Scott Walker, the former governor of Wisconsin was able to see firsthand the effects of cancel culture. He was the first American governor to survive recall elections in 2012. His economic recovery plan and budget cuts proved more popular with voters.
As president of the Young America’s Foundation, Walker is showing the next generation of conservatives how to fight back against the left—and win.
Walker is also on a quest to expand YAF’s reach by engaging a larger number of young Americans on the issues that matter most. He is optimistic about the future. Walker believes more young people will reject socialism and big-government socialism if they understand the consequences.
You can listen to the entire interview or view our conversation on YouTube. Below is an edited transcript.
Rob Bluey: We are focused here in Washington on some of the big challenges our country faces, obviously the last 18 months we’ve endured this pandemic. We now have a new Washington administration that is pushing a lot big-government socialist programmes. You have the perspective of leading a state through difficult times, including coming out of recession and having big budget discussions and encounters with unions.
And now you’re leading an organization that focuses on the future and educating young people about our great country. What is your current outlook on the country? How can you help these young Americans to see a brighter tomorrow?
Scott Walker: I’m an optimist, which might sound unusual for a conservative here in our nation’s capital where we sit right now. But I’m an optimist for a couple of different reasons. One, you mentioned my tenure as governor. When I think back to 2008, 2009, and 2010 after the recession, I am reminded of how we got into 2010. When I ran for governor in Wisconsin, the unemployment rate was over 9.2%. We had more than 133,000 people out-of-work back then. There were many problems. I was left with a budget deficit amounting to $3.6 billion. This was quite significant for a small state.
The reason I’m optimistic is because I look at with positive conservative reforms, we were able to react to that in a great way. In fact, when I left for multiple years in a row, we had more people working than ever before in Wisconsin’s history. Unemployment was well below 3 percent. Each year, we had budget surpluses. Perhaps most important, we implemented reforms at the state and local levels that allowed our elected officials to run the government.
This allowed us to hire based on merit. We could pay on the basis of performance. We could hire the best and brightest students in the classroom and other areas. And that’s really paid off. There have been more than $13 Billion in tax relief, major reforms and major savings. So, I put that in context as saying it hasn’t happened yet, but I think that will have a major impact, particularly next year, what happens with the electorate and a minimum, at least, with the house. And then I think given time, much as we saw what happened in 2008 led to 2010 and beyond, the positive reforms that came after those elections, I’m hopeful that ’22 and ’24 will lead down that path as well.
The other part is with young people, at Young America’s Foundation, I just see not just our young people who are already motivated and involved, but when we go to college campuses and we give lectures, what I’ve found is that many people look at young people today and they say, “Oh my gosh, what is wrong with them?” And I say, “No, no, no, what’s wrong is that society, all of us, collectively, haven’t done enough to give a balanced perspective.” And while on one hand that’s frustrating because most polls then show that young people lean left, the positive side is given some information, it’s actually not hard to move them in the right direction.
Bluey: Governor, I will tell you that no matter how frustrated or worried people are, I know they still have hope for tomorrow. Your optimistic outlook is shared by many of them, I believe. Today, you are at The Heritage Foundation to discuss how we can effectively communicate to conservatives as well as many Americans who may not be directly affiliated with the conservative movement. However, I believe deep down they will probably agree with some issues that we address. What advice would you like to share with our listeners about how you’re doing that at Young America’s Foundation?
Walker One of the best things, and this is not only true with young people, I think it’s true overall with people but particularly young people, is as conservatives we have a tendency to think and talk with our head. The left thinks and speaks with their heart. To succeed, we need to think with our heart, use our brain, and communicate our thoughts in a way that is both authentic and humane. And one of the most compelling things we encourage our young people to do at our conferences and even on their campuses is go and seek out people who’ve come here from other countries, particularly people who’ve come from places like Venezuela or Cuba or some of the old Soviet republics. We’ve had, on our campuses and at many of our conferences, people who fit that bill, whether they’re very young or people who have several generations removed from having come here.
But it’s just so powerful because when someone talks to you about Venezuela, a country that just a decade and a half ago was one of the wealthiest in the hemisphere, now nine out of 10 people in that country live in abject poverty. You can see that the average Venezuelan has lost 20 pounds in the last few decades due to malnutrition.
