Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker eased conservative concerns this week when he met with about 40 organization leaders on Capitol Hill.
Walker’s appearance, which was closed to media, wasn’t unusual for a likely presidential candidate who does not work in Washington, but it did represent a shift from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whom many conservative activists felt slighted by. It also showed Walker’s effort to mend frayed relations with social conservatives who grew concerned by a series of actions they saw as red flags.
Walker met with fiscal conservatives in February while he was in town for a National Governors Association meeting, but this week’s gathering included a who’s who of social conservative groups. Walker stood at the door to greet attendees and pose for photos. For some, it was the first time they had met him, and several told me he made a positive impression.
“He’s got a really well-developed worldview,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, a group representing about 500,000 activists around the country—including some 12,000 in Iowa, where Walker is the early GOP frontrunner. “He was thinking about the big issues at an age when the rest of us were thinking about who to go with to prom.”
Nance said she is taking a wait-and-see approach to the candidates, but she came away impressed with Walker’s policy knowledge: “People asked him questions—hard questions—and he seemed prepared.”
Topics spanned a wide range—foreign policy, life, marriage, immigration, education, and more. Walker voiced support for a constitutional amendment allowing states to determine their own marriage laws and a 20-week abortion ban—one of the issues that had caused conservative angst.
Last year, the Susan B. Anthony List began collecting commitments for the 20-week ban from GOP presidential contenders, and for months Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were the only two holdouts. Eventually both expressed their support, but the delay didn’t win them any favorability points in the crowded field.
“When you’re last on the train, you’re not first on the list,” said SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser, who last week penned an enthusiastic op-ed praising Carly Fiorina’s pro-life views. She told me Walker’s remarks helped put her concerns to rest.
Other activists have worried about less-than-conservative hires to Walker’s team and statements that suggested he might want to avoid social issues. But his performance this week went a long way to changing that perception, attendees said, as he touted signing Wisconsin’s sonogram bill and vowed to sign a 20-week abortion ban moving through the state legislature.
Walker addressed several concerns before they could be brought up as questions, an approach several attendees appreciated.
“He was defending himself, but he didn’t come across as defensive,” said Tom McClusky, a long-time conservative activist who is vice president of government affairs for the March for Life. McClusky cited Walker’s hiring of Andrew Bremburg, a reliable conservative policy wonk, as a particularly encouraging sign.
Walker, who told WORLD he’s seeking God’s will about whether to run for president, said he would make an official announcement in the summer, once the Wisconsin state budget is finalized. He’s currently ranked No. 1 in WORLD’s weekly 2016 presidential power rankings.
The poll numbers put Walker among the top tier of 2016 candidates, but they also reveal how many in the party still don’t know him. A Public Policy Polling survey released last week found 34 percent of GOP primary voters were undecided about Walker—the highest in a field including political novice Ben Carson.
Walker has embraced the label of Washington outsider, but his meetings this week underscore the importance of ties with outside groups that represent much of the party base.
Other attendees included: Jerry Boykin with the Family Research Council, Morton Blackwell with the Leadership Institute, Tim Goeglein with Focus on the Family, Charmaine Yoest with Americans United for Life, Jeanne Monahan with the March for Life, Brian Brown with the National Organization for Marriage, Grover Norquist with Americans for Tax Reform, Brent Bozell with For America, Phil Kerpen with American Commitment, Chuck Cunningham with the National Rifle Association (NRA), former NRA president David Keene, and activist Ginni Thomas.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Photo: Scott Walker
Photo courtesy: Wikipedia
Publication date: May 26, 2015