In his first presidential campaign video in 2015, Scott Walker said his GOP rivals “haven't consistently taken on the big fights,” such as his successful battle to gut public unions. He boasted, “I know how to fight and win.”
Walker proclaimed himself the voice of a conservative revolution in the heartland, a small-government Republican at the vanguard and a possible future president.
In the months leading up to launching his presidential campaign, Walker and the state’s Republican legislative majority presided over the state in a way that seemed designed to shore up his conservative credentials.
Today, however, the author of Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge is feeling very intimidated by the backlash against Donald Trump and the changing mood of the electorate. He’s trying to walk back the radical-right image he worked so hard to cultivate. He’s trying paint himself as a centrist.
Democrats say he’s stealing their best ideas. And, they add, he can't be trusted to follow through on them.
“In trying to win a third term, Scott Walker is campaigning as if his first two terms did not exist,” said Scot Ross, director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now.
For instance, Walker refused to implement Obama’s 2010 health care law. He turned down $200 million of federal money for Medicaid expansion, a move that Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau said at the time would cost state taxpayers an additional $460 million through 2020 and cause the state to lose hundreds of middle-class jobs.
Now Walker is proposing measures to stabilize the state Obamacare marketplace. He also wants to ban policy denials for people with pre-existing conditions, a popular provision of Obama's signature law.
“I don’t know if the governor deserves credit for trying to put out a fire that he started,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. “Give me a break on this pivot.”
Walker now wants to protect Wisconsin’s popular SeniorCare discount prescription drug program. In 2015, he submitted a budget proposal to cut SeniorCare by $15 million, but Republican legislative leaders axed it.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, called Walker’s plans “a total flip-flop from legislative Republicans, who have repeatedly voted against improving access to affordable health care over the years.”
Walker also wants to bolster funding for Wisconsin schools, even though he cut school funding per pupil more than any other governor in the nation during his first term.
In the wake of last month’s high school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead, Walker came out against arming teachers, something he previously was open to.
In addition to co-opting Democratic issues and policies, Walker is sending families $100 for each child younger than 18. The money would arrive in late summer, just before the fall election.
While a crowded field of Democrats is seeking to oust Walker, it’s not yet clear whether he faces a difficult re-election path. But he’s never held a job outside of politics, making his personal stakes for re-election high.
So the man who once bragged that he’d turned the blue state of Wisconsin red, now offers a humble assessment.
“In the end, we’re a blue state and, at best, we made it purple,” Walker told The Associated Press.
Reporting by AP writers Thomas Beaumont and Scott Bauer.