First Read: Who Gains From Scott Walker's Loss?

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By Mark Murray, Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Who benefits from Walker’s absence?

After Scott Walker’s stunning decision on Monday to suspend his campaign, there are a LOT of staff, endorsers and activists who are now up for grabs. And there are multiple candidates who could benefit.

Let’s start with Marco Rubio, who could pick up some of Walker’s organization. As NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard reports, what Rubio lacks in Iowa right now is a strong organization and ground game. And what did Walker have? A strong organization and ground game. Also of note: last night, Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan said that the campaign had picked up the support of Walker’s New Hampshire state co-chair.

  • There’s Ted Cruz, who was vying with Walker for support among Iowa’s evangelicals. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports that Cruz is expected to look to hire Walker campaign staff based in the Hawkeye State, where Cruz has had two paid staffers on the books and hopes to add several more. Cruz aides tell O’Donnell that they have attracted support from some key influence leaders and active conservatives from three states including Iowa, Georgia and Nevada. These new supporters will help recruit and organize for the Texas senator.
  • If there’s one campaign that desperately needs the kind of infrastructure that Walker had, it’s Carly Fiorina’s. Her campaign apparatus isn’t keeping up with her poll numbers right now, and scooping up the support of ex-Walkerites could give her the fleshed-out structure needed to turn momentum into enduring support on the ground.
  • And there’s even Jeb Bush, who finds his establishment/conservative lane a little less crowded with Walker out of the race, even in Iowa -- where 20% or so could be the winning number. “I wanted to make note of the fact that Rick Perry and Scott Walker … weren’t, kind of, back benchers, sitting on the sidelines and yapping about things or talking about filing an amendment and calling it success,” he said yesterday in Iowa, per NBC’s Danny Freeman and Emily Gold. (He wasn’t talking about Rubio and Cruz, now was he?) “They actually took conservative ideas and applied them where everybody had a chance to rise up.” Bush has also picked up a handful of former Walker backers, including former Wisconsin GOP chairman Richard Graber.

What did we learn from Scott Walker?

Scott Walker and Rick Perry both learned a hard lesson this cycle: If at first you don’t succeed – you don’t get a second look anymore. There are too many other alternatives in this GOP field, and the news cycle moves too fast for all but the most skilled candidates to claw their way out of a deficit. Individual stumbles and flip-flops aside, Walker’s fatal mistake was that he tried to be all things to all conservatives. In a year when the party wants anything but a traditional politician, Walker got caught being, well, a traditional politician: Trying too hard to give answers to appease supporters; trying to be politically perfect at the expense of being fresh or defiant; trying too hard to use a state budget to make a presidential statement.

*** Trump trumps Walker: Our friend Chris Cillizza put it well yesterday: Donald Trump essentially destroyed Scott Walker’s presidential chances. How? Look no further than the issue of immigration, which Trump ripped away from Walker -- who had been basing much of his Iowa campaign on his opposition to illegal immigration (especially given Bush’s and Rubio’s views on the subject). Another lesson from the demises of both Walker and Rick Perry – aside from the influence of The Donald? For as much as we talk about how super PACs have changed the presidential game and made it more likely that candidates can stick out rough patches, hard money still rules. As both campaigns stumbled, fundraising dried up, and even outside groups flush with big donations couldn’t help them keep the lights on with the basics of a campaign. There are simply some things that super PACs can’t help with – including that hefty $40k South Carolina filing fee, by the way, which has now been a slayer for TWO ex-candidates.

*** Walker’s plea: We need to stop Trump. That was essentially Walker’s message from his statement suspending his campaign. “Today, I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race, so that a positive conservative message can rise to the top of the field,” Walker announced yesterday, according to NBC’s Emily Gold. “With this in mind, I will suspend my campaign immediately. I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same, so that the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer positive conservative alternative to the current frontrunner.” That current frontrunner? Donald Trump, of course.

