Robert Draper’s GQ profile of famed Kochsucker/governor Walker has been getting some notice, mostly for its rather odd style. To me, it reads as though Draper couldn’t get a grip on his subject because Walker is that genuine political rarity: a pure sociopath, uncomplicated by the usual attendant narcissism. A predator, like the shark, both primitive and uniquely fitted to his environment, Walker seems to move through his career calculating every opportunity with none of the normal worries about self-presentation or his place in history. “Darwinian” might be just the right word:
“One of the problems I see with Republicans nationally—well, three,” said Scott Walker as he munched on a piece of white string cheese. “They’re always against Obama, so they’re not optimistic. I try to be optimistic and visionary. Second, they talk in terms that most people can’t relate to. Fiscal cliffs and sequesters don’t mean anything to most people. I talk about whether your kid coming out of college is gonna have a job. And third, they don’t get out much—and I’m around the state quite a bit.”
At the moment, Walker was in the farming community of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. We were having this conversation at the end of the local Dairy Breakfast, an unabashedly cornball state pastime wherein thousands of rural folks congregate on a dairy farm to eat pancakes and cheese served up to them by their local politicians. Walker had spent the past hour handing out cartons of milk, posing for occasional pictures, and peppering the air with jittery patter like “Nothing better than Dairy Breakfast!” and “Couldn’t ask for better weather!” The farmers who talked to him addressed him as Scott. Most of them seemed not to notice him at all. This was odd enough, given that Walker is a sitting governor in the heat of a contentious reelection battle, and odder still considering that should he win reelection (and Walker is anything but a lock to do so), he’s likely to be running for president a few months from now. But Walker is more than just another upwardly mobile officeholder. He is a national symbol of Darwinian partisanship—one who has led a frontal assault on unions and by extension the Democratic Party, weathered a bitterly waged recall effort, and is currently dogged by a hazy but persistent waft of scandal that could engulf him at any moment. He is, arguably, the most conservative governor in America—a guy who, should he survive the spirited reelection challenge he now faces, could emerge as proof that appealing with uncompromising intensity to the passions of archconservatives can still win you elections in purple states. Or, in defeat, Walker could provide the latest cautionary tale of GOP intransigence. This was the man serving food at the Dairy Breakfast. He wore jeans, a windbreaker, and a white Izod shirt, and aside from his extreme paleness and his bleary-yet-fixed rhinoceros gaze, he bore an uncanny resemblance to every not-famous Caucasian male the world over.
To linger in the company of someone so nondescript and yet so powerful is a confounding experience. Walker’s friends maintain that he possesses that enviable guy-you’d-like-to-have-a-beer-with quality Americans seem to seek in presidents. I wouldn’t say that; Walker strikes me as approachable and well-mannered but not particularly chummy. Meanwhile, his adversaries assert that he’s a heartless automaton: At the Milwaukee County Courthouse, where he served for eight controversial years as its budget-slashing county executive, local reporters nicknamed him “Cyborg.” I wouldn’t go that far, either. Scott Walker is instead a hugely successful career politician (“I used to always tease him, ‘Someday you’re going to get a real job,’ ” his wife, Tonette Walker, told me), a consummate professional in a business that calls for mingling with the commoners as well as courting billionaire donors and gutting adversaries; a man who is both calculating (again from Tonette Walker: “Scott’s a planner”) and at the same time, for a politician, anyway, strikingly unambiguous and unselfconscious. And all of this wrapped up in milky plainness. Probably Scott Walker would not be who he is were it not for the fact that the former Eagle Scout and preacher’s son comes across, according to former State Assembly speaker Scott Jensen, as “someone you’d meet at a church picnic.” Earnest, inoffensive, docile…until—poof!—he’s vaporized public-sector unions, forced women seeking abortions to submit to an ultrasound, and restricted early voting in ways that are sure to diminish Democratic turnout. Then back to the church picnic. That the wolf comes by his sheep’s clothing honestly makes him all the more hated by the left. In Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, bland is the new black.
And it could sell. After eight years of Obama Otherness (preceded by eight years of dubious big-government conservatism), after shape-shifting McCains and Romneys, and amid a crest of nationwide disgust with ineffectual governance, an unassuming midwestern budget-cutting workhorse might well be the answer to a foundering GOP rather than a show pony like Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, who are long on oratory but short on results. Given that he is currently running for reelection, it serves the governor to feign disinterest in higher office. Still, his friend and political adviser of over two decades, John Hiller, says, “Of course he’s going to look at it. Why wouldn’t he?”…
From the outside, it looks like Scott Walker has prospered mightily by selling other peoples’ assets to any robber baron who made an offer, with a total lack of concern for even his closest allies and associates, enabled by a shrinking but still-powerful bloc of noisy racists and aging low-information voters. But, then, nobody said sharks aren’t dangerous!