By Adam Weber.
It is nearing that time of the election cycle again, when Americans turn their attention to the 29th state in the nation, Iowa. The Hawkeye State captures the national spotlight once every four years as home to the very first presidential caucus, and for months, prospective 2016 presidential candidates have been attempting to woo the citizens of Iowa with stump speeches and campaign promises.
This weekend, prospective GOP candidates gathered in Des Moines for Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) inaugural Iowa Freedom Summit, a forum for grassroots conservative discussion on issues like economic policy, national defense, and social reform. Many prominent Republicans, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, attempted to rally support in front of the influential Iowan crowd. Even Donald Trump made an appearance, as he continues to hint at another presidential bid if none of the 2016 candidates can match up to his picture of conservatism. Some other notable faces included former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a 2012 GOP contender, and Dr. Ben Carson, a rising African-American star in the Republican Party and possible VP prospect. Also interesting was the absence of those considered 2016 frontrunners: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
However, in this field of presidential hopefuls, it was none other than Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who stole the show and carved himself a place in the minds of Iowans heading into primary season. Walker has not been taken very seriously as a presidential candidate, often overshadowed by the likes of Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and his good friend Chris Christie. But with Paul, Bush, and Christie on the sidelines, and a lackluster performance by the Florida Senator, Scott Walker emerged in Des Moines as a viable 2016 option for the GOP.
Walker stepped into the national spotlight in 2011 when he sparked protests and eventually survived a recall election that resulted from the governor’s policies to eliminate collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin public-sector labor unions. The protests that ensued gave Walker much notoriety, as liberals condemned him as an enemy of the working class and conservatives championed his fight for a merit-based economic system. Despite his recall victory and his 2014 reelection to the governor’s mansion, Walker has had a difficult time gaining traction as a presidential contender. One of his weaknesses, aside from never finishing his college degree, has been his struggle to truly capture the attention of his audiences, even being described as boring by some accounts. But this weekend was a different story, as a rejuvenated Scott Walker inspired a crowd of Iowans with a captivating 22-minute speech.
Walker’s address was well-targeted toward his audience in Des Moines, as he spoke on many issues that appeal to the grassroots wing of the conservative party. His populist tone was especially apparent as he denounced the “special interests” controlling Washington and described his aim to place the power back in the hands of the people. Expanding upon the theme of union overreach, Walker focused attention on Wisconsin’s education system, where teachers are now hired and fired based upon merit, not seniority. He touted his successful $2 billion tax reductions in Wisconsin, a blue state, in an attempt to eliminate all doubt that Walker is not conservative enough for a state like Iowa. Walker also touched upon social issues likely to sway the Iowa crowd, citing his pro-life policies and the voter-ID requirements in Wisconsin. The governor ended with a personal story about his humble roots in the Midwest, provoking an overwhelming ovation from convinced crowd.
Scott Walker is sure to face a great deal of obstacles on the road to the GOP nomination, but this weekend in Iowa was undoubtedly a step in the right direction for the Wisconsin governor. The establishment Republicans like Jeb Bush and recently Mitt Romney (both of whom were absentees this weekend) may have the clear fundraising advantage as we near 2016, but the ever-important Iowa crowd may have indicated that the Republican Party is looking to move in another direction, and Scott Walker just might be the man to take them there.