Politics & Policy

Walker Lands Key Romney Foreign-Policy Hand

Robert C. O’Brien at the U.N.

Scott Walker has snagged a key Romney ally, attorney and foreign-policy hand Robert C. O’Brien, for his not-yet-announced presidential campaign. A spokeswoman for Walker’s 527 group, Our American Revival, confirmed that O’Brien will serve as a foreign-policy adviser.

O’Brien, sources say, decided to endorse Walker after being courted by several other Republican presidential contenders, including Texas senator Ted Cruz, former Texas governor Rick Perry, Florida senator Marco Rubio, and South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. He is a personal friend of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a fellow Mormon who served as a key foreign-policy adviser on the governor’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Walker is currently in Israel on what he has called a “listening tour,” and O’Brien was in Madison last week briefing the governor ahead of the trip.

“I cannot have favorites in the race, but the O’Brien primary was fascinating to watch because many, many candidates wanted him to join their team for the simple reason that he knows everybody in the national-security world,” says radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt, a friend of both O’Brien and Romney.

O’Brien, 49, is a managing partner at the Washington, D.C. law firm Arent Fox. He previously served as the alternate representative to the United Nations and as a legal officer there. Hewitt calls him a “five-tool player” who is not only knowledgeable about national-security matters, but also a talented attorney and communicator.

O'Brien at the United Nations

“Walker wins by having somebody who can communicate on national security,” Hewitt says.

Securing O’Brien’s backing is a boon for Walker, particularly because it is Rubio who has worked the hardest among the other candidates to cultivate Romney and his backers. Rubio, who was vetted as a potential vice-presidential nominee in 2012 and served as a key surrogate on Romney’s campaign, has developed a friendly relationship with the former Massachusetts governor. He has also snapped up some of the former governor’s most prominent campaign staffers, including his political director, Rich Beeson, and his New Hampshire strategist, Jim Merrill.

In the foreign-policy arena, Walker has now peeled off two of Romney’s most high-profile advisers.

But in the foreign-policy arena, Walker has now peeled off two of Romney’s most high-profile advisers. Former Missouri senator Jim Talent has already announced his support for Walker. Both O’Brien and Talent were part of a close-knit Romney team that traveled abroad with the governor to places such as Afghanistan, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates in 2011 as election season got underway.

O'Brien (at right) in Afghanistan

It’s the latest salvo in the battle between the Republican candidates and potential candidates to lock down talent as they get up to speed on a host of national and international policy issues. In February, former Florida governor Jeb Bush announced a team of foreign-policy advisers that includes a hodgepodge of officials from both his father’s and his brother’s administrations and made waves in the policy community by forbidding them from advising other candidates.

#related#Snagging O’Brien is also useful to Walker on a practical level. Unlike his senatorial adversaries, he has simply not had much time to turn his attention to foreign-policy issues. In his first few months on the stump, it showed: He said his experience battling public-sector unions in Madison made him fit to take on the Islamic State, cited Ronald Reagan’s firing of thousands of air-traffic controllers as the most significant foreign-policy decision of his presidency, and generally appeared out of his depth.

O’Brien will bring both campaign experience and proven communications skills to the Walker team. “What sets him apart is that he has the political smarts, the ability to mix it up on TV,” says Alex Wong, who served as Romney’s policy director in 2012 and who now works as Arkansas senator Tom Cotton’s national-security adviser. Walker, says Wong, “needs advisers who have been in a political fight before, and Robert is one of those.”

— Eliana Johnson is the Washington editor of National Review.

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