Scott Walker’s Problem

Being outside of Washington, D.C., is usually an advantage for a presidential aspirant as he confronts the crowded field of potential Republican candidates. Away from the taint and dealmaking of Washington, governors and former governors generally can run against Washington like Presidents Bush-43, Clinton and Reagan.

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But this year is different. Serving in the Senate at this point in the race, gives an undeniable advantage to Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.

The Senate is where the action will be.

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Congress will dominate the spotlight as it wrestles with NSA reform, the Iran nuclear deal and — most likely — a forced overhaul or even repeal of Obamacare in the wake of the coming Supreme Court decision in King v. Burwell.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, running from outside the Senate, has no ongoing relevance to the great battles that are shaping up this spring and summer. His work in Wisconsin is largely done. His magnificent reforms are safely enacted and are working. The teachers union is struggling with declining membership and lack of political clout. But there is no act two for Walker to command national attention.

But when the Senate focuses on NSA reform, Rubio, Cruz and Paul will be at the center of the action. Rand Paul, with his creative fusion of social and economic libertarianism, will enjoy a lot of coverage as he takes the lead in battling for individual liberties. The defense/intelligence community looks its worst when we focus on the issues created by Edward Snowden’s document dump. And Rand Paul will be there to fight the dragon.

Similarly, when Obamacare comes back to Congress, after a Supreme Court ruling knocking out the subsidies for enrollees in the federal exchanges, Cruz will likely shine. Once the Court throws out the subsidies, the pressure on Republican governors — whose states generally don’t have their own exchanges — to set them up and get federal subsidies will be intense. Seven or eight million people will be forced to cancel their Obamacare policies because they would be unable to afford them without the subsidy. (These, ironically, are usually the same people who had their previous health plans canceled because their coverage wasn’t as broad as Obama wished).

But Cruz, Rubio and Paul can win points by pushing for a federal solution that postpones the subsidy cancellation and gives states great leeway to decide whether to adopt Obamacare within their borders. It was the filibuster over Obamacare that put Ted Cruz on the map in the first place. Republicans will demand a full repeal of Obamacare in the wake of a court decision.

Cruz’ plan is to let each state choose whether it wants to require that people have insurance or not and to specify what is the minimum acceptable coverage in the health care plans within their borders. He would make the Obamacare taxes null and void in states that do not choose to enter into a post-Court decision Obamacare system.

Ultimately, Cruz will probably win his fight and will look very good pushing Republican governors and senators to move his way on the issue.

Meanwhile, what can Scott Walker do? Here’s where we will feel the lack of the early debates that animated the 2012 Republican primaries. Without spring and summer debates, candidates have to actually do something on the national scale and that opportunity is denied to Walker by his role as a governor.

Mike Huckabee, who might also be consigned to the sidelines during these legislative battles, has a fight of his own to wage: his objection to the curbs on elderly entitlements embodied in the Republican budget proposals. This positioning gives him access to senior voters in droves and continuing relevance to national coverage.

But Walker can only govern one state, and his ability to get national coverage for his role in solving state problems is limited.

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