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Scott Walker Could be President



Paul Waldman on the political implications of Scott Walker’s remarkably cruel and reactionary policy record:

Well those days are long past. In the 2016 GOP primaries, it’s compassionless conservatism that’s in fashion.

Or at least that’s what Scott Walker seems to think, because among other things, he is hell-bent on making sure that anyone who gets food stamps in Wisconsin has to endure the humiliation of submitting to a drug test. First the Wisconsin legislature sent him a bill providing that the state could test food stamp recipients if it had a reasonable suspicion they were on drugs; he used his line-item veto to strike the words “reasonable suspicion,” so the state could test any (or all) recipients it wanted. And now, because federal law doesn’t actually allow drug testing for food stamp recipients, Walker is suing the federal government on the grounds that food stamps are “welfare,” and welfare recipients can be tested.

This is why Scott Walker is never going to be president of the United States.

I wish this was true — but I don’t think it is.

I would agree with a more modest form of this argument. Presidential elections are largely, but not entirely, decided by economic fundamentals. Voter perceptions of a candidate’s ideology do matter at the margin. Walker is the most conservative viable candidate for the Republican nomination, and Paul is right that he isn’t able to mask this effectively. This would probably cost him a couple of points in the popular vote that the Republican nominee is unlikely to be able to spare.

But is it impossible for Walker to win, assuming he has enough political competence to secure the Republican nomination? I don’t think so. It hurts, but it’s not dispostive. The 2000 election shows the importance of ideological positioning — if Gore had been perceived by the electorate to be no further to the left than Bush was to the right, the election would have been beyond the ability of Republicans to steal. But despite this handicap Gore still won the popular vote, and still would have been elected president had there not been a third party vanity campaign or had Democrats been in charge of the executive branch of the Florida government. Marginal disadvantages can be overcome.

If I were a Republican, I would certainly support Rubio, as there’s probably not a dime’s worth of difference between what a Rubio and Walker presidency would look like policy-wise, and Rubio is better at appearing moderate. But is it impossible for Walker to win? Absolutely not. If the fundamentals turn against the Democrats enough, he can.

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