It is possible to see the effects of socialism on people. You can also think of Cuba, where the minimum wage was $17 until January 2017. It’s not per hour, per day, or per month. Now it’s gone up since then, but think about that. Even with free healthcare and we all know that free healthcare means lousy healthcare in Cuba, as we’ve seen in this pandemic, but healthcare and housing and transportation. I tell these children $17. Even at that amount, how would you pay for an iPhone or any other purchase? And so sharing, not just the facts, but finding ways to communicate it, either through stories or ideally through firsthand accounts of people who’ve experienced either socialist countries or countries that warrants communist. This is really, really powerful.
Bluey: For many years we have known, through polling, that young people are increasingly turning to socialism. They’re also turning away from free-market capitalism, it seems. When you’ve looked at these issues, what do you find in the polling that you’ve done?
Walker On the surface, it might appear that way, but it’s interesting. We did a number of polls in this, like others have done, but for example, one of the open-ended polls we did where we said, “Define socialism.” The highest number of people, there was no clear majority, but the plurality at the top was not sure. Nearly 30% of the respondents of young people weren’t even sure.
This is astonishing because 10% of respondents thought it was social. The next highest group was 11%, where they gave very accurate descriptions. About the same number of people thought it was being social than anything else.
Interestingly, we get very similar results when we ask about free market. About 30%, weren’t certain and they were all over the map. Let me now return to the good and the ugly. The bad is we’ve got an education system in this country that largely has failed our students if they can’t clear the defined, whether you’re forward against it, what socialism is and what free market capitalism is.
That’s one of the important things too: How do we define it? It’s big-government socialism vs. free-market capitalism, if you want to be clear about the parameters. Because then I believe it gets back down to the fairness issue. Once we explain what that is, then young people go, “Oh, well, yeah, I’m actually for free markets. I don’t want the government intervening in this. I don’t want them telling me what I can or can’t do.”
And one of the other interesting telling points in one of our polls was we asked, “Do you think the federal government is using taxpayers money wisely?” A mere 26% said yes, about half said no, and about a quarter weren’t certain. So three-quarters of them were either no or weren’t sure. Only slightly less than a quarter thought they were using it correctly. So, it is a telling issue that we need to go beyond just the superficial headlines that the media jumps over and realize that most young people either don’t know or don’t fully appreciate what socialism is.
Bluey: This makes you wonder if perhaps the left is overplaying its hands here.
WalkerThey are, I think. They have a willing accomplice, the media. This is why the media supports it. And I think, actually even worse with the media, it’s not even just that they’re liberal. Some are certainly national. I believe it is worse, however. Most media outlets are lazy.
Bluey: In your work at Young America’s Foundation, what issues do you find are resonating most with college students these days? What are they most interested in?
WalkerCancel culture is the most important thing. … We have on our tip line, yaf.org/tips, you can actually give us a tip if you’re a college student or anyone else for that matter. It is amazing how many times we’ll get tips, recorded or otherwise, we have professors saying, “Hey, if you say you’re pro-life, you’re pro gun, you’re pro Trump, whatever it might be, you’re going to flunk out of class. I won’t accept that.”
Well, that’s a clear violation from a not only free speech, but academic freedom standpoint. It’s evident in the classroom, and it’s also apparent with other students. We see it when speakers come to campus where they either outright won’t allow them. Or I remember in the past, for example, the University of California Berkeley, we were helping to bring in Ben Shapiro and the university didn’t technically block him in the purest legal sense, but they put restrictions like he couldn’t be there after three in the afternoon, they couldn’t advertise, the students couldn’t advertise for it. They had to charge a security charge that was multiple times higher than what they charge for any other group on campus.
We fought that, we ultimately won in court, just like we’ll fight it anywhere in the nation. It is still amazing when you consider free speech. Although it is something the constitution guarantees, it should be the most revered at college campuses. Yet that’s where it’s most at risk. So cancel culture and free speech issues are top of mind. They want to talk about freedom. They want to live in a free society. They’re very interested in fairness. We shouldn’t back away from that. Fairness and authenticity can be on our side, I believe. But we’ve had to go beyond the surface and really dig and explain what that means.
Bluey: If we have a college students who are listening to this podcast, or maybe parents or grandparents, what are the resources that Young America’s Foundation can provide them? You mentioned the tip line. Talk about other things you do to help them overcome any challenges they may face.
Walker Individual students, whether you’re a member or not, you can join as a member to at yaf.org, but whether you’re a member, whether you’re part of chapter, or you’re just a conservative student, a lot of times we’ll work with other groups, College Republicans, Students for Life, you name it, we’ll work with others because you don’t just have to be a member to be of interest us.
Teachers are also included. I would add it’s not just students, but there are a significant number of professors and teachers, not only conservative ones, but just many who just want to be objective and we will stand up and help and defend them. It’s part of our long game plan to broaden out and reach to them as well as to more students.
