Mitt Romney’s decision not to run for president Friday is being portrayed as a big boost for the other big name in the field, Jeb Bush. Yet, Romney threw water on that notion by suggesting that the “next generation” of GOP leaders may have the best chance to capture the White House.
Before this long campaign is over, we’ll see many of the candidates — new generation and old — in the huge GOP field have their moment in the sun. The man having that experience now is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Walker won plaudits from Republican strategists and the media for his strong showing at the first big GOP candidate forum, the Iowa Freedom Summit, last weekend. The Hill newspaper declared, “Walker takes Iowa by storm.” The Washington Times quoted GOP “observers” saying he managed to appeal to a cross-section of Republican groups from the Tea Party to mainline business conservatives to the religious right. The Iowa caucuses in February officially start the nominating process.
Walker won that enthusiasm by himself being enthusiastic and positive, and boasting about his record of winning three gubernatorial elections in four years. That was a reference to his reducing the privileges of Wisconsin’s biggest anti-taxpayer groups, the public employee unions; surviving a nationally funded, labor-backed recall campaign against him, and then winning re-election against those same forces. And this in a state Republicans haven’t carried in a presidential race since 1984.
Walker, his shirt sleeves rolled up, said in an energetic 20-minute speech that his record “sends a powerful message to Republicans in Washington and around the country — if you’re not afraid to go big and go bold, you can actually get results. And if you get the job done, the voters will actually stand up with you.” That “go bold” was music to conservative ears.
Of course, no one knows how long Walker can bask in that Iowa glow before the sun shines on another contender. A few days later, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida impressed an audience of GOP donors meeting in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Still, Walker got a bit of encouragement from an unexpected source at week’s end. Politico obtained a poll conducted by Democrat liberals who’d like left-wing firebrand Elizabeth Warren to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. The poll was intended to display Hillary Clinton’s vulnerabilities in 2015 — 43 percent of respondents viewed her favorably while 48 percent didn’t. That survey also showed that the GOP candidate polling best against her was Walker, trailing her 45-42 percent, within the poll’s margin of error.
One reason that Romney’s withdrawal was viewed as favoring Bush was that the two heavyweights were competing for the big bucks from the big donors in the GOP establishment. Yet, Walker and other GOP governors such as Chris Christie of New Jersey, by virtue of their position and winning records, are establishment figures as well and will compete with Bush for that cash.
What’s more, they can offer something Bush can’t — a fresh face. Bush vs. Clinton would be a tired rematch from the 20th century with little excitement except for one thing. Clinton would afford the opportunity of electing the first female president.
To counter that, Republicans might need a candidate who looks like the century ahead instead of the one behind us. Romney could be right about the “next generation” offering the best hope for a GOP White House.