Scott Walker, a bad governor from Wisconsin, became the second Republican candidate to drop out of the presidential race yesterday. Like Rick Perry, Walker was facing abysmal polling numbers and quickly running out of funds. Also like Perry, he was somehow considered a favorite in the race by certain pundits paid to think about such things.
Walker left the race amidst rumors of a “very bad story” about his campaign coming down the pike; he also had the support of only one-half of one percent of Republican primary voters in the most recent CNN poll. But in op-eds published as recently as July, some of our nation’s top political pundits argued Scott Walker would single-handedly crush Donald Trump and clinch the nomination.
“How Scott Walker Will Win”
In a July Politico Magazine feature titled, “How Scott Walker Will Win,” longtime political reporter Alan Greensplatt made this stunning declaration: “Walker could plausibly clinch the nomination without losing a single early state.” He argued that Walker was “one of the few candidates who can complete in both [Iowa and New Hampshire].” Why? Because his fight against Wisconsin’s public sector employee unions had “shown GOP voters that he’s not only willing to take on a tough fight, but can find a way to prevail.”
This argument didn’t even hold water at the time. Walker did deliver one “rousing” anti-union speech at Iowa’s Freedom Summit back in January, but just a month later at CPAC he fucked it up by comparing America’s unions to ISIS. (If he could defeat one, he’d defeat the other, he argued.)
In the end, Walker’s union-busting rhetoric didn’t help him on the national stage, and now he’ll never even get the chance to compete in Iowa, let alone every “early state.”
“Scott Walker Is a Contender and Donald Trump Isn’t”
Also in July, Susan Page argued in USA Today that Walker would be the man to best Trump once and for all. “Trump and Walker are at opposite ends of the spectrum on a crucial measure: Room to grow,” she wrote. Page reasoned that since the average Republican voter was more familiar with Trump than Walker, Walker still had time to make a good impression on the American people. She argued:
Voters already have made up their minds about Trump, and two-thirds of Republicans already say they can’t see themselves supporting him for president. There’s a ceiling on his standing, even as the GOP field eventually gets smaller.
For Walker, only one in five now say they couldn’t see themselves supporting him. Among Americans generally, national polls show four or five in 10 don’t know enough about the Wisconsin governor to have an opinion, favorable or otherwise.
Those are voters he has the potential to win over.
“The GOP’s Sleeper Candidate”
Back in 2013, National Journal’s Beth Reinhard argued that “proven fundraiser” Scott Walker was “poised to be the sleeper Republican presidential candidate of 2016.” She hinged her argument on Walker’s ability to raise money, noting that “the governor amassed a $30 million war chest” during his 2012 recall election. Reinhard quoted Brian Sikma, a spokesman for a conservative government watchdog group in Wisconsin, who reasoned:
The recall was a gift to him in that it put him in touch with the big funders in the Republican Party, and I’m sure he keeps that Rolodex pretty close.
Not close enough. In reality, Walker only managed to raise $20 million for his super PAC and $6 million for his campaign committee in the first half of 2015, and his “advisers were believed to be burning through cash,” per The New York Times. For comparison’s sake, Jeb Bush raised $100 million in the same amount of time.
“Chris Christie’s Pain Is Walker’s Gain”
A month after Chris Christie’s 2014 press conference about the Fort Lee lane closure scandal, Anna Palmer argued in Politico that Bridgegate would give Walker the 2016 advantage he needed. “As Chris Christie’s star falls, the party is giving a second look to another brash blue-state governor who stared down unions at home: Scott Walker,” she wrote. In November 2014, Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum extended this line of thinking with a piece titled, “Why Scott Walker Might Be Our Next President.”
In it, he argued that Christie’s “fondness for showy confrontations” would only make Walker look more “adult” to voters. “All this is a long way of explaining why I think Scott Walker is the frontrunner,” he wrote, confidently.
Even before Bridgegate, some pundits were eager to tout Walker as the top Christie alternative. Slate columnist John Dickerson wrote in 2013, “It’s a very premature conclusion, but the Wisconsin governor appears to be the only likely conservative alternative to Christie who also has a chance at getting elected.”
“The Beginning of a Comeback”
Hope for Walker was still alive among our nation’s foremost conservative pundits but a month ago. After reading a tweet about Walker’s first foreign policy speech at the Citadel, Bill Kristol offered this bit of analysis:
No. No, it could not.