*** A Timeline: Walker’s actual campaign lasted for just slightly more than 70 days: Don’t believe us? Here’s the timeline:

  • Nov. 4, 2014: Walker wins re-election, winning his third gubernatorial race in four years (2010, 2012 recall, 2014 re-election)
  • Jan. 24, 2015: Walker gives speech in Iowa that wows conservatives. “Scott Walker wowed them in Iowa at whatever this thing was, this Republican, slash, conservative, just wowed them,” Rush Limbaugh said afterward.
  • Feb. 26: Walker gives speech at CPAC, suggesting that he can take on ISIS because he took on the unions in Wisconsin. "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," he said.
  • March 1: Walker confirms that he no longer supports comprehensive immigration reform, telling Fox’s Chris Wallace: “[M]y view has changed. I'm flat out saying it.”
  • July 13: Walker formally kicks off his presidential campaign in Wisconsin.
  • Aug. 6: Walker participates in first GOP debate, and gets poor to middling reviews.
  • Aug. 23: Walker takes three different positions on birthright citizenship in a week.
  • Aug. 30: Walker tells Chuck Todd that building a border fence/wall along the northern border is a “legitimate issue.”
  • Sept. 16: Walker participates in his second GOP debate, and speaks for the shortest amount of time among the 11 GOP candidates.
  • Sept. 21: Walker suspends his presidential campaign.

*** The Pope Arrives: With Pope Francis set to arrive in Washington today, there’s plenty of politics going on to mark the arrival of a pontiff who at times has made both sides of the aisle uncomfortable. Here are two data points to watch: Senate Republicans are set to hold a vote on a measure to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, while Senate Democrats are planning to unveil a measure voicing support of an aggressive climate change agenda.

*** Hillary Clinton to unveil prescription-drug plan: She’ll unveil a new prescription drug plan in Iowa, saying that she’ll “demand a stop to excessive profiteering and marketing” by forcing drug companies to reinvest in research, NBC’s Kristen Welker reports. Clinton also says she’ll encourage the entry of more generic and imported drugs to the market and create a “federal backstop” for high-priced drugs without competitors.

*** Carson triples down:’s Benjy Sarlin notes that, beyond Carson’s statement to one of us(!) about a Muslim in the White House, he’s also made it clear that he might view even a Muslim who embraces American values as suspect. Why? He’s brought up the concept of “taqiyya,” the idea in Shia Islamic law that allows Muslims to conceal their religion if they are being persecuted. (It’s a concept commonly mentioned in anti-Sharia political circles, Sarlin notes.) Also, Carson *tripled* down on his comments about Muslims in a Facebook post last night, writing that “Those Republicans that take issue with my position are amazing. Under Islamic Law, homosexuals – men and women alike – must be killed. Women must be subservient. And people following other religions must be killed. I know that there are many peaceful Muslims who do not adhere to these beliefs. But until these tenants are fully renounced…I cannot advocate any Muslim candidate for President.”

*** One more thought on Carson: Bigger than the Carson/Trump controversy over Muslims in the White House is a fact of life that many haven’t confronted: There’s Islamophobia in America. There are a few things going on here: 1) a feeling among many Americans that mainstream Muslims aren’t doing enough to denounce radicals – and 2) in some cases, a conflation of mainstream and radical Islam, perpetuated by constant coverage of the threat of extremism. The result of statements like Carson’s isn’t just that the extreme perversion of Islam is a terrifying threat, it’s that anyone of the Muslim faith could be suspect. We get it: this is an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s the one that this controversy SHOULD spark. (Although it’s not clear that it will.)

*** Paul Ryan and Tim Scott team up for a 2016 poverty forum: This will be fascinating to watch. House Ways & Means Chair Paul Ryan isn’t a presidential candidate, but he’ll keep his brand of GOP economic wonkery in the conversation with a big event at a key time in the cycle next year. Ryan and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) will moderate a presidential forum on poverty – sponsored by the Jack Kemp Foundation – on January 9 in Columbia, SC.

*** On the trail: Jeb Bush campaigns in Iowa. Ben Carson begins a two-day campaign swing to Ohio and Michigan, including a 1:45pm media avail in Cedarville, Ohio. Carly Fiorina holds campaign events in South Carolina. Donald Trump is a guest on Stephen Colbert’s show.

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