Sometimes you’re just wrong. You look at the variables, consider the trends, put your finger to the wind and you still pick wrong.
There are people out there that were sure LaserDiscs were going to take off, that Myspace would outlast Facebook and that Americans would want to buy overpriced burgers from celebrities.
But those were risky, bets from the start. One bet that seemed sure though, was Scott Walker.
Scott Walker had the resume, the history, the timing and definitely the money to go the distance in the 2016 presidential race. And then…He didn’t.
Scott Walker dropped out of the GOP race on Monday, and without putting too fine a point on it, this is probably the biggest shake-up in the entire election season thus far.
Scott Walker had everything that a Republican presidential candidate in the post-Obama Tea-Party era could hope for. He was part of a wave of Republican governors elected to Blue States in off-year reactions to Obamacare and the dragging economy.
Once comfortably ensconced in one of the most liberal states in the country he proceeded to gut social services, privatize various government tasks and push through policies that weakened various public employee unions, a key Democratic constituency.
However all that stuff just made Walker a good Republican governor, his bonafides for running for president were even more substantial.
He came into the campaign running high and hot but didn’t seem prepared for the long haul.
Walker’s time as governor of Wisconsin had been relatively scandal free, putting him ahead of the likes of Chris Christie and John Kasich. He’d ingratiated himself to the Koch Brothers and their money and extensive network of business and political elite contacts.
Scott Walker was seen as so formidable by the Democrats that Obama had actually called him out a few times – and when the sitting president calls you out, it’s a tell–tale sign the opposition party is spooked.
Walker was strong in early primary state polling and as recently as August GOP field polls showed Trump 21%, Walker 13% and Jeb Bush 12.2%.
Here’s what DIDN’T Happen...
There are going to be a rash of wrong theories about Walker’s ultimate flame out, but most of them don’t stand up to real scrutiny. For example, it wasn’t Walker’s poor debate performances that doomed him. First, he didn’t perform ‘poorly’ in any debate, he just failed to distinguish himself in a field of ten people.
Also, Scott Walker’s poll numbers had already started to drift from 13 to below 10% before the first GOP debate on August 6. Prominent GOP consultant Dick Morris wrote that Scott Walker was just this cycle’s “Tim Pawlenty,” an overqualified midwestern governor chewed up by the campaign process.
This is not true--no one ever really believed in Tim Pawlenty. He was a laughing stock the moment he launched his campaign with his Michael Bay-like commercials but decidedly dull JC Penny’s weekend sale demeanor.
His fall, while surprising, is the result of the most overworked of political sports clichés – Scott Walker “peaked too soon”, and then could not find his footing once Trump and subsequently the other “outsiders” jumped into the race.
Here’s what DID Happen...
Walker came into the race calling himself “aggressively normal” and touting that he buys his clothes from big box stores. But he came into the campaign running high and hot and didn’t seem prepared for the long haul.
Iowa caucus voters are notorious political flirts, and have tendency to anoint ‘contenders’ early only to then toss them aside and return them all before Christmas.
Walker didn’t realize that once Donald Trump (and to a lesser extent Fiorina) entered the race, the tenor of the campaign had changed from a record of accomplishment to projecting a strong vision of the future.
As much as Walker was a conservative he struggled with the primary race’s rightward lunch on immigration, offering various conflicting answers within days. Next he all but abandoned his ‘regular guy’ persona claiming he was going to “Wreak Havoc” on Washington D.C. as if the nation’s capital was an afterparty hotel room.
More importantly polling showed that Marco Rubio, Fiorina and Trump were the first and second choices of Walker supporters, which meant that the rise of Rubio and Fiorina in particular, began to eat into his already diminishing poll standings.
In the end he was crushed by two predictable but ultimately powerful forces, the rise of other candidates and the rightward push of the campaign. Scott Walker wasn’t any more accomplished than Rubio or Christie, he wasn’t more relatable than Kasich or Huckabee, he wasn’t any more ideologically pure than Carson or Cruz.
He didn’t have more money and connections than Jeb Bush and he didn’t have as big a personality as Donald Trump. In the end, ‘aggressively normal’ just wasn’t enough.
This won’t lead to an exodus of other candidates, if anything Chris Christie, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee will probably be encouraged that there’s one less person at the prime time debates (it’s unlikely Jindal, Santorum or Pataki will get promoted).
After the second debate Walker’s poll numbers dropped faster than Hewlett Packard stock and his voters have already fled to Rubio and Fiorina.
Walker himself will head back to Wisconsin where he’ll serve out the rest of his term in relative obscurity. There’s no shame in not winning the GOP nomination but there’s certainly shock to see a front runner burn so bright and crash so hard due to nothing more than being exceptionally, aggressively normal.