Gov. Scott Walker, Pence Debate Prepper, On Trump's Strategy, Party Policy
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are preparing to take each other on again in their second debate this Sunday. Let's hear now from a man who knows a lot about debate prep, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. He helped prep Republican Mike Pence by playing the role of Democrat Tim Kaine before Tuesday's vice presidential debate, and he joined us to talk about that.
Governor Walker, welcome.
SCOTT WALKER: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me on.
MONTAGNE: Now, Governor Pence generally got high marks for his calm demeanor and especially in the face of a reasonably aggressive Tim Kaine. Is Donald Trump going to be taking pointers for next week's presidential debate?
WALKER: Well, I certainly hope so. I mean, I think - he's got only a few days, but I do think it is helpful to allow your mind to be clear and to focus. And it's not just politics. You know, just about anybody - a surgeon prepares. A quarterback prepares. And I would hope he'd do the same or at least something like that.
MONTAGNE: Although, of course, Donald Trump has made it a point of honor that he doesn't prepare - or didn't prepare for that first debate. Are others actually asking or suggesting to him that he do more preparation for this next debate?
WALKER: That would be my strong suggestion. And I get his point. I mean, I think there's a certain part of the electorate that likes an unscripted person who just tells it like it is. And my reaction, I guess, to Mr. Trump in that would be, debate prep doesn't take that away.
MONTAGNE: Now, Mike Pence, strikingly, took a harder, more traditional Republican line on Russia. He called Vladimir Putin, I'm quoting, "a small and bullying leader." And this is after Trump heaped praise on Putin, saying he's a stronger leader than the leader of the United States, Barack Obama. Trump's talked about lifting sanctions on Russia. So what is the Republican position on that?
WALKER: Oh, I think Mike Pence pretty accurately explained where - not only where Republicans are, by and large, but I think where Donald Trump is on this. I mean, Trump is a first-time candidate, someone who has not traditionally taken positions on a lot of these issues. And I think he's pointing out that he wants an American president who's stronger than Putin is but we don't see that under this president I think was the point that Pence was making. And I think, in turn, originally was the point that Donald Trump was making.
MONTAGNE: Well, Trump has talked about a secret plan to fight ISIS. But Mike Pence went beyond - and some say far beyond - Trump's views on Syria. Pence said - and I'm quoting him here - "the U.S. should be prepared to strike the military forces of the Assad regime." So again, what is the real Republican policy here?
WALKER: I mean, it's pretty clear that Mike Pence, in his one and only vice presidential debate, is not going off on his own territory. I think that the point in all of this is - the reason we have the troubles we have today are because we've had, for seven and a half years, an administration focused on weakness, not only from this president but, for the first four years, from Hillary Clinton who was largely the architect of many of these policies as secretary of state. I think his point is that you want to show that you're prepared to take action to protect the American people.
MONTAGNE: Well, in this case, the talk is about taking action in what amounts to a proxy war with Russia. I mean, it gets - went into the territory of shooting down a Russian plane, maybe by accident. Would that be the policy of this Republican ticket?
WALKER: Well, those are questions, I would imagine, they're going to get more detail on in the second and third presidential debate. But I certainly think that - again, Donald Trump who's raised serious concerns about wars and conflicts the United States has been in in the past, is not in any way eager to get into a war.
MONTAGNE: Governor Walker, your state, Wisconsin, has started voting - early voting...
MONTAGNE: ...Along with other states. And your state is a battleground state. Does Donald Trump have time to catch up?
WALKER: Well, in the last reputable polls from Marquette University, he was down by 2. But - I mean, to me, it's a completely different dynamic than I think we've ever seen. Obviously, Donald Trump is not a traditional Republican nominee, which comes with it with strengths and challenges. And, you know, a lot will dependent people who say, I want a change - Hillary Clinton's more of the same. And if those folks feel like they want this to be a change election, then I think Donald Trump and Mike Pence have a real shot.
MONTAGNE: Well, just finally then, does the Trump brand now define the Republican Party?
WALKER: Oh, I think it defines who the nominee is. But I think there are - you know, I joke all the time. Donald Trump wasn't my first pick. I was my first pick. But I said a year ago in the first debate in August of 2015 that I thought any of the 17 were better than Hillary Clinton. That doesn't mean that I endorse or embrace everything about him, but he's the nominee of the party. And I firmly believe that he a better pick than Hillary Clinton is going forward. And after November 8, I think that no matter what happens, there'll be a lot of us fighting to define the future of the Republican Party and particularly how that ties into millennials.
MONTAGNE: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, thank you very much.
WALKER: Thank you
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.