For the first half of 2016, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was a frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president. Walker not only led the Iowa polls for the first six months of the year, but for a time, he was also the national frontrunner.
If people were surprised at how quickly Walker launched himself to prominence after giving a speech at Congressman Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit, his sudden demise is even more startling. Walker’s time in the lead came when he wasn’t an official candidate. His official campaign lasted just 70 days.
Walker’s demise was noticeable this weekend at a Faith and Freedom Coalition event in Des Moines. Three months earlier, Walker would have been the main attraction for such an event, but on Saturday night, attendees noticeably chatted amongst themselves while Walker gave his remarks. The audience was much more engaged when the likes of Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum were on the stage.
At a press conference on Monday night where Walker said that he was suspending his campaign, he said, “I am being called to lead by helping to clear the race so that a positive conservative message can rise to the top of the field.” Many had thought at the onset of the race that Walker was uniquely situated to be the consensus conservative that could be launched nationally with a win in Iowa.
It’s important to realize that the early energy Walker was able to create in Iowa occurred as voters were looking for a conservative alternative to the frontrunner at the time, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Needless to say, the state of the Republican race has changed substantially since then. Jeb Bush is a second tier candidate who, like Walker, has struggled to find his footing. Currently the frontrunner in the race is Donald Trump. It’s safe to say that the candidate that many Iowans are now searching for is the alternative to Trump.
Walker’s campaign was plagued with a number of issues, but if you had to sum up its demise, you could chalk it up to missed opportunities and self-inflicted wounds. It’s clear by the Walker campaign’s late formal entrance into the race that they believed that they could dictate the pace and timing of the race because he had a commanding lead in the polls. They were wrong. Walker’s support wilted on the vine while the candidate waited until mid-July to announce his candidacy. During that time, other candidates began to emerge.
Walker also suffered from never being able to live up to the perception many Iowans had of him in their minds. Walker was not only a neighboring governor, but someone who stood firm on conservative principles and didn’t blink when challenged.
The candidate people saw running for president wasn’t anything like that. He reversed his position on issues like immigration and support of the ethanol industry. Worse yet, Walker “punted” on questions during a trip to the United Kingdom, and on the issue of birthright citizenship, Walker took three different positions over the span of seven days. Walker the presidential candidate looked like your typical politician, which eroded the basis of Walker’s candidacy.
Who gains the most from Walker’s exit?
It’s not who you think. The candidates who will benefit are the ones who have put themselves in position to capitalize on Walker’s exit. I look for the candidates who have shown commitment to Iowa by campaigning aggressively in Iowa to benefit the most. I think this helps a guy like Rick Santorum – first, because it helps him get on the main debate stage, and also because he also has a similar blue-collar message as Walker. It could also help Mike Huckabee, who, like Santorum, has a populist message and a campaign that is focused on rural support in Iowa.
Most people will expect that Walker’s exit should help candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and maybe a conservative like Ted Cruz. The problem is that those campaigns have yet to fully engage in Iowa. The reason you need to campaign aggressively in Iowa is because you never know when and where your opportunity will come.
Rubio has yet to even campaign in places like Dubuque or Waterloo, let alone smaller communities in northeast Iowa where Walker was likely stronger due to the proximity of Wisconsin to that part of the state. The last time Cruz held an actual campaign event in the area was April 1st. Bush has yet to really campaign aggressively in Iowa, but his campaign has done a better job than Rubio and Cruz in getting around the state.
Endorsements are overrated.
A week ago, the Walker campaign released a list of 99 county organizers. Just two hours after dropping out of the race, a few of them had already jumped on other campaigns. That tells you a lot about the level of commitment of some on Walker’s team. Supporting a candidate is supposed to mean that you are actually going to do something to help that person be successful. Unfortunately, backing a candidate has sometimes become more about the perks that go with being associated with a candidate.
Walker was also endorsed by 15 legislators. I’m sure their phones are lighting up as other candidates would love to poach them in hopes that they can soon send a press release touting the momentum of their campaign. Again, an endorsement is only as good as that person’s willingness to actually get involved in your campaign.
There is more to campaigns than Super PACs and Poll Numbers.
Throughout the 2016 campaign the conventional wisdom was that the existence of Super PACs would help candidates weather any storm that may come. The reality is that campaigns still matter. Polling numbers have also been given too much credence. Polls are interesting, but there is always more going on in Iowa on the ground than the polls ever indicate. Walker was a frontrunner in Iowa for six months, and when the going got tough, his campaign folded in a matter of weeks.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
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