Wisconsin is waiting to see if it is the biggest loser in Gov. Scott Walker’s abrupt suspending of his presidential campaign Monday, Sept. 21. It was accompanied by a brief, blunt plea to other candidates to also thin the herd and let a “conservative” in the so-called positive mold of Ronald Reagan make the case against front-runner and acknowledged master of the negative, Donald Trump.
The other candidates – more than a dozen-must be grateful Walker didn’t anoint anyone by name. What could he offer them but an example of failure? His poll numbers were in the negative when he departed, a big change from last winter when he unofficially announced and started building a war chest.
His inaptly named explorative committee, Unintimidated, piled in $20 million by May 31, but he had to wait until June (it took that long to pass his controversial two-year state budget) to formally announce. At that point the rules of how much can be collected-and for what – changed. (Quitting after three months means none of these new figures are available.)
But even in June his poll numbers had slipped from April-and when Trump sucked the air out of the presidential race that up-ended any hopes for Iowa, where Walker had to win.
But it was not Trump that did him in. It was Walker himself who appeared muddled and whose continued bragging about how he had taken away the rights of workers in his home state that actually did him in. His fade started pre-Trump.
Some hired guns saw it last March when he catered so hard in Iowa to evangelicals and ethanolics that he lost some high-priced campaign experts like Liz Mair. These advisers were learning the hard way what people who covered Walker for two decades in Wisconsin knew. He may sell himself as a fighter but he is a ducker – a professional political prevaricator who tests the wind and adjusts from severe to mild conservative and back again depending on what he decides the feedback is saying. What worked statewide looked silly nationally.
By early September, New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz was quipping that the Koch brothers were cutting their losses and selling Walker back to Wisconsin. Sept. 21 the joke became painfully close to the truth.
Granted the political cowering that comes with every bad poll. But even some supporters find the haste of his exit strange. He started as the apparent winner of Billionaire Bingo, with rich donors lined up to back him and even an April blessing from the Koch brothers when David openly referred to Walker as their favorite candidate.
The politicos are now asking how so much money could be eaten so fast. Could the blame only be on skittish billionaires who believe in early poll numbers like they believe in balance sheets-or were they just turning away from the former golden boy?
Why did Walker the self-described Braveheart get out so fast? Questions are flying about expensive hires and fires, the size of the payroll, whether pseudonyms stood in for staff people and how the mixed bags of money were handled. Walker is no stranger to accusations of campaign tricks, so whether true or not this will take months to sort out.
One specter has been laid to rest, though – Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. The lieutenant governor that even Walker didn’t want is not likely to step up as many feared should he go to work for another candidate or explore private sector interest.
Democrats are of course horrified at his return full time to Wisconsin where he has been virtually invisible racing around the country to court money or disappearing into debate woodwork. His absence was strangely calming. But even some conservatives have mixed feelings about getting Walker back. Some kicked off those Walker traces to gallop forward with their own bills, others are flailing around trying to find their own souls, even others are angry about the legislative messes he left them. Some Democrats hope he will come back a bit humbled. Others expect the old Walker to reassert himself when he realizes how much support has eroded.
A clue could be the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the elderly justice who died in his chambers the same day Walker bailed out. N. Patrick Crooks was not quite a swing vote given his 80 percent tendency to vote with the four majority conservatives. But there was that important 20 percent, some well reasoned dissents and an amiable manner. Before his death, two experienced independent thinking judges, Joanne Kloppenburg and Joe Donald, were already running for his seat in the April 2016 election, joined by a Walker pet, Rebecca Bradley, whom he had just elevated to the appeals court.
Walker could play politics and appoint her a justice ahead of the April election. “The old Walker would,” stated one conservative. “The new Walker doesn’t want to face another loss,” said a veteran legal reporter. What he does could be a sign of which Walker the state must now deal with. Photo: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in Dallas, Sept. 2. (AP Photo/LM Otero)