Scott Walker shouldn't crown himself too soon

The latest entry into the mob of 2016 Republican presidential candidates, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, is said to be his own political consultant, having spent much of his life running for one office or another, starting in high school.

In his announcement the other day, he anointed himself a winner, having won most of the elections he's entered by listening to his own counsel. He is said to have personally overseen the creation of his campaign in Iowa for the first state precinct caucuses, for which most polls show him running well ahead of the field.


In a recent New York Times profile on him, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was quoted saying, "If I know Scott Walker, he probably knows the media markets just as well in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as he does in Wisconsin," referring to the earliest pre-convention voting states.

Mr. Walker at age 47 appears so confident of capturing the nomination that he recently floated speculation that one of his challengers, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, would make a good running mate for him. In a Bloomberg News interview, he cited talk of "quite a few people" about a Walker-Rubio ticket.


"I like Marco Rubio a lot," he said, adding, "Obviously, I'm deferential to governors. I think we bring a lot to the table, as having proved executive experience. But I do like Marco Rubio."

The Florida senator brushed off the putdown, quipping that "a Walker-Rubio ticket may be fine, but it's got to be in alphabetical order." Most presidential candidates routinely dismiss any such vice-presidential talk even more emphatically than that, as a kiss of death to their loftier objective.

For a presidential aspirant like Mr. Walker, however, circulating such talk comes off as uncommonly presumptuous, especially from a regional political figure best known outside the Midwest for surviving a recall for busting public employee unions in his state.

Mr. Walker, in heavily targeting neighboring Iowa on what seems a make-or-break gamble to ignite his campaign, counts on the state being a sure-fire launching pad. But history challenges the notion. Hillary Clinton found that out in 2008, when she finished third in the caucuses there. Even Ronald Reagan lost the Iowa caucuses in 1980 to the senior George Bush, before recovering in New Hampshire and going on to the Republican nomination.

It's no surprise that the political consultant in Scott Walker would see Mr. Rubio, son of naturalized Cuban immigrants, as a magnet for Hispanic support to his own ticket. Mr. Walker's own candidacy is built on his strong appeal to the white conservative heart of today's Republican Party.

His fervent embrace of Christian evangelicals and his outspoken opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage are unlikely to gain his candidacy many ethnic or racial minority votes. And without that support, the GOP itself could wind up in permanent minority status in the foreseeable future.

The party's right-wing quest for philosophical purity may well have found its 2016 nominee in Mr. Walker. But as a general election candidate next year, he would find it hard going, with or without a running mate like Mr. Rubio. Historically, voters cast their preference for the presidential nominee, not for the second name on the ballot.

Only rarely, as in 1960 when it could be argued that Lyndon Johnson helped carry Texas for John Kennedy, has a running mate made a difference in the outcome. So Scott Walker the candidate would be unwise to let Scott Walker the clever political consultant get ahead of himself, when he is faring well in a few early public-opinion polls before any real votes have been cast.


Mr. Walker's highfalutin speculation on Mr. Rubio as his running mate is one of those political calculations best left to the smoke-filled rooms of yore. The intense young governor of Wisconsin may think he's got it all figured out. But the old adage, that an accused man who defends himself has a fool for a lawyer, may in this case have a political application as well.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is