Scott Walker’s Unsurprising Demise

Scott Walker tried to rally both social conservatives and establishment Republicans and ended up impressing neither.

Republican governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26
Republican governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26 (Gage Skidmore)

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker dropped out of his Republican Party’s presidential contest on Monday, ending a two-month campaign that saw his popularity plummet.

Political pundits in the United States had been scratching their heads over Walker’s steady demise in the polls since he announced his candidacy in July. But if there was a surprise, it’s that Republican voters were so quick to see through him.

Walker looked strong on paper. He governs in a state that reelected Barack Obama by 53 percent in 2012, won three elections in a row, one of them a recall that same year. He pushed austerity measures through an admittedly friendly state legislature and enacted controversial collective bargaining reforms that opponents saw as union busting and conservatives across the country hailed as an heroic stand against organized labor.

Given how much Republicans and the right-wing media had built up Walker as a conservative standard-bearer, the man himself was bound to disappoint.

But that alone can hardly account for a drop in support from 16 percent in March — before he entered the nominating contest — to under 2 percent this weekend.

The Atlantic Sentinel argued this summer that Walker had the potential to unify social conservatives and the more pragmatic, business-friendly wing of the Republican Party. But we cautioned that both constituencies had their doubts.

Social conservatives wondered if Walker was really one of them. Although he strongly criticized the Supreme Court when it effectively legalized marriage equality, Walker also attended a family gay wedding reception and seemed to be on the side of those who wanted the issue to go away.

He reversed his position in favor of giving illegal aliens in the United States a path to citizenship and switched the other way on abortion.

During his last gubernatorial campaign, Walker said decisions about terminating a pregnancy should be kept between a woman and her doctor. But as governor, he tightened abortion laws.

The Republican “establishment” meanwhile worried about Walker’s dubious views on foreign policy.

Earlier this year, he seemed to compare fighting the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria with battling unions in Wisconsin, saying he had the “confidence” to lead because he “took on” 100,000 protesters in Madison, the state capital.

In his attempt to rally both wings of the party, Walker pleased neither.

He constantly shrank from challenging the most uncompromising elements in his party, such as when former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, sitting next to him at a dinner, absurdly claimed that President Obama doesn’t “love” his country or when a journalist in London, England asked him if he believes in evolution.

Walker also failed to attract institutional support for the simple reason that he was no one’s first choice. Party officials with strong conservative views could endorse and support Texas senator Ted Cruz, also a Tea Party favorite, or former pastor and governor Mike Huckabee. Neoconservatives like Marco Rubio’s hawkishness. Centrists and moderates are deciding between Ohio’s John Kasich and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, both of whom shy away from divisive social issues to talk about revitalizing the American middle class instead. Between them, there just wasn’t much point in Scott Walker’s candidacy.

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