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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Walker Post-Mortem Bodes Ill for GOP

Many political observers were surprised by Scott Walker’s rapid decline and sudden departure from the field of GOP presidential candidates. As for the why of Walker’s flunk, here are some of the more interesting insights:
At The Washington Monthly TDS managing editor Ed Kilgore writes:

…What made Walker exciting to a lot of conservatives earlier this year was that unlike Bush and Rubio he offered a plausible electability argument that depended on the party moving hard right and confronting its enemies with the full power of its base’s hatred rather than compromising or “reaching out” to this or that constituency of looters and loafers. This is something conservatives badly want to believe in. But as the Invisible Primary proceeded, other candidates emerged who offered competing and more viscerally appealing models for winning a general election without compromise…
…Walker became exposed as a career politician (he has indeed been in public office since he was 24) whose heroic story of standing up to the unions grew smaller and smaller as other candidates made the contest about an apocalyptic challenge to all the godless liberals and all of those people, and also to the hated GOP Establishment that kept compromising with the former and sucking up to the latter.

Other writers have cited reports of Walker’s bloated campaign staff and limited cash resources to pay them. GOP strategist Ed Rogers says he is “mystified” by Scott Walker’s sudden withdrawal. NYT columnist Frank Bruni cites Walkers one big cause, union-bashing, as inadequate for building popular support. Rachel Maddow called Walker “the black hole of charisma.” And WaPo editorial writer Stephen Stromberg observes,

…It would be a mistake to just blame Trump for Walker’s political demise. Even the relatively mild scrutiny applied to Walker’s run revealed him for what he really is: a man who has not thought much outside of his narrow experience and who fumbled when reporters asked him to do so. The result was a candidate who was intellectually and strategically adrift. He didn’t seem to know how he felt on a range of issues, and, in the absence of sincere positions, he didn’t seem to know how far right he wanted to run. All of this made his bluster about being a “fighter” who is “unintimidated” seem embarrassingly inappropriate…Walker didn’t need Trump to fail. He didn’t just have bad luck. He couldn’t be any more than he is: walking proof that a combative style, a hard ideological edge and identity-based pandering can’t always make up for cluelessness.

Kyle Kondik explains at Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

Walker did not have any out-and-out terrible moments: There isn’t a Rick Perry “oops” on his presidential scorecard or, for our older readers, an equivalent of George Romney’s “brainwashing” on Vietnam in the 1968 Republican contest. Rather, it’s been death by a thousand cuts for Walker…Earlier in the cycle, we thought the best-case scenario for Walker would be that he could unite both the conservative grassroots and the establishment, becoming an outsider-insider candidate, or “a consensus choice whose nomination would avert a GOP identity crisis,” as we described it in August 2013. Unfortunately for Walker, there does seem to now be a consensus among both GOP insiders and outsiders: Walker didn’t suit either camp.
…Still, running as an outsider might have been a decent approach for Walker, particularly if he could have won Iowa, where he was leading the polls into the summer. But then: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina happened. Walker could claim to be an outsider against the likes of a Jeb Bush, but that trio of candidates with zero elected experience made him seem like an insider by comparison, given that he’s spent almost his entire adult life in elective politics at the local and state levels.

It was probably sound media strategy for Walker to quit this early, since the Pope’s visit will diminish coverage of Walker’s failure, enabling him to fade away more quietly instead of being repeatedly branded as poster-boy for ineffectual campaigning. Progressives can hope that he is finished in national politics, but his early quit may allow him to survive and emerge in some form at a later time.
Walker is not alone in being caught unprepared for the Trump phenomenon. Walker may have been well-positioned on the issues spectrum to serve as a ‘consensus’ candidate uniting GOP factions. But Walker and his fellow candidates could not predict that a media-savvy carnival barker would steal the show. I’m wondering if the Walker campaign’s internal poll analysis indicated that his support among Republican blue collar voters was zilch, and Trump had a lock on that pivotal constituency.
As for which Republican candidate will benefit the most from Walker’s withdrawal, it’s just guesswork. But the problems revealed by Walker’s departure give Democrats another reason for optimism about 2016.

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