The Republican Party is undergoing a crisis of sorts. The party Establishment has been trying, without evident success, to make Republicanism more appealing to immigrant communities by softening its position on immigration. Large elements of the base have revolted against this plan, led (at the moment) by Donald Trump, who has advocated a vicious brand of nativist policies combined with populist defenses of progressive taxation and the social safety net, which appeal to Republican base voters and terrify the elites. The role of Scott Walker in this campaign is simple: He wants to hold together the old Republican coalition in every aspect. His life experience has taught him that maintaining the classic ’90s-era Republican doctrine and fighting for it as hard as possible will succeed in the end.
Walker has a new interview with John Harwood, in which this worldview spills out of every word. (The condensed version of the interview is available here; Harwood made the complete version available to me via email.) Walker is frequently duplicitous in the particulars, but he is completely authentic in the general. His neo-Reaganism comes through over and over.
1. Walker believes the Reagan coalition can still work:
Harwood: Nobody hugs Ronald Reagan closer than you do. He had in 1980 an electorate that was 88 percent white, and so did you in Wisconsin. The national electorate is not 88 percent white. If you took Reagan’s percentages with today’s makeup of the electorate, he would lose. Why is Reagan a good model in terms of the winning part?
Walker: The demographics you mentioned, I mean it’s an interesting question. The nation as a whole is not going to elect the next president. Twelve states are. Wisconsin’s one of them. I’m sitting in another one right now, New Hampshire. There’s going to be Colorado, where I was born, Iowa, where I lived, Ohio, Florida, a handful of other states. In total, it’s about 11 or 12 states that are going elect the next president.
Walker is referencing a position held by some conservatives, most notably, Sean Trende. It holds that Republicans don’t necessarily need to increase their vote totals among nonwhite voters, but instead can win by increasing the turnout of white voters, especially in the Midwest and in other heavily white states. So his assumption is that he can win without expanding the party’s appeal beyond Reagan-era constituencies.
2. Once in office, he will end the filibuster to pass his agenda with a straight majority vote.
Walker: I’ve said repeatedly I think they can pass it on a 51 vote. And I frankly, not just on this issue, I– I don’t buy the argument that that shouldn’t be the margin for just ab– anything going forward.
Harwood: You think they oughta get rid of the filibuster.
Walker: Yes. It’s on the constitution. I mean the– the constitution doesn’t require 60 votes for anything in the United States Senate. States all across America operate on simple majorities. The checks and balances are between the chambers and between the legislative branches.
Walker is right about this, by the way. The Constitution designed checks and balances to be between chambers. There is no filibuster in the Constitution, and no reason to believe its designers wanted a supermajority requirement for anything but the few instances, like treaties, where they designated it.
3. Walker is glad his state did not accept the Medicaid expansion because it would make it more difficult to repeal Obamacare:
Harwood: You talked about– Medicaid. And your repeal plan for Obamacare cuts Medicaid. I was talking to Governor Kasich about this a couple weeks ago. And asked him about his decision to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. He said, “First of all, Ronald Reagan expanded Medicaid, so did I. And I did it because this was tax money that Ohio sent to Washington that I was able to bring back. And it was good for the people of my state.”
Walker: That’s precisely what’s wrong with the federal government, is everybody thinks it’s okay to take money, but somebody else has gotta pay for it, when we’re all paying for it. We’re all the taxpayers. To me, I didn’t take it. I did not take the Medicaid expansion, ‘cause I thought it would further inf– reinforce– Obamacare, it would– make it that much more difficult to repeal it.
4. But Walker defends spending taxpayer money to subsidize the state’s NBA franchise on the grounds that it is a good deal for taxpayers:
Walker: We have an entity, it’s not a private business, it’s something that’s a bigger community interest there. And we just know flat out– I mean– we’d be fools to do this. I’d be the– any of my constituents, Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, would say– for a three to one return on investment, you didn’t do this? For th– we get $3 directly of income taxes for every dollar– the state puts in. It’s less than $4 million a year. We get $300 million back over this– over a 20 year period.
