Candidate Evaluations: Scott Walker

by Benjamin Studebaker

Scott Walker has ambled his way into the presidential race, so it’s time for another candidate evaluation. I’ll be looking at Walker’s background, policy history, and explicit statements to determine whether or not he would make a good president. I won’t be paying attention to electability or likeability, as is often common elsewhere on the web.

If you like candidate evaluations, I’ve written loads of them. Go nuts:

This is Scott Walker:

Walker is a college dropout. So far, he is the only candidate in the race with no college degree of any kind. He worked for the Red Cross before his 1993 election to the Wisconsin State Assembly. He became Milwaukee County Executive in 2002. In 2010, he was elected governor of Wisconsin. He survived a recall election in 2012 and was reelected in 2014.

As I reviewed the numbers from Walker’s time in office, one thing continually stuck out–his job figures have been awful. Here’s Wisconsin’s job growth against the national average:

Over the last four years, Wisconsin has ranked last among all Midwest states for job growth. Nationally, Wisconsin ranked 35th in jobs in 2011, 36th in 2012, and 38th in both 2013 and 2014:

Scott Walker Job Growth


Since Walker took office, only one neighboring state has performed worse on job growth in any given year (Iowa in 2014). Before Walker, Wisconsin’s numbers were not by any means consistently spectacular, but it was never last in its region, ranking ahead of several neighboring states every year from 2003 through 2010.

And it’s not just the unemployed that have suffered–Wisconsin’s stocks have also failed to keep up with the national median and with neighboring states:

Suffice it to say that Wisconsin’s economic record has not been impressive in recent years. What’s going on? Austerity:

Scott Walker Spending

Walker cut spending by a full point of GDP in his first year and another half a point in the years since. Spending reductions take money out of the pockets of consumers and slow down the economy. A full point in a year and a half is pretty steep, though it’s not the worst I’ve seen. Taking into account the differently sized GDPs of the various states, here’s how Walker’s cuts compare to some of the other state austerity programs we’ve seen among other 2016 governor candidates:

Governor Austerity Packages

Regular readers will recall that I gave Huckabee a pass on his package because it was an aberration and followed a large stimulus to counter the early 2000’s recession. Pataki went on to reverse course later in his career and his economic numbers were much better later in his governorship than they were at the beginning. The rest should be considered culpable.

Walker did not merely cut spending–he is also infamous for systematically crushing Wisconsin’s unions. Walker passed legislation that denies public sector workers the right to collectively bargain, and he signed a right to work law that prohibits unions from requiring workers to join and pay dues. Walker believes that by weakening the unions he can bring down Wisconsin’s wages and make Wisconsin more competitive. He’s effectively trying to emulate Perry’s strategy of poaching good jobs from blue states and turning them into crummier red state jobs. There are a couple key problems with this strategy:

  1. Wisconsin has significantly higher living costs than Texas, so attempts to run Texan wages cause more suffering in Wisconsin than they do in Texas.
  2. This strategy cannot be replicated on the national level because US wages cannot be made competitive with wages in China or the Philippines without destroying the US consumer economy and collapsing living standards.

Wisconsin has dragged its wages down to Texan levels, but the higher cost of living makes Wisconsin a miserable place to work:

Scott Walker Median Hourly Wage

The percent of the Wisconsin population stuck under the federal minimum hasn’t quite yet reached Texan levels, but it’s well on its way:

Scott Walker Minimum Wage

Bear in mind that unlike Rick Perry, Walker has not even succeeded in this strategy. In Texas, many companies really did relocate from blue states to take advantage of cheap labor costs. In Wisconsin, this hasn’t happened. Walker has a lot of poor, miserable citizens who can’t collectively bargain and the state still can’t poach jobs, much less create them.

Walker promises that if he is elected president, he will spread his policies across the nation. This would be devastating, because our workers are also our consumers. If you push wages down, you push consumption down, and this means you push sales, profits, and government revenues down. Companies will not hire more people if they already cannot sell what they have in stock. Perhaps Walker imagines that the US will attract business from outside the country, but our wages simply cannot be made competitive with those in poor and developing countries:

On other issues, Walker is uniformly a bozo:

  • He’s signed a pledge promising never to support government action against climate change.
  • He’s against a path to citizenship for immigrants.
  • He wants a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
  • He’s signed the Grover Norquist pledge to block all tax increases regardless of their nature or purpose.
  • He will reject any deal with Iran, regardless of the terms.
  • He would consider reinvading Iraq.


Scott Walker is a less effective version of Rick Perry. He’s very extreme, misguided on just about everything, and he would make an awful president. Unlike Perry, he doesn’t even have a misleading economic success to point to. He has had no success at all–his state has consistently performed poorly on nearly every metric. At least with Perry I had to explain why Texas’ economic success is misleading. With Walker there is no success to write about in the first place. Only a series of ignominious failures. The only reason Walker is even a serious candidate in the first place is his willingness to damage unions and workers and the Republican Party’s willingness to ignore the piles of evidence that these policies were a disaster.