The manager of Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign has downplayed the notion that Walker must win the Iowa caucuses, while predicting the Republican presidential nomination won’t be decided in the campaign’s early going.
Rick Wiley spoke Tuesday at a wispolitics.com luncheon at The Madison Club. A former Republican National Committee political consultant and Wisconsin Republican Party executive director, Wiley now is helming Walker’s bid for the White House.
Wiley said Tuesday that Walker is running for president as “a uniter” — contrary to his image in many quarters as a polarizing figure in Wisconsin. He also dismissed Donald Trump’s recent surge in presidential polls as merely a function of his broad name recognition.
Walker has staked much of his presidential campaign on a strong finish in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. Walker spent part of his childhood in Iowa and has polled well there. His socially conservative views and biography as the son of a Baptist preacher also are seen as a good match for that state’s GOP electorate.
But Wiley said Tuesday that the campaign isn’t banking on a first-place Iowa finish.
He predicted the sprawling field of Republican candidates won’t winnow until after the Iowa caucuses, and the likely GOP nominee won’t emerge until after a spate of March primaries that follow the initial presidential contests in February.
“I think we’re going to do really well in Iowa. I don’t think they’re must-wins,” Wiley said. “The first four states, you win, place or show and you punch your ticket to the second round.
“You just have to get to that second round.”
Walker has been campaigning heavily in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which hold the first three nominating contests. His first trip after making his bid official last week was to Nevada, which holds the fourth on Feb. 20, and the first in the West.
As of mid-July, 11 states have scheduled their elections or caucuses on Super Tuesday, March 1, and a dozen more are scheduled that month, including Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Texas. Wisconsin’s primary is April 5.
Asked why Walker isn’t promising to bring the American people together as previous presidential candidates did, Wiley disagreed, pointing to Walker’s success with independent voters in his runs for Wisconsin governor.
“I think he is running as a uniter,” Wiley said.
Wisconsin Democrats scoffed at the notion that Walker — whose collective-bargaining rollback law triggered massive protests at the state Capitol in 2011, and whose leadership has seen Wisconsin emerge as one of the nation’s most politically divided states — could run as a “uniter.”
“He sounds more united with Donald Trump’s brand of outlandish extremism than with working families in Wisconsin or anywhere else,” a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Melissa Baldauff, said in a statement.
At Tuesday’s event, Wiley was asked to explain “the Trump Factor,” in which the bombastic businessman has soared to the head of the GOP presidential field in recent national polls.
Wiley said it has less to do with Trump’s staying power as a candidate and more to do with his near-universal name recognition.
“The Trump Factor is: Everyone knows who Donald Trump is,” Wiley said.
Wiley is a longtime Republican operative with ties to Wisconsin and to Washington, D.C. In 2008, Wiley was deputy national director for Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign. That year he also ran a Koch brothers-backed nonprofit that did opposition research, built voter databases and doled out grants, Politico has reported.
Wiley said his work on presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 taught him “candidates matter.”
“If you have an effective messenger out there — someone that is relatable — you can go out and do great things,” Wiley said. “Not to say we didn’t have that before. But I think Scott Walker has a certain appeal that I haven’t seen in a candidate in a long time, if ever.”
Wiley also dismissed criticism of Walker as having been absent from Wisconsin’s state budget process while he was out of state laying groundwork for his presidential run.
Walker signed the state budget last week in Waukesha, a day before formally launching his presidential run.
Wiley reiterated Walker’s previous assurances that he participated constantly in budget talks, even while on the road.
“Look, if you’re the CEO of a business out there, you don’t have to be in your office,” Wiley said. “You can work remotely.”