This logic would surely make an even stronger case for accepting Medicaid financing from the federal government. The financial benefits to a state of collecting 90 percent subsidized coverage for Wisconsinites who are too poor to afford their own insurance (and would otherwise crowd into emergency rooms, which must treat them) is a much stronger rate of return for a state than subsidizing a stadium. It is also a stronger “community interest.” Walker believes in supporting business and not subsidizing a bunch of poor people.
5. When told that his health-care plan would take resources from the poor and sick and give them to the affluent and healthy, Walker repeats the word freedom a lot:
Harwood: On your Obamacare repeal, let’s start with Obamacare. It redistributed money from high income taxpayers, from healthy people, from younger people, to people who had less money, who were older, and sicker. Your repeal would– tra– redistribute that money in the other direction. Given the trends of– income disparity in the country, why is this the right time for that kind of redistribution?
Walker: Our– our system’s purely about freedom. It’s about giving people the freedom. It’s all–
Harwood: Right, but it has the effect–
Walker: But it’s all about freedom.
Harwood: –of going to– younger, healthier, higher income people, compared to the situation now.
Walker: Well, the– the tax credit goes up by age, not by income. It goes up by age. Because the credit should be connected to what it actually costs people to get health insurance. It’s not about a redistribution of wealth issue, it’s about saying, “We’ll get people help of they … And– and– and– no, and we allow people to buy into whatever– give ‘em the freedom. It’s all about freedom. We give patients as consumers the freedom to choose where they wanna go, or, frankly, part of our plan says if you wanna pool together your resources as consumers, and pick your own plan you can do that on your own, or you can go to– existing one, you can go to any of those options. You have the freedom to take this tax credit, to take your money, and pick where you wanna go, or if you wanna have health care at all. We don’t have a mandate. We wiped the mandate out there.
And on top of that, we say you can control your own money. And we do it not only with buying a health care– plan, we do it with money for a health savings account, whether you have– your own health care plan through your employer or you buy one individually. It’s all about freedom.
This is a very classic conservative idea of freedom: It means the freedom to earn what you can in the marketplace and not have government redistribute resources to those who are less fortunate.
6. Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts deserve credit for the economy of the 1990s, even after Bill Clinton raised taxes:
Harwood: When Ronald Reagan came in, the top marginal income tax rate was 70 percent. He cut it to 50 percent. Then he had, in his second term, a tax reform that took the top rate down to 28 percent. What is Scott Walker’s modern-day version of the Reagan agenda on taxes?
WALKER: Well, we’re going to lay that out in about a month and a half. That would be a model—you look at ‘86, when I was still in high school, what he did with those changes, putting in two rates. Because you saw, in the period of time after that, some of the best sustained economic growth we’d had in modern American history. It didn’t just help under the Reagan tenure, the economic boom continued into Bush 41. It actually is part of why Bill Clinton was in the situation he was in—because of the benefit of Reagan’s economic plan.
7. If pressed with a Reagan position he cannot defend, Walker will pretend he cannot understand it:
Harwood: Ronald Reagan, as you know, strongly opposed the passage of Medicare, said it was an infringement of liberty, socialized medicine. Was he right about that?
Walker: Well, we’re not going to take Medicare away. He gave that speech, as I remember, three years before I was born. So I can’t judge what he meant at the time.
It is actually very easy to judge what Reagan was saying about Medicare. He was calling it a socialist scheme that would lead to doctors being told where they could live, and would destroy freedom in America.
8. Walker is so totally committed to his Middle American identity, it extends to his eating habits:
Harwood: Now, your communications people tell me that, basically, all you eat on the road is ham sandwiches. (CHUCKLE) Tell me about that.
Walker: Occasionally I’ll get– an icon (UNINTEL) sumpin’ else. But to me, ham and cheese is sumpin’ I’ve had for– boy, about 25 years. Two ham and cheese sandwiches most days packed in a brown bag.
In a world where President Obama is wooing the Jewish vote by showing off his love of bagels, Walker is an aggressively goyish eater.