The Walker-Slayers Dish: How They Beat Him

Scott Walker has been remarkably successful in politics, winning all but two of the races he’s run. But the victors of the two contests are more than willing to dish.

Jim Young/Reuters

Scott Walker has been running for office in some way, shape, or form, since 1988. And for the most part, he’s been a winner.

Walker has only lost two races in his more than 25 years in politics—not counting the bid he dropped to be the Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2006.

So who beat the future union slayer? Representative Gwen Moore in 1990, and then-fellow Marquette student Jack Quigley in 1988. Moore and Quigley are in a tiny, elite club that Walker’s 15 fellow Republican presidential candidates (is it still just 15?) would love to join as well.

So far, Walker has had a relatively charmed campaign for the Republican nomination.

His poll numbers have been steady and consistently high. Unlike Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio—not to mention the lower-tier candidates that have little name recognition to begin with—he doesn’t seem to have taken a giant hit from the Donald Trump Media Vortex.

And unlike certain other Republican candidates, he’s actually gotten a lot of things done that make conservative hearts swell with devotion.

He’s rewarded with the first place spot in a new NBC/Marist poll of potential Iowa Republican caucusgoers, although he now leads his nearest rival, Trump, by just two points, within the margin of error. In New Hampshire, according to the NBC/Marist poll, Walker is in a virtual dead heat with Jeb Bush for second place behind Trump.

Moore and Quigley urge Walker’s rivals to play the long game. They have plenty of advice—and plenty of warnings—for people looking to beat the two-term governor.

Quigley’s advice is literally Biblical.

“I think if you can use the Bible against him, that’s probably helpful,” he said. “If I were running against Scott right now, I’d probably be pulling out some Biblical passages, just for the heck of it.”

He faced Walker in the rancorous 1988 contest to be president of the Marquette University student government—a contest that, Politifact reported, resulted in charges of campaign rule violations by both sides, and produced a record turnout.

One issue Quigley said he pushed throughout the campaign was for the university to divest from Apartheid South Africa. A central part of his platform was putting a Marquette student on the university’s board of trustees to push for those divestment efforts.

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Walker, according to Quigley, avoided the topic in general, and only addressed it to say he favored then-President Ronald Reagan’s policy of constructive engagement with the Apartheid government. So Quigley tried to push him on it by invoking Scripture.

“It was a difficult place for him to be, because what do you say to the Catholic kid from Chicago who’s now using the Bible to talk about why we need to divest from South Africa?” Quigley said. “That made him more uncomfortable, which is why I continued to do it.”

Quigley said Walker was least formidable when the two squared off at public forums and events. Instead of trying to engage fellow students and relate to their concerns, he tended to go from one talking point to another when asked about campus issues. When a student asked why their activity fees were so high, for instance, he talked about budgetary analysis instead of bringing up his middle-class, non-wealthy background.

Quigley also said the future governor relied heavily on notes during that first campaign—a habit he seems to have kicked completely, as he gave his presidential announcement speech this month without a teleprompter or cue cards.

Besides Apartheid, abortion politics also came into the race.

In the November before the campaign started, two pro-choice nuns came to campus for a speaker series. Their presentation at the Catholic institution was extremely controversial, and pro-life students picketed the event.

Quigley crossed the picket line to attend the speech, and said some of Walker’s supporters used his attendance to suggest he would surreptitiously push a pro-abortion agenda on campus if elected.

Walker didn’t push that message, Quigley said. But he also didn’t repudiate it.

“When confronted a few times, he denied that he did it,” Quigley said, discussing the genesis of those attacks, “but said things like, ‘These are important issues, I assume if people are concerned about it they deserve to have an answer.’”

Over the course of the campaign, which took about two months, Quigley came to loathe Walker.

“I started to intensely dislike him, and it made me an awful lot more driven in the race,” he said.

Walker’s fans use the term “Walker Derangement Syndrome” to refer to the now-governor’s unique ability to gin up enormous (and sometimes theatrical and over-the-top) emotional responses from his ideological opponents. While the governor’s stump-speech skills seem to have improved dramatically, his ability to draw ire isn’t new.

Two years after losing to Quigley, Walker challenged Moore for her state Assembly seat. She said she first heard about the 22-year-old’s bid from a Republican who worked in the Assembly with her.

“I thought it was hysterical,” she said.

Moore said she had a child at 18 and came from a poor background, so she had to put a lot of effort into graduating from college.

“So the fact that he had dropped out of college and was running against me was something that was perplexing,” she said.

Despite the fact that hers was a very safe Democratic seat, Moore, who is African-American, said a Republican friend told her Walker thought he could be competitive because most of the voters in the district were white.

“Walker knew what I knew, that the voters were white,” she said. “That became kind of his strategy for electioneering, from that point until this point.”

Moore said that Walker distributed campaign literature with racial dog whistles and pictures of guns. The implication, she felt, was that Moore wouldn’t fight urban decay, crime, and violence because she was black.

“I remember being so upset about it that I was brought to tears,” she said.

Moore was the first person of color to represent her majority-white district. One night, frantic about the election, she stayed out past 8 p.m. in the pouring rain canvassing one of its whitest neighborhoods.

“People said, ‘Gwen, we will not vote for you if you don’t stop acting like a crazy person. It’s pouring down rain! Go home!’” she remembered, laughing.

She went on to beat Walker handily. Two years later, he won an Assembly seat in a different district, and the two went back to squaring off. In the legislature, one of his first efforts was to pass voter ID legislation.

“‘Well, if you need a photo ID to get a video from Blockbuster, then you ought to have to have a photo ID to vote,’” she recalled him arguing. “And I responded and said, ‘Well, you know, getting a video from Blockbuster is not a constitutional right. Voting is.’”

But they didn’t disagree on everything. Representative Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat who served on the Assembly’s corrections committee with Moore and Walker, said the three worked together on an effort to keep juveniles from being put in the supermax prison that held the state’s most dangerous offenders.

But Moore said that for the most part, Walker took a tough-on-crime approach.

“It was all about trail ’em, nail ’em and jail ’em,” she said.

And, she added, it fit into a racialized pattern of lawmaking.

“I always thought, in the issues he focused on, that there was this racial thread that ran all the way through it,” she said.

Her advice to people trying to beat him in the 2016 contest?

“Watch your back,” she said. “He will flip-flop and he will stab you in the back, and he will not tell the truth.”

And although neither might be fond of Walker on a personal level, Quigley and Moore both said Walker’s doggedness is impressive.

“He deserves credit for sticking to his goals,” Quigley said. “He doesn’t give up easily.”