WAUKESHA, Wis. — Scott Walker was just miles away from home, standing in front of a dozen probing cameras meant for someone else. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush — who, unlike Walker, is still a candidate for president — had brought the press corps to a Spanish-language school that had just launched an 88-student charter program. It was Walker’s program — “it’s about expanding education choices for every family in the state” — but he credited Bush for the inspiration, and Bush returned the favor.
“It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to take on entrenched interests,” Bush said. “This guy did.”
The compliment had the flavor of a eulogy. Two months earlier, Walker had joined the elite and unhappy club of governors who had lunged for the White House, missed and returned to their capitols with diminished clout. Club inductees include Mike Dukakis and Rick Perry. When Walker lost, the president of the AFL-CIO snarked that his nemesis was “still a disgrace, just no longer national.”
But something unexpected has happened in those two months. Although his days of lofty foreign policy speeches are gone, Walker is back to what propelled him to the national stage in the first place: street battle with Wisconsin’s Democrats. And he has reemerged on the state stage as powerful as ever.
Walker returned to Wisconsin as a sort of paradox: A weakened figure who could still defeat Democrats whenever he tried. In the past few weeks his Republican allies in the state legislature have steamrolled their opponents to allow more and looser money into elections, and to end a law that allowed prosecutors to investigate officeholders without convening a jury. And a signature conservative reform started today: drug testing for welfare recipients.