It’s safe to say that most conservatives across the country think pretty highly of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and that he remains one of the few presidential candidates who are at least broadly acceptable to almost every sub-species of Republican. It’s not hard to find Wisconsinites who will wax rhapsodic about Walker’s job performance as well as how friendly and engaging he is.
Yet in the wake of Donald Trump’s bluster, Walker’s quieter but battle-tested toughness and policy successes have seemed to fade a bit from view.
In response, Walker hasn’t tried so much to match Trump’s glitz as to double down on his own considerable substance, issuing a health-care reform plan this week that earned almost universal praise on the right — including from National Review’s Yuval Levin, who called it “the most substantively and politically serious conservative health-care reform we have yet seen from a presidential candidate.”
In my 15-minute private phone interview with Walker on Thursday, I figured that his new health-care proposal should be the obvious starting point. Rather than filter the interview through my impressions, I’ll just present the highlights of the Q&A directly.
Quin Hillyer: You issued a health-care proposal this week. In as concise a way as possible, within 30 seconds if you can, what are you trying to accomplish, and how is it different from any other plan?
Scott Walker: Two parts: It’s repealing Obamacare once and for all, but doing it in a way that lights a fire under Congress to do it immediately. And it puts patients and families in control of their own health care. That’s why we call it “patient freedom.”
Hillyer: Okay, even among those who have praised your plan, two specific questions have come up. The first is, How much will it cost? And how will it be paid for?
Walker: There are two parts for us, for paying for it. The last thing you want to do is add to the debt-and-deficit problem. Repealing it gets rid of a trillion dollars in new taxes and provides a little tax cut on top of that, effectively, so it’s one of the biggest pro-growth tax cuts since Reagan. But to pay for it, one part is Medicaid: We’re returning that to the states, and that clearly will be more effective and more efficient. . . . And by giving states control over that, it takes away one of the biggest distortions of Medicaid right now, which is that under the current system, the more a state spends, the more money it gets. So there’s a perverse incentive to spend money even if you don’t need it. This plan takes that away.
And then the other part is to work with Congress on reforming the way the tax code treats the gold-plated employer health-care plans, like the ones unions give only to their executives. . . . We put a cap on the tax deduction for those.
Hillyer: The second question is one that Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has challenged you to a debate on, because he criticizes your plan as a “new entitlement.” What do you say to that?
Walker: The overwhelming response from conservatives has been positive, because that’s just not accurate. We get rid of the mandate; we get rid of the requirement that people have to have health insurance; we get rid of the government’s role in it and instead give people the freedom. We don’t do it by income and don’t dictate that they have to have it. It’s all about freedom, the freedom to spend their money if they see fit. Republicans like Ronald Reagan and many others of us have always said that giving people more of their own money back is a good thing.
Hillyer: My wife wisely says this: The way most ordinary Americans experience the federal government is through contact with low- and mid-level federal workers and with the regulations they promulgate and enforce. Federal employees enjoy extraordinary job protections. And they tend, overwhelmingly, to be liberal. How do you propose to get the federal bureaucracy and regulatory system under control?
Walker: A couple of different ways. One of the biggest things is to take major portions of the federal government and give them to the states: transportation, infrastructure, environmental protection, education. To me, taking those dollars and those responsibilities and sending it to the states is [very important]. The states are where it’s more effective and efficient and definitely more accountable. People can look the government workers in the face in those states, as opposed to a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington. This would be a huge change, outlasting my time in Washington — a fundamental reform.
‘Take major portions of the federal government and give them to the states: transportation, infrastructure, environmental protection, education.’
Then, for those programs and agencies that are left in the federal government, we need reforms there as well, making changes in the civil service and public-employee practices to hold people accountable.
Hillyer: Do you have any other big domestic reforms coming up any time soon? Food stamps or other welfare programs, or Medicare, or . . . ?
Walker: Our strength is that every couple of weeks we’re going to release specific plans on domestic, economic, and fiscal policy, and also national defense and foreign policy. We’ll lay out solutions, big bold plans, and we’ve got the capacity to act on them. Look at my record. I took on my own party’s establishment, took on unions, took on special interests to do what was right for my state, and now will do the same for all Americans.
Hillyer: Okay, of all of those subject areas where you will lay out specific plans, which one will you address next?
Walker: National defense, in particular.
Hillyer: If you can’t say Reagan — so, other than Reagan — who was or is your political or government hero, and why?
Walker: I love Lincoln and Washington. I love Washington because he ultimately did what was best for his country, not for himself. He could have been king, but he wasn’t. He could have been president for life, but he wasn’t. He wasn’t just the first president, but the one of the best. He set the expectation for presidents going forward.
#related#Hillyer: It looks like I have one minute left. Last question, real quick: My wife’s in human resources. She asks about the new overtime rule from the National Labor Relations Board, where if your salary is under $50K, you must be paid overtime if you work late.
Walker [sounding eager to take this on]: The president announced this rule in Lacrosse, Wis., and took a jab at me when he did it. But I’d rather go in the other direction, the direction of greater flexibility, to allow “comp time” instead of overtime — if the employee wants it. For a lot of working parents, they would prefer to take their overtime for comp time [rather than get paid time-and-a-half but work more hours], maybe to use it for their kids and family. I’d like to see those changes, but with greater flexibility not only for small-business owners but for their employees. We need to get rid of this big-government mindset that this administration has had, that Hillary Clinton has, too. We want to make it easier to increase jobs and increase wages.
So there you have it, Walker unfiltered.
My impressions? Walker sounded hoarse, but sharp and sure, firm and decisive. He sounds like somebody who doesn’t just mouth platitudes while leaving policy to aides. His tone was decisive, his level of detail significant and well calibrated to a 15-minute phone interview.
This is the deepest presidential field of conservative talent in decades. Walker is one of those who give the field its solid, conservative heft.
— Quin Hillyer is a longtime contributor to National Review Online.