Just weeks away from likely entering the 2016 presidential race, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is putting his Republican rivals on notice that he plans to position himself as a get-it-done governor in a field with several members of Congress and former chief executives.
Mr. Walker’s latest audition came Saturday night when he keynoted the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Patriot’s Gala in Washington, carefully mixing withering attacks on President Obama with folksy Midwest humor and a healthy touch of faith and support for Israel.
Earlier in the year, many social conservatives expressed doubts that Mr. Walker’s team was not nearly conservative enough for the governor to position himself to become the GOP nominee. They also worried that Mr. Walker might be inclined to avoid serious discussions on social issues during the 2016 election cycle.
However, many pro-life leaders came forward to defend Mr. Walker, including the editor of LifeNews.com, Steven Ertelt, who tweeted that the governor “signed pro-life bills, worked directly [with] pro-lifers … and that’s more credible than hearsay about potential staffers.”
Mr. Walker left no doubt Saturday about his social conservative credentials.
Before Saturday evening’s gala began, Mr. Walker spoke privately to a group of VIP pro-life supporters, reminding them that his work on the issue dated back to his college years working with Birthright at Marquette University. Mr. Walker also expressed that he feels the protection of religious liberties is the foundation of this country and something he vows to continue defending.
“Should I choose to get in and have the honor of being elected, you know there will be a champion in the White House for those same shared values,” he told the crowd.
Later that night, Mr. Walker opened his keynote speech with a moment of silence and prayer for the “nine brothers and sisters of Christ that were taken on Wednesday” in Charleston as well as for their families, friends and communities.
He expressed his feelings about the recent increase in the polarization of Americans surrounding such events as the Charleston shooting, saying, “It’s really about all of us and trying to find a way to bring this country together instead of ways to pull us apart.”
During Mr. Walker’s keynote dinner speech, he also called for drastic changes in foreign policy, specifically in the Middle East, where the Islamic State is thriving. “Our enemy today is like a virus, and if we don’t take it out, it’s going to take us out. We need someone who has got the courage to say that, on behalf of your children and mine, I’d rather take the fight to them instead of wait[ing] until they bring the fight to us,” he warned.
Mr. Walker also mocked the president’s recent speech in which he said climate change was the biggest threat facing America.
“I’ve got a message for you, Mr. President: The No 1. threat to the military, the No 1. threat to America, the No 1. threat to the world is radical Islam. It’s time we do something about it,” he said to roaring cheers.
He won several cheers and standing ovations from the crowd of social conservatives, and handed them a heavy dose of his record of success in Wisconsin that ranged from a balanced budget and concessions from public unions to religion-friendly policies.
Seeking to differentiate himself from some of his potential rivals, most of whom serve in an often-dysfunctional Congress or have been out of office for some time, Mr. Walker said he was a unique combination of fighter and election and policy victor.
“We fight the good fight and win those fights over and over and over again,” he said.
He also received support from Concerned Women for America President and CEO Penny Nance and Faith & Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed.
In Ms. Nance’s introduction of Mr. Walker, she described him as a person whose “faith informs his beliefs and actions.” She further noted their personal similarities, including their religious commitments and being children of preachers. Ms. Nance outlined Mr. Walker’s efforts in the pro-life movement, including his support for a 2013 ultrasound bill, his recent signing of a 20-week abortion ban and his defunding of Planned Parenthood.
Mr. Walker remains a top contender in the polls and is continuing to “test the waters.” He is expected to announce on July 13 and has been near the top in early polls. Beyond selling his record and his Christian credentials, Mr. Walker also showed he has some humor — at the expense of fellow Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan.
Reminiscing about their earlier years of working at McDonald’s back in Wisconsin, Mr. Walker told the crowd that “the only difference is, his manager actually told him he has to flip hamburgers in the back because he didn’t have the interpersonal skills to work the cash register.”