Politics & Policy

Wooing Social Conservatives, Walker Doubles Down on Claim About Air-Traffic Controllers

Scott Walker wrapped up a meeting on Capitol Hill with about 50 social-conservative leaders on Tuesday afternoon. The off-the-record meeting was planned earlier this month, and was a chance for the governor to pitch himself to a group that has expressed some skepticism about his record back in Wisconsin. 

Over the course of the 90-minute meeting, the governor talked up his record on tort reform, pension reform, and tax cuts, but also veered into an unexpected discussion of foreign-policy issues. 

“He’s not Rubio in oratory,” says Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, who is pushing Walker and the rest of the 2016 hopefuls to sign a pledge that they will not raise taxes. “But somebody said, when you meet him, it’s like seeing somebody who sits on a throne on the skulls of his enemies.”

On matters abroad, the Wisconsin governor reiterated his assertion that Ronald Reagan’s most significant foreign-policy decision was his move, in August of 1981, to fire nearly 13,000 federally employed air-traffic controllers. Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, was at the meeting to hear Walker’s case. He says Walker argued once again that Reagan impressed the world when he successfully stared down the PATCO union, and that, in fact, he’d discussed the matter with former secretary of state George Shultz. “He said, ‘You can check with Shultz, ask Shultz what he thinks,” Norquist says.

Walker first floated the line at the Club for Growth’s donor retreat in February, and he drew fire from some who scoffed at the idea that Reagan’s most crucial foreign-policy decision wasn’t actually a foreign-policy decision at all. 

#related#But the governor was on Capitol Hill today primarily to talk about social issues. The son of a Baptist preacher, Walker has built-in appeal for that crowd, which has felt increasingly marginalized in recent years. If he decides to run in 2016, though, Walker will compete hard with fellow Republicans like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Texas senator Ted Cruz.

The knock against Walker, from this crowd, is that during his tenure in Wisconsin he has more or less avoided social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

He told the Christian Science Monitor in December 2013, that, though he’s pro-life, he doesn’t “obsess” over abortion. Running in what he thought would be a tight reelection race for governor against Democrat Mary Burke, he ran an ad defending a bill that required a pre-abortion ultrasound. The ad’s tone and wording put him crosswise with some social conservatives:

In the spot, the governor explained that he had supported ”legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options.”  ”The bill” at issue, the governor emphasized, “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” 

— Eliana Johnson is Washington editor of National Review

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