Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus touted the presidential potential of Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., suggesting that Walker is more likeable than Mitt Romney, and so might mitigate the problem that has made it difficult for Republicans to carry their midterm election successes into presidential elections.
Priebus discussed Walker Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference while telling a group of reporters about the RNC's efforts to make the party more effective in national elections.
"We've become a party that has a hard time losing midterms but a hard time winning presidentials," Priebus said, citing Mitt Romney's defeat in Wisconsin despite receiving a near-record number of votes in the state. "He pretty much got killed. And four months earlier, Scott Walker pretty much killed his opponent, but did it with 600,000 fewer votes. So why is that? What's going on? And I have to tell you, I think it has to do with No. 1, who do you want to have a beer with on the ballot, and No. 2, who is turning out low-propensity voters and how do you change that."
"President Bush, despite his many problems, strikes most of the American people as a pretty nice guy -- the kind of guy they would feel comfortable with if he showed up at their front door. The more standoffish Kerry projects little warmth," Richard Benedetto wrote for USA Today in September of that year. "A recent Zogby/Williams Identity Poll reflected that. It found that 57 percent of undecided voters would rather have a beer with Bush than Kerry."
I asked Priebus if that means he thinks Walker passes the "beer test," or if -- falling off the horse on the other side -- he gives any credence to the theory (floated every now and then when D.C. reporters get together) that Walker's lack of a college degree (he attended Marquette University for four years, but did not graduate) could be a problem for him in convincing voters to trust him with the keys to the White House.
"No, I don't think that's a problem," Priebus said of Walker's education credentials. "But I think midterms and presidentials are really different. And I think too many people think they can apply the lessons from midterm elections to presidential elections. I think low-propensity voters is an issue that we need to deal with as a party, and who do you relate to, who do you like, who do you want to have a beer with, is number one. It's how you feel about your country."
One of the most interesting Republican primary dynamics heading into 2016 is the question of whether home-state compatriots Walker and House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Romney's 2012 running mate, both run for president -- and if they don't both run, which candidate will yield the field.
Priebus, also a Wisconsin native, didn't take a side. At each moment when he mentioned Walker, he pivoted to the question of what the RNC can do to be "mechanically crazy" the way Democrats are; by which he means increasing voter registration efforts and year-round political operations in battleground states. When it comes to Walker's personal merits, though, Priebus seems to think he has the personal appeal to help the RNC drive voter turnout for the Republican presidential nominee.