Scott Walker Fights for Republican and Tea Party Love as He Enters 2016 Race

The Wisconsin governor is the 15th GOP candidate to enter a race in which he'll have to fight the competition is in his own conservative corner of the party before he takes on the wider field of candidates.

by Liz Fields
Jul 13 2015, 3:50pm

Photo by Mike Theiler/EPA

On Monday morning, Scott Walker, who already had his big reveal ruined after someone accidentally tweeted and then deleted his 2016 campaign announcement ahead of the weekend, formally laid out those not-so surprising plans. This time he didn't delete.

The 45th Governor of Wisconsin today became the latest and 15th Republican contender in a fast-growing field of candidates vying for the GOP vote and campaign dollars. But Walker has also just signed up to a competition among a smaller group vying for some love from the Tea Party, which currently has several candidates vying for its support. Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul have all at one time or another held the coveted titles of "darling," "crown prince," and "favorite" in reference to their rising star power within the party, and Walker also wants in.

To compete in the 2016 skirmish, Walker has had to establish himself as a conservative social as well as economic ideologue, by flaunting his stances on sticky subjects like abortion, immigration, gay marriage, and areas where other candidates have been quick to publicly tout their own socially conservative views. His efforts appear to be paying off. Early nationwide polls pull Walker out of the fast-growing file of potential GOP nominees, and put him at the front of the pack along with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has thus far failed to submit on several key issues to his party's ideological right wing.

Related: Bernie Sanders Takes On Scott Walker In Front of Record Crowd in Wisconsin

While large pockets of America celebrated last month's Supreme Court gay marriage decision, Walker is firmly establishing his position among a camp of conservatives resisting the ruling, even promising to push for a Constitutional amendment to allow individual states to take up the issue, much to the chagrin of his kids. For someone who once said he didn't talk about gay marriage at all — or any matter not related to the economy — he sure has had a lot to say on it lately.

Walker, 47, is the son of a preacher — a Baptist minister to be precise — and an outspoken evangelical proponent who has lately been on an appeasement spree with conservative Christian powerbrokers and interest groups. Just three days before his formal campaign announcement Monday afternoon, Walker said he planned to sign a controversial bill banning all non-emergency abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It was a hearty flip-flop for Walker, who last year expressed his support for leaving "the final decision to a woman and her doctor," during his re-election campaign for governor.

That view ticked off a number of critics on the right who lambasted Walker's laissez-faire attitude on what they saw as a life-or-death decision. In response, the governor rolled out the red carpet for the abortion bill, and threw in an extra request for no exceptions to the bill, even for rape or incest survivors, for good measure.

Most raped women are only "concerned" about abortion in the "initial months" of pregnancy, Walker said earlier this month to justify his call.

To curry favor with the powerful National Rifle Association and other pro-gun activists and lobbyists, Walker also signed two bills last month loosening gun restrictions in his state, just days after a gunman massacred nine black church congregants in a racially motivated shooting in South Carolina.

On Monday, on his website Walker reiterated his conservative credentials in his new campaign video.

"For too long, they've said we have to compromise our principles to win," a woman says in the beginning video voiceover. "Scott Walker showed the path to victory is to run on our principles; conservative, bold, decisive."

Related: Wisconsin's Giving Florida a Run for Its Money When it Comes to Denying Climate Change

Walker's political career began at 25, after rose from college drop-out and one-time Red Cross fundraiser to State Assemblyman in 1993. When he made it to the governor's mansion in 2011, Walker almost immediately closed in on a budget repair bill that sought to cut out most collective bargaining rights for public workers, which spurred rounds of protests and controversy that launched him into national political notoriety.

The next year, Walker survived Wisconsinites' demands for a recall election as a result of that bill, becoming the only US governor to ever do so. In the years since, the governor has continued to establish his appeal among fiscal conservatives with a pro-business agenda, defending tax subsidies, deregulation and decreased government spending, for which he has earned the support of the Koch brothers and a cut of their billion-dollar campaign piggy bank.

Walker's long association with the Koch brothers has stirred great interest, particularly after the governor got punked in 2011 by a blogger pretending to be David Koch on a recorded phone call.

Walker may have lived down the embarrassment of that conversation in which he talked about busting Wisconsin's unions, and inserting paid agent provocateurs to disrupt protests outside the state Capitol, but jibes from opposition about the brothers' puppetry powers over Walker keep coming.

Related: Wisconsin Passes 20-Week Abortion Ban as Scott Walker Preps for Presidential Bid

Koch dollars already put Walker at an advantage over of his Republican rivals and Tea Party favorites. And if his campaign clip is any indication of what's to come in the 2016 race, Walker will continue to press the point of his status as a Washington outsider, and eliminate the competition by attacking anyone with ties to Capitol Hill (Rand, Rubio, and Cruz) — a tactic also employed by Bush and others who have decried the DC political machine as impotent and insular.

"American needs new fresh leadership, with big, bold ideas from outside of Washington to actually get things done," Walker, who has previously stated his belief that both names on the presidential ticket should be a "former or current governor," said in the video.

"In the republican field there are some who are good fighters," he said. "They haven't won those battles."

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