What makes Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker a good choice for 2016
After the GOP’s midterm-elections sweep, the Republican Party holds more U.S. House seats and controls more state houses than at any time since 1928. Having reached this goal, the GOP now needs to look for a 2016 presidential nominee to match this success.
President Calvin Coolidge, who sat in the Oval Office from 1923 to 1929, would be a smart model for the party. He reined in spending and reduced tax rates at a time when it was as needed as it is today. President Ronald Reagan admired Coolidge so much that he hung a portrait of the 30th president in his Cabinet Room.
One talked-about possible 2016 presidential candidate who shares many of Coolidge’s policy bona fides is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who won his third statewide race in four years on Nov. 4. The two men have so much in common that it is worth seeing what Coolidge’s experience can tell us about a potential President Walker.
Coolidge took office at an extraordinary period in U.S. history. During his presidency, America advanced from a nation in which the horse and buggy was one of the most efficient methods of travel in many places to one filled with Model T drivers honking at one another to move it. The advent and popularization of modern appliances like electric washing machines allowed women of the 1920s to get out of the house.
Coolidge rose to national prominence largely because of his actions during the 1919 Boston Police Strike. Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts, and he stood down police union bosses to put an end to the strike. He offered a sharp contrast to then-President Woodrow Wilson, silent and timid on an issue of national importance.
Coolidge’s limited-government approach made for both good policy and good politics — it fueled a stunning prosperity. Economic expansion under Coolidge was rapid, with the gross national product rising roughly 4.2 percent a year from 1920 to 1929, as Marquette University’s Gene Smiley explained in an Economic History Association report. This is impressive growth by 19th-, 20th-and 21st-century standards.
A standoff with powerful bosses of government-employee unions is also what thrust Walker onto the national stage. The 2011 labor reforms that Walker championed and eventually signed into law sparked riotous protests in Madison. It cost $11 million to repair the damage done by union protesters at Wisconsin’s capitol building, considered to have one of the most aesthetically beautiful domes in the United States.
Republicans now have total control of 30 state legislatures — their largest advantage since Coolidge lived in the White House. The government reform and tax-relief measures enacted by Walker and other GOP governors are a big reason for this electoral success. Walker has made clear that more income tax cuts and creating a more competitive business-tax climate in the Badger State are among his top priorities for his second term. Coolidge did that at the federal level — and demonstrated the economic dividends that tax cuts can produce.
Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University laid out the success of these Coolidge tax cuts. From a high of 73 percent, the top rate was reduced to 46 percent in 1924, and then was brought down to 24 percent by the time Coolidge left office.
Walker has adopted the Coolidge tax model, chipping away at his state income-tax rates. He talks about eliminating Wisconsin’s income tax during his second term. He has asked his lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, to hold tax-reform roundtables across the state. Given that tax reform is usually the most politically difficult undertaking for lawmakers, Walker is astute in getting constituent buy-in ahead of time.
The day after the 2014 midterms, the national punditry was ready to focus on the 2016 presidential contest. Coolidge’s record and how it compares to what Walker has done in Wisconsin make a strong case for his name to be on the short list of GOP contenders.
PHOTO (TOP): President Calvin Coolidge laying the corner stone of the George Washington memorial, Alexandria, Virginia, Nov. 1, 1923. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
PHOTO (INSERT 1): President Calvin Coolidge (2ND from L) with Judge Elbert Henry Gary and John D. Rockefeller Jr. (2nd from R), Jan. 8, 1925. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
PHOTO (INSERT 2): Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker addresses his supporters at a rally on election night in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Nov. 4, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Stathas
PHOTO (INSERT 3): President Calvin Coolidge signing a bill in Washington. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS