Scott Walker Is Tough. Is That Enough?

Chasing the Iowa vote.

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

More than most Republican contenders for the presidency, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who made his official entrance into the campaign Monday, is known for his style of politics -- combative -- rather than the substance of his views. He regales conservative audiences with his success in defeating public unions in his home state and surviving three tough elections. 

Winning elections takes political skill, and no president can succeed without that. Toughness, though, is variable, and more complex. In an era of stagnant middle-class wages, declining unionization and soft labor markets, it's not clear that unions posed the toughest threat to prosperity in Wisconsin. 

It's also unclear how Walker's brand of toughness applies to the presidency. He has claimed that when President Ronald Reagan broke an air-traffic controllers' strike in 1981, it marked "the beginning of the end of the Cold War." And he has equated his own defeat of public unions in Wisconsin with his capacity to defeat Islamic State. 

It is difficult to overstate how dubious such claims are. 

Now that he's officially in the contest, Walker should assume he's already made his case on style: Granted, he's tough. It's time to move on to substance. 

His first effort should be to clarify his stand on immigration, which he has muddled by saying different things to different people at different times. A candidate for county executive might get away with that. A leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination cannot. The same applies to Walker's position on education standards. 

Walker has ample time and opportunity to make his views clear in the months ahead. For the moment, he seems intent on wooing Iowa conservatives in hopes of triumphing in the first presidential contest. As he surveys the crowded field of well-funded challengers, it may seem expedient to curry favor with archconservative Iowans. The danger is that he will back himself into an ideological corner. And that would be the opposite of tough.

Read more from this series:
Jim Webb's Rebellion
Chris Christie's Tell-All Campaign
Bobby Jindal's Fading Star 
Trump Jumps In
Jeb Bush's Mission
Rick Perry Rides Again
Lincoln Chafee's One Issue
Martin O'Malley's More Than Marginal
The Other Lindsey Graham
George Pataki's Curious Candidacy
Rick Santorum's Only Chance
Ben Carson, Political Novice
Carly Fiorina's Best Argument
What Is a Sanders Democrat?
Which Marco Rubio for President?
It's a Race, Hillary. Start Running.
Why Rand Paul Matters
Ted Cruz Is No Captain Courageous

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