What’s next for Gov. Walker?

As Scott Walker returns from the presidential ...
What’s next for Gov. Walker?

What’s next?

That’s the question Scott Walker’s supporters and detractors are pondering in the wake of the Wisconsin governor’s presidential bid having flamed out like a supernova. A presidential campaign is an unforgiving slog, but what Walker came home to this fall might make the grind of the campaign trail look more inviting than the coming months in Madison.

His most immediate short-term task is mending fences with fellow Republicans. Many GOP lawmakers resented parts of his state budget bill, which they believed was pitched to grab the attention of Iowa caucus voters rather than written with the best interests of the state in mind. They also didn’t appreciate Walker taking full credit on the stump for Wisconsin’s “right to work” law, which originated in the Legislature.

The governor also faces criticism surrounding the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which replaced the state Department of Commerce in 2011. The agency did not follow the law or require any proof of job creation from companies that received millions in grants. And WEDC’s own annual report–released just a few days before Walker dropped out of the presidential race–showed it handed out more money but created six thousand fewer jobs than the previous year.

Walker is also staring down the prospect of yet another election in 2018. Winning three elections in four years, as he has, remains an enviable political achievement. But winning yet another could prove to
be much harder. The intense glare of a national campaign and his early exit from the primary exposed his weaknesses as a candidate. He also returns to a state and local media that might feel empowered to push more, ask more and demand more from him now that he is back to work at the state Capitol.

Where Walker finds himself now is not unlike 2006, when he ended his first campaign for governor and threw his support behind Congressman Mark Green, who would go on to lose to Governor Jim Doyle. When Walker ran four years later, the sense among party leaders was that he had paid his dues, and he won their full backing.

Now that he’s back, Walker has pledged to finish his current term. That move gives him more time to bolster his reputation among conservatives as a tough reformer and reconnect with supporters here at home. He also will no doubt welcome the GOP’s presidential nominee to Wisconsin with open arms and campaign hard for him or her, which will allow him to step into the national political spotlight once again.

No one but Walker knows his future plans, but he has always worn his ambition on his sleeve. Jim Klauser, a close adviser and former secretary of administration for Governor Tommy Thompson, told Politico in an interview earlier this year before Walker announced his run for president: “He can’t sit still in an office he holds.”