Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is sharpening his criticism of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, telling an audience at the Iowa State Fair on Monday that his fellow hopefuls might be scrappy fighters but they lack any victories.
It’s a necessary shift for Walker, who began the year atop the field of candidates competing in Iowa but has seen his standing sink as real estate mogul Donald Trump claimed the top spot in Iowa and national polls alike. Trying to steady his standing, Walker said Washington-based Republicans are not to be trusted and that political newcomers lack his record.
For Walker, this is becoming a make-or-break moment in his bid for the nomination. Politically shrewd, Walker realizes he peaked too early and he jumped into the race without adequate preparations to fend off criticism from rivals. The anti-union, anti-spending Republican captured the imagination of the conservative base of the party early on, but had little to keep them in his corner.
Now, Walker’s task is to remind conservatives why they like this son of a pastor in the first place. The mission is especially important in Iowa, where Walker was seen as a favorite but could see his campaign sputter if he cannot offer a decent finish when the caucuses are held in February of next year.
“They told us during the last election that if we just elected a Republican Senate, the leadership out there would put a bill to repeal Obamacare on the desk of the President. It’s August. We’re still waiting for that measure,” a feisty Walker told an audience who gathered to hear him speak in Des Moines.
Republicans did claim a majority during the 2014 midterm elections but failed to win enough seats to overcome procedural roadblocks that Democrats can still mount. Republicans are also still far short of the necessary votes they would need to override a veto from President Obama.
“We need leaders in Washington who will stand up against the President and say, ‘No, enough is enough, America wants you to stand up for your promises,’” Walker added.
The criticism was aimed not just at Establishment-minded leaders like Mitch McConnell of Kentucky—a pragmatist but hardly loved among the party’s base—but also at the quartet of GOP incumbents who are seeking the GOP nomination while holding day jobs in the Senate: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida. “Americans want you to stand up for your promises,” Walker said.
Turning to political newcomers, Walker said his electoral record in Wisconsin should inspire confidence. Walker was the first incumbent Governor to survive a recall election, and won three times in four years at the ballot box. His record drew praise from conservatives who saw him as an anti-union crusader who could go head-to-head with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
But, for the moment, his outsider status has been overshadowed by the never-before-elected trio of Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former tech executive Carly Fiorina.
“There’s only one candidate in this race who has fought and won and gotten results—even results in a blue state in Wisconsin—and did it without compromising our common sense conservative principles,” Walker said. “If you want someone who can win and get results and not compromise, I’m the candidate to send to the White House.”
Walker was a bit more circumspect when addressing Trump, who roared into the race with pledges to build a “great, great wall” along the U.S.-Mexican border. Trump’s anti-Establishment, anti-illegal immigration pitch helped him climb from punch line to political powerhouse, even as some in the party still expect voters to take a more sober approach to what a Trump White House would look like.
Trying to one-up Trump on the border issues, Walker said the U.S. should look to Israel for a model when it comes to security: “I was in Israel earlier this year. They built a 500-mile fence and they have it staffed and it has lowered terrorist attacks in that region by about 90-plus percent. We need to do the same on our border.”
Walker also took his shot at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has made education reform part of his public pitch. Bush and Walker—and four other rivals—were set to discuss education in detail during a forum on Wednesday in New Hampshire. Previewing his line of criticism against Bush, who backs education standards known as Common Core, Walker suggested his rival was a big-government advocate.
“No Common Core,” Walker said. “No nationwide school board.”