And we’ll partner, we don’t do it alone, we have great allies like Alliance Defending Freedom that helps us when we go to court, we have other legal allies along the way, we’ll work with any other group on campus. We have a long-standing tradition. For example, College Republican chapters are involved in campus speeches. If they come to us at yaf.orgLet us know. Even if it’s an anonymous tip, let me know about anything happening. We’ll take it on in a heartbeat.
Bluey: Bluey! Why did you accept this job? There are people who believe you should return to public service and run for another office. How do you want to leave your mark on the Young America’s Foundation?
Walker Well, I get asked about once a week if I’m going to run again. And you can tell I thought about this answer: I’m a quarter century younger than Joe Biden. So I had plenty of time. But for the foreseeable future, I’m with Young America’s Foundation. Tonette and my wife, Tonette, have been long-standing supporters. We came to the Reagan Ranch ranch, which is one the many things that YAF is involved in, and we also own and manage the ranch out Santa Barbara. We visited 10 years ago. It was the perfect timing, as we were right between the protests at the state Capitol and recall elections. It was a reminder that even though Ronald Reagan is beloved today, and he rightfully so, he was frequently under attack back in his prime.
And so it was very reassuring to see, if you’re doing the right thing, you’re going to face attack and it put us in the right mindset. Tonette and my support have been tremendous ever since. But when Ron Robinson, who has been there more than four decades, think about a tremendous legacy that he’s built. Great staff, great supporters, great students, great alumni. When he came to me a couple of years ago after my two terms were up and said, “Would you be interested?”
He had set his goal to retire after 2021’s inauguration. He said, “Would you be interested?” And I said, “Well, if you just want a caretaker, there’s plenty of great talent within.” Said, “But if you and your board are interested in someone who wants to dramatically increase both the number of students we reach and how much sooner we reach them, then I’m interested.”
And Ron replied, “Yes.” And so that’s part of why earlier this year after I, took the position we initiated what’s called the long game. Again, yaf.org/longgameIf people want to follow, The long game is really a 12-point plan to reach all 12 campuses so that there is an outlet for every student in the country. We’re in high school and college right now, I want to go into middle school and even give even elementary school parents some support.
This means building alliances. It’s why we love working with The Heritage Foundation. It’s because even things like critical race theory (which I call government sanctioned racist) are good examples. Parents are often looking for information about this. Those are things we don’t need to duplicate. We can work with young people and then partner with groups like Heritage to not recreate content, but actually disseminate some of the stuff that Heritage is does with the students we’re working with.
Bluey: Ten Years ago, some of my colleagues from The Heritage Foundation traveled to Wisconsin to do an experiment. interview with you at the height of the budget debateThese protests in Madison and the conversations you were having. You were recalled one year later. You were the first governor to survive in American history.
WalkerThe only one.
Bluey: What lessons can you draw from these experiences a decade later?
Walker And in a way they’re actually very relatable to the students we work with it at Young America’s Foundation because I tell them, when they sent 100,000 protesters, remember this wasn’t for hours. They occupied our state Capitol for nearly a month. This was over a period of weeks. I joke that Occupy didn’t begin on Wall Street. It started on my street, Madison, Wisconsin. But they were trying intimidate us. They’re trying to marginalize us. They’re trying to minimize us. They’re not just targeting me and my family with death threats, but also our administration, our legislators, and others.
Then, recall was the ultimate cancel culture. So I tell my students, especially on college campuses, that I can relate to them. The scale may vary. But they’re dealing with the same things. They’re trying to make young people feel intimidated, marginalized as though they’re off on their own.
One of the great things I hear at our conferences are young people who say, “I had no idea other people think like I do.” You probably get that with a lot of the interns and fellows that are involved here at Heritage, many of whom we swap in and hire and work with along the way. But it just was a great reminder why reaching more people, connecting them with good, sound conservative thought, and then not just the ideas, but then bind them together, that there’s strength in numbers and that the left’, really their goal has been for decades, is to intimidate, to marginalize, to make us feel like we’re out on a limb all by ourselves.
And we realize … there’s a lot more people deeply rooted with these strong all-American traditional ideas. To that extent, I think the more we do that, the more we remind people of that, the better off we’re all going to be.
Bluey: You’re certainly right. Well, if you want to learn more, again it’s Young America’s Foundation. The website is yaf.org. Gov. Scott Walker, we are grateful that you joined us today.
WalkerIt was a pleasure. It was great to be with you.