By Cameron Joseph
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is urging Republicans to keep a strict focus on the pocketbook concerns of voters in coming elections — and avoid social issues that have been the party’s Achilles’s heel in some recent campaigns.
Walker, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, also told The Hill the GOP can shed its reputation as the “party of no” only if it offers creative alternatives to Democratic policies they oppose, like ObamaCare.
“For us politically, it doesn’t make sense for us not to be focused on the fiscal and economic issues,” he said in a Monday interview.
“The left wants us to get off of economic and fiscal issues because they know in my state, and across America, that’s where Republicans have the edge.”Walker, one of several Republican governors eyeing a White House campaign, argued Republicans “have a convincing case to make” to younger, more libertarian-leaning voters on fiscal issues if they can avoid alienating them on other matters.
Asked about gay marriage, an issue that is currently dividing the GOP, Walker said: “I don’t talk about it at all. I don’t talk about anything but fiscal and economic issues in the state.”
Walker, who is promoting a new book,Unintimidated, wouldn’t promise to serve a full second term as governor if reelected in 2014.
He said it “would be nice” to have a full four-year term to target his legislative goals, without all the “commotion” of the recall election he faced in 2012 amid a nasty fight with Wisconsin’s public sector unions.
But Walker pointedly refused to rule out a 2016 White House run.
“It’s flattering for people to mention some other office, and who knows what the future will hold, but I’m focused on my current office,” he said.
Walker said his ideal candidate for 2016 would be a governor “outside Washington who has a proven record for reform.”
One of the chief problems for the GOP in the 2012 election, Walker said, is that Republicans failed to articulate a positive vision for voters to embrace.
He ripped Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, for failing to explain what he’d do as president.
“Right after my recall I was asked, literally the next day, could Mitt Romney carry Wisconsin? And I said absolutely, if he shows the ‘R’ next to his name stands not just for Republican but for reformer,” Walker said.
“My frustration was feeling the Romney camp was advising their candidate that all they needed to do was focus their attention on how bad things were under Barack Obama, that that would be enough. The Obama campaign, because [Republicans] didn’t fill that void, was able to make the ‘R’ next to his name stand for rich guy.”
“The last election, the reason social issues came up was because there was a void,” Walker added, referring to Democrats’ charges that Romney and Republicans were waging a “war on women.”
“The lesson after last November … wasn’t that Republicans need to change our positions, to magically be more moderate to win elections. The lesson was we have to focus on the things we care about and lead on those, and those are fiscal and economic issues.”
Walker sought to downplay his own efforts to curtail abortion rights in the state.
He’s signed bills into law to cut state funding for Planned Parenthood, tighten requirements for abortion providers and require women seeking abortions to first get ultrasounds.
“I signed hundreds of bills the last couple years. There’s literally a handful that relate to that issue,” he said.
“I’m still pro-life. Not having a highly controversial organization like Planned Parenthood take state taxpayer funds, instead relying on counties, gets some activists worked up, but taxpayers say, ‘What’s the big deal there?’ ”
Walker also declined to discuss an ongoing John Doe investigation in the state into whether his campaign and outside conservative groups broke any campaign laws during Wisconsin’s recall election.
“There’s no reason for me to comment on it. There’s only two ways — if someone’s been directly involved, they legally can’t comment on it, and if they haven’t been involved, they don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
Walker had kind words for both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and his friend, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
“Paul Ryan’s one of those unique leaders in there that, even though he’s in Congress, has some chief executive in him,” he said.
When asked about Christie, Walker defended the New Jersey governor from right-wing critics who question his conservative credentials.
“I think Chris Christie is a conservative. I don’t buy that he’s a moderate. There’s an issue or two, but that’s true for everyone,” said Walker, who compliments Christie several times in his new book.
“Chris, like me, took on the unions, took on the teachers union; he passed pension reform. Most of the grief he gets politically comes more from his embrace of the president around when Hurricane Sandy hit. He’s a pretty outspoken conservative.”
Walker has been critical of last month’s federal government shutdown, which was engineered by the House GOP with encouragement from Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah).
He said his reforms to Medicaid in the state — moving many on Wisconsin’s rolls into the private insurance market by giving them vouchers — was an example of thinking outside the box and coming up with the type of solution not found in Washington.
“The lesson learned with that is we shouldn’t be the party of no, of austerity. We should be the party of reform. … The larger point is, we have to offer a viable alternative to ObamaCare,” Walker said.