't necessarily a card-carrying Tea Party member, but he's trying real sweatily to court those voters. Since revealing his presidential ambitions, Walker has made a hard swing to the right on social issues. Last week, he announced he planned to sign a bill that would ban abortions in Wisconsin after 20 weeks—and according to state lawmakers, the governor specifically requested that the bill include no exceptions for cases of rape and incest, in case anyone was wondering just how seriously Scott Walker hates abortions. In the wake of last month's Supreme Court on gay marriage, Walker also said he would push Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment that would protect state bans on same-sex unions.

To many, these moves suggest that Walker picks his positions based on whatever is most likely to get him elected—a surprising accusation in politics, I know. The general Conventional Wisdom holds that if Walker can't win the Iowa Caucuses he's done. And Iowa Republicans, as you may have heard, are overwhelmingly conservative, dominated by a sizable chunk of evangelical voters who tend to decide presidential primary races. Given that the last two Republicans to win the Iowa—Rick Santorum in 2012, and Mike Huckabee in 2008—are both running again this year, it's not surprising that Walker is stepping up his pro-life, anti-gay game.

In fact, Santorum wasted no time firing a shot at Walker, capitalizing on comments the Wisconsin governor's wife made to the _to the _Washington Post_ last week_ that suggested the rest of the Walker clan may not have been totally on board with their patriarch's anti-gay marriage shift. "Spouses matter," Santorum said in an interview with the _Daily Caller_published Monday. "When your spouse is not in-sync with you—particularly on cultural issues, moral issues—[you] tend not be as active on those issues."

But Walker has something neither Santorum nor Huckabee have, namely the Koch brothers and their enormous fundraising apparatus. Although the free-market-loving brothers have been saying they won't officially endorse a candidate, they're ties to Walker go way back, and in April, they hinted that they would be very, very happy if he ran for president.

Support from the Kochs and their $900-million war chest could help Walker take on Jeb Bush, the presumptive Republican frontrunner whose enormous fundraising machine, which has already raised more than $100 million. Walker has started taking some early shots at Bush, calling him " a name from the past," casting himself as the candidate who represents the newer, more partisan direction of the Republican Party.

Of course, Walker still has to beat out Rubio and Cruz, not to mention the 12,000 other goofballs running for the GOP nomination, if he wants to have the honor of challenging Jeb post-Iowa. To do that, he'll need to strengthen some of his weak spots, including a so-far hilarious ineptitude on foreign policy. And while he might have the guy-you'd-want-to-get-a-beer-with vibe that somehow earned George W. Bush eight years in the Oval Office, lots of people don't think Walker is very smart, due in part to the fact that he never got around to graduating from college.

Walker's shot at the party's nomination is real, though—as Walker himself will be the first to tell you. "Americans want to vote for something and for someone," Walker said in a speech marking his official campaign launch Monday night. "So tonight, let me tell you what I'm for. I'm for reform, growth, safety. I'm for transferring power from Washington into the hands of hard working tax payers in all states across the country, that's real reform."

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