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Scott Walker loves Ronald Reagan more than seems humanly possible

Our 40th president Ronald Reagan... and our 45th president, Scott Walker?
Our 40th president Ronald Reagan... and our 45th president, Scott Walker?
Universal History Group / Getty, Darren Hauck / Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Scott Walker's far from the only GOP presidential hopeful to be a big fan of Ronald Reagan. But he's probably the only one who celebrates Reagan's birthday every year by eating some of Reagan's favorite foods. On his own wedding anniversary.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin governor's high regard for Reagan caused a bit of a controversy when he said that "the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime" was Reagan's firing of striking American air traffic controllers. Before that, Walker had claimed that "documents from the Soviet Union" show the Soviets changed their behavior because of this — a statement Politifact found completely baseless.

But while Walker's statement may have sounded bizarre to foreign policy experts, it's no surprise for those who've followed his political career. Because, in a party filled with high regard for the 40th president, Walker is the one who takes things to the next level.

1) Walker and his wife eat Reagan's favorite foods every year on Reagan's birthday — which is also their wedding anniversary

Reagan jellybeans Walkers

At left, Reagan holds red white and blue jellybeans, in 1992. At right, Scott Walker and his wife attend the 2012 Republican convention. (Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty, Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call Group / Getty)

For most people who happen to get married on a president's birthday, the date would probably be most memorable for their own marriage. Not Scott Walker. As he wrote in his 2013 book, Unintimidated, he and his wife make sure, every year, not to forget Reagan on their special day:

Tonette and I host a dinner each year on Reagan’s birthday. We serve his favorite foods — macaroni and cheese casserole, and red, white, and blue Jelly Belly jelly beans — and have musicians perform patriotic songs and Irish music. It is a wonderful evening, and serves as a reminder for me each year to be hopeful and optimistic just like Ronald Reagan.

It happens to be a dual celebration because President Reagan’s birthday is also our wedding anniversary. Tonette jokes that I never forget our wedding anniversary because it is Reagan’s birthday.

2) He kept a photo of Reagan on his college dorm-room desk

Scott Walker Boys Nation

The son of a preacher, Walker expected to go into business when he was in high school. But after attending Boys State in Wisconsin, and being one of the state's two representatives in the Boys Nation event in Washington, DC in 1985 — at the start of Reagan's second term — he says he was "transformed" and "taken" by politics and public service.

So once he began attending Marquette University, he became active in student government. The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold reported that he kept a photo of Reagan on his dorm room desk, and quoted a former dorm mate saying that Walker talked about becoming president one day.

"I remember, I was a teenager — had just become a teenager — and a vote for Ronald Reagan meant limited government, smaller government, lower taxes, strong national defense," Walker told John Hawkins of Right Wing News last year. "You knew what you were getting. You knew how a Reagan administration, a Reagan presidency was going to be better for you."

(Photo of Walker in 1985 via American Legion)

3) Walker inspired his cabinet with a "Braveheart" speech about how Reagan's firing of union workers helped win the Cold War

Mel Gibson Braveheart

Scott Walker, as he recalled Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers. (20th Century Fox/Getty)

Walker's recent effusive praise of the supposed foreign policy impact of Reagan firing the air traffic controllers wasn't anything new. He's referenced the story for years, and in his repeated telling, this one bold, principled move communicated Reagan's resolve, made his enemies shrink before him, and therefore changed the world.

Indeed, in his 2013 book, Walker wrote that when he was about to introduce his controversial bill to strip public unions of most of their collective bargaining powers, he decided to inspire his "nervous" cabinet members with "a Braveheart moment." He continues:

After dinner, I reminded them of the stand President Ronald Reagan took against the air traffic controllers during his first year in office. His actions were bigger than just a labor dispute. They set the tone for his entire presidency. Reagan's show of courage and strength sent a signal that new leadership had arrived in Washington. It sent a message that Ronald Reagan was serious — that he had backbone, that he was going to fulfill his promises, and that he was not going to be pushed around.

And that message had an impact far beyond America's borders. His resolve not only stiffened the spines of members of Congress, it also stiffened the resolve of our allies, it also encouraged democratic reformers behind the Iron Curtain. It helped win the Cold War.

This, I told them, was our chance to take inspiration from Reagan's courage — to show that we were serious, that we had backbone, and that we were not going to be pushed around.

4) Walker harshly criticized Mitt Romney's campaign for being insufficiently Reaganesque

Scott Walker Romney

Walker and Romney, in happier times, during the 2012 campaign. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

Scott Walker knows his Reagan, having read many biographies of the former president. His favorite, according to National Review's Christian Schneider, was Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader, by Dinesh D'Souza.

So it makes sense that Walker can be a harsh judge of presidential candidates who he thinks don't measure up to Reagan's high standards. Later in his book, there's a lengthy passage in which he trashes Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign — repeatedly comparing Romney's strategy and rhetoric, unfavorably, to Reagan's. To wit:

  • "Reagan didn't just say what he was against; he said what he was for."
  • "Unlike Romney, Reagan connected with the daily struggles of ordinary Americans."
  • "Reagan did not dismiss 47 percent of the country as a bunch of moochers. Quite the opposite: At the Republican convention in Detroit he appealed to those who wanted nothing more than to get off government assistance and find work."
  • "Ronald Reagan would never have said, 'I'm not concerned about the very poor.' Romney later said his comments were taken out of context, but the context actually made them worse."
  • "Ronald Reagan would never have uttered the words "self-deportation."
  • "If [Romney] had shown voters he had a bold, reform agenda and a positive, optimistic plan for America, it would have been appealing not only to Republicans but also Democrats and independents... That's what Reagan did but Romney failed to do."
  • "When he left the White House after two incredible terms, Reagan used his farewell address from the Oval Office to finally describe for the first time what he saw when he talked about America as a 'shining city on a hill'... That is the Reagan message Romney should have emulated."

So to anyone wondering what the message for a Scott Walker presidential campaign would be, wonder no longer. For him, the path of Reagan is the path to victory.

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