To say Gov. Scott Walker made a splash at the Conservative Political Action Conference would be an understatement. Poised to be the the star of the show, Walker did indeed walk away with the spotlight.
But reactions have been largely negative to the governor’s suggestion that combating union protesters in Wisconsin has prepared him for the threat posed by the Islamic State.
“I want a commander-in-chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists does not wash up on American soil,” Walker said. “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”
By all accounts, the CPAC crowd loved it. But elsewhere, the comment triggered a collective double-take.
“Thought I misheard Walker equate unions to ISIS. I didn’t,” tweeted Metro Weekly reporter Justin Snow.
“First person to load this vid of Scott Walker comparing ISIS to Union protestors to Facebook will get 5million views,” joked BuzzFeed’s Dorsey Shaw.
Walker and his team were quick to clean up the remarks after his speech. Through his Our American Revival group, spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement that Walker was “in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS.”
Walker told reporters after the speech he did not regret his comment.
“You all will misconstrue things the way you see fit. That’s the closest thing I have in terms of handling a difficult situation, not that there’s any parallel between the two,” he said, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
It wasn’t the first time Walker had invoked a connection the 2011 labor protests and his ability to take on terrorists, though.
At a Feb. 19 dinner with conservative economists and members of the media in New York, Walker riffed on a similar theme.
“Noteworthy, Walker argued that when Reagan fired the PATCO air-traffic controllers over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as our Soviet enemies abroad,” wrote Larry Kudlow, recounting Walker’s remarks for the National Review. “Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.”
Walker’s comments on Thursday prompted a spate of reactions from the right, left and center.
Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel pondered how Walker’s fandom of President Ronald Reagan hurts the governor in a piece headlined, “Ronald Reagan, Scott Walker, and the ISIS Gaffe,” and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrapped it up with this headline: Memo to Scott Walker: Islamic State ≠ Wisconsin protesters.”
Conservative writer Jim Geraghty wrote for the National Review that Walker’s response was “terrible” and perhaps a “genuine unforced error.”
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry took the opportunity to get a dig in at his potential competitor for a 2016 presidential bid. Perry said on MSNBC that Walker’s comments went too far.
“These are Americans,” Perry told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt. “You are talking about, in the case of ISIS, people who are beheading individuals and committing heinous crimes, who are the face of evil. To try to make the relationship between them and the unions is inappropriate.”
Betsy Kippers, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, called Walker’s comments “disgusting.” And Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said the governor holds “contempt for the fundamental expression of democracy.”
“To compare hard-working men and women who work for a living to terrorists is a disgrace. Coming together to peacefully protest for freedom, to raise your voice for a better Wisconsin, this is not an act of terror,” said Wisconsin AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt in a statement.
The liberal group One Wisconsin Now noted on Friday that in 2011, on a prank phone call with a blogger Walker thought was conservative donor David Koch, the governor said “we thought about that” after the blogger suggested planting “troublemakers” in the crowd of protesters gathered at the Capitol.
“Gov. Walker’s comments and longstanding, seething contempt for working people who dare to stand up for their rights is unsettling,” said OWN executive director Scot Ross in a statement. “That comparing them to terrorists as a part of his stump speech as he auditions for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is beyond outrageous, it ought to be disqualifying.”