Yes, believe it or not, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker actually spoke at some length at the dinner this past week where Rudy Giuliani charged that President Obama doesn't love America. All the hullabaloo went to Giuliani, but in terms of the Republican presidential race, a number of Scott Walker's pointed comments about policy and politicians are not to be missed.
The dinner was the second event sponsored by the Committee to Unleash American Prosperity, a new group founded by Arthur Laffer, Steve Moore, Steve Forbes, and myself. Just as the Committee on the Present Danger — formed by Midge Decter, Norman Podhoretz, and Irving Kristol — worried about the decline in American foreign policy in the late 1970s, we are worried about the decline in American economic growth over the past 15 years. We will be interviewing all the Republican presidential candidates in the months ahead. A few weeks ago we had dinner with Texas governor Rick Perry. This week we welcomed Scott Walker.
In his opening, Governor Walker stressed growth, reform, and safety. During the question-and-answer period, he emphasized sweeping Reagan-like tax cuts. And he frequently referred to his successful efforts in Wisconsin to curb public-union power as a means of lowering tax burdens, increasing economic growth, and reducing unemployment.
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Walker argued that when Reagan fired air-traffic controllers (from the the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as our Soviet enemies abroad. Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia's Vladimir Putin.
Walker was also highly critical of President Obama's conduct in the war against radical Islamism, and said the U.S. must wage a stronger battle in the air and on the ground against ISIS.
He stressed the need for a positive Republican message in 2016, and bluntly criticized Mitt Romney for spending too much time on the pessimistic economic negatives emanating from Obama's policy failures.
And in an unmistakable rip at both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, he called for a new generation and fresh faces to turn America back in the right direction.
When asked about a sound-money policy, Walker said he was willing to sit down and learn. And on free trade, he needs a much clearer message. But in response to a question about solving middle-class income declines, he insisted that sweeping economic-growth policies aimed at all groups and categories, not just the so-called middle class, is the answer. He also aggressively defended his controversial University of Wisconsin budget cuts, arguing that they would slow tuition hikes and force professors to teach more.
Why did he leave Marquette before graduation? He saw a more attractive position at the Red Cross and wanted to start a political career. Yes, he nearly flunked French. But many folks think that's a political plus. Many of us believe the time has come for a president without Ivy League credentials.
Can Walker win? Arthur Laffer has known him for years and says he has matured enormously from his days as a Milwaukee county executive. Others say he is the only Republican candidate with a record of winning many different elections, from local office, to state assemblyman, to three gubernatorial races in four years.
Walker is a superb retail politician, a trait that will serve him well in the early primaries. He has an uncanny knack of maintaining direct eye contact. At the dinner, rather than rushing out for an early-morning TV call, he insisted on talking to every person in the large crowd surrounding him.
The question now is whether he can develop from a tough state-union buster to a national politician who can modernize Reagan's policies while maintaining the Gipper's upbeat message of optimism and growth.
Commentary by Larry Kudlow, a senior contributor at CNBC and economics editor of the National Review. Follow him on Twitter @Larry_Kudlow.