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Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Trump's decisive win in Iowa

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is on the line. We've called him to talk about the caucuses that Donald Trump dominated last night and what is to come. Governor, welcome.

SCOTT WALKER: Hey. Good morning. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: I think we have to remind people, even though it's a little unpleasant to mention for you, I guess, that Donald Trump beat a field that included you back in 2016. What do you make of his win in Iowa this time?

WALKER: Yeah, and I should qualify that I was the smart one. I got out of that race before I got on the ticket.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: No one actually voted against you. Good point. But go on, go on.

WALKER: Yeah (laughter). Yeah, but in terms of Iowa, it's exactly what I expected. A weekly column I put out last week said he was going to win probably with just over 50% of the vote and the real race for who was in second. I thought DeSantis would be, but it would be close. But needless to say, winning by over that, I think this is probably DeSantis' last stand. He had put all of his campaign effort - his PAC had been heavily engaged and involved here.

The true test now will be, how far does Governor Haley go on? I think she'd probably win or - either wins or comes close to winning New Hampshire just because of how the polls have tightened. And because of Chris Christie getting out of the race, I would imagine most - not all, but most of those votes to go his way. But even if she's close or wins, a few weeks later in South Carolina in February, even in her home state, Donald Trump is probably going to win there convincingly and in all the remaining caucuses and primaries. So it's not done yet, but it's pretty close.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about what that means. Our correspondent Susan Davis a short time ago alluded to a basic reality, which is that Donald Trump lost the election in 2020. And this is not something you have to rely on me about. Thousands of election officials from both parties affirmed the results. Dozens of courts heard challenges and rejected them all. Even after that, there were audits for years in places like Arizona and still found that Trump lost the election. And I know you've been reality based, governor. You noted that in Wisconsin, where Trump tried for a recall, that he was not close enough to have a chance there. That wasn't going to work.

So with all of that reality on the table, as far as you know, how are Republican voters thinking about their support for a candidate who has built his entire campaign around a really well-verified falsehood?

WALKER: Well, I think most voters are actually motivated not by that, but by what was accomplished during his four years in office. I think for most of them, and I would think - you know, you heard different things in the attacks, but most Republican voters think Ron DeSantis did a solid job in Florida. Most Republican voters think Nikki Haley was a good ambassador for the United Nations. So it wasn't attacks on them and preference that way over Trump.

I think, more than anything in the primary, and I would say even among some swing voters in states like mine, there's a feeling amongst voters that are tired of politicians, of candidates who say all the right things and then go to Washington and backtrack from the things they promised when they were campaigning. Conversely, with Donald Trump, he doesn't always talk or tweet the way many of us do, certainly in the Midwest, but elsewhere. But in the end, he actually did overwhelmingly the things that he said during the campaign table. So I think that's the draw. It's not about the last election. It really, for most voters, is about wanting more of that.

INSKEEP: But if you forgive me, for Trump - and I just go by his own words, the sheer volume of his own words. For him, it is absolutely about the last election, about relitigating the last election. As a professional...

WALKER: Well, I don't disagree with what he's saying. But my point is I think...

INSKEEP: As a professional politician, do you think he's going - he can even be an effective president given that this is his approach?

WALKER: Well, if his focus is on the last election, ultimately the best way to redeem himself on that is to win. And so I felt all along, if it's a referendum on the economy, people are fed up, even young people. We see it at Young America's Foundation. The No. 1 issue in the polling we do of college students is the economy. And on that, Joe Biden - President Biden is extremely vulnerable.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

WALKER: I hope that the former president, if he wants to be the future president - needs to put his time and attention on what's gone wrong and make the contrast. I'll give you a good example. I've got a son and daughter-in-law who are trying to buy a house. For them, they're going to pay an extra $1,500 a month more in mortgage payments than what they would have paid back before Joe Biden took office. Those are real numbers. Those are real realities for a lot of young people and people in general across America. But that's the kind of contrast...

INSKEEP: OK. That is - it's true about mortgage rates going up. I would agree with that. But let me just ask one other thing here. Michel Martin noted a little bit earlier in the program that the rest of the Republican Party has done poorly in this period when Donald Trump has dominated. They lost the House in 2018, they lost the Senate in 2020, they underperformed in 2022. What are the risks, if any, of Trump as a nominee if he were to win the nomination again in 2024?

WALKER: Well, again, I think if the focus is on the economy in 2022, every Republican governor in America who's up for reelection won convincingly.

INSKEEP: OK.

WALKER: And I think that's the lesson. If you learned anything from the last few years, it's look at what they ran on. Look at the focus about a plan to get America working again, to get us back on the right track. It worked at the state level. I think if the former president, if he's the nominee, which it looks like he is, if he focuses on, hey, life was pretty good when I was president, particularly before COVID. We can make that happen again. Here's our plan and contrast that with what's happening with President Joe Biden. I think he's got a real shot, at least in battleground states like mine.

INSKEEP: Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Thanks for your time, really appreciate it.

WALKER: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: And our political correspondent Susan Davis has been listening. Sue, what do you make of that?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: You know, one of the points that the governor made that I think is very valid and a big red sign, flashing warning sign for the Biden campaign is young voters. Polling after polling after polling shows how much lack of enthusiasm young voters, depending on how you define it - but generally speaking, people in the 18-30 or 18-35 range, they feel uniquely pessimistic about the state and future of the country. They're really sour on Joe Biden. Polls would even indicate that they are more competitive with Donald Trump than any Republican candidate has been in recent years.

And enthusiasm is going to be a huge issue in this race when - especially if it's essentially two incumbents that the country doesn't like very much. How to overcome that enthusiasm and get people to show up to vote is going to be one of the core challenges for either candidate, frankly, in 2024.

INSKEEP: Tamara Keith, covering the White House, as you do, do you think that the people around Biden acknowledge they have a problem with younger voters?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: They do acknowledge it. They also acknowledge that they have a challenge with African American and Latino voters, that there's softness in that part of their base and that they need to work on that. And then they consider independent voters to be a persuasion target.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Tamara Keith and Susan Davis. And we continue our live coverage on this morning after the Iowa caucuses, which Donald Trump dominated. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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