Scott Walker tunes in, drops out, leaves everything the same

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

After ’16 Exit, Walker Aims to Restore Relationships at Home.

The two Republican presidential candidates who implemented the strictest voter ID laws in the country are both now out of the race — a sign, perhaps, that the political appeal of tough voting restrictions is on the wane. Scott Walker returned to work Tuesday with three years left on his term as Wisconsin’s governor, time that he’ll likely need to recover from the blow of a failed run for the White House.Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.

Before the new rules of money and politics brought him crashing back to earth, Scott Walker’s shooting star briefly burned brightest of all the Republicans jostling for the US presidency. In the hours after Walker’s abrupt exit from the Republican race for president, forced out by pallid fundraising and poll numbers that had crashed to less than 1 percent, his most ardent supporters were already predicting he’d bounce back. A slick hospitality suite at the party’s Lincoln dinner in Iowa last May offered the best midwest charm money can buy: cold beer, a ride on a Harley Davidson and free cheese dispensed by the grinning governor of the neighbouring state of Wisconsin. But to do so, Walker will need to rebuild his base of support in Wisconsin — a place where he’s spent little time since kicking off his campaign in July.

Darr Beiser, USAT) Walker, who thinks union busting is a virtue, leaves with a nod to the obvious. “Sadly, the debate taking place in the Republican party today is not focused on that optimistic view of America. With a reputation for selling ruthless conservatism to traditionally Democratic voters, Walker was leading the primary race not just in Iowa but in national polling too, easily upstaging the awkward-looking Jeb Bush and Donald Trump’s ominous security guards. Walker and Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas whose campaign never gained traction and ended earlier this month, are the only two members of the GOP’s crowded field to bow out so far. While the Donald wasn’t the only reason for Walker’s rapid fall from a front-runner to an after-thought, the real estate tycoon certainly played a bigger role than most. But by the time Walker took the reluctant decision to suspend his campaign on Monday – just 71 days after its formal launch – the dream of this tough new breed of purple state Republicanism lay in tatters.

Texas’s ID law, signed by Perry in 2011, has been struck down as racially discriminatory by three different federal courts, and remains in legal limbo while the state appeals the latest ruling. Walker failed to make much noise at either of the Trump-dominated Republican debates this year and struggled to give coherent answers to Trump-prompted questions on the campaign trail (see: Citizenship, Birthright).

Walker was running neck-and-neck-and-neck with Bush and Marco Rubio atop national polls prior to Trump’s unexpected entry into the field in June; three Trump-filled months later, Walker had become a rounding error. More Republicans voted against the state budget this year than any other during Walker’s time in office, and it was approved a week late — delaying the official launch of his presidential campaign. He then embarked on a whirlwind tour of the four early primary states, culminating in Iowa where he was received like a rock star in front of crowds of hundreds. Two Republican lawmakers derided the spending plan, which cut funding for the University of Wisconsin by $250 million and held public K-12 school funding basically flat, as “crap.” As a candidate, Walker also emphasized disagreements he had with some of those Republican lawmakers when successfully curbing the union bargaining rights of state workers in 2011. With only a fraction of one-percent support in the most recent national poll, his fans could migrate en mass to another candidate without altering the current standings.

Those old enemies of Walker hope that experience, as well as the failed presidential campaign, will result in a humbler governor. “If he’s got an ounce of savvy he’ll lick his wounds for a couple days then start calling Democrats,” said Scot Ross, the leader of the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. “If he doubles down on divisiveness, it’s not going to move the needle on his poll numbers.” Don’t count on it, said veteran Republican strategist Mark Graul. For starters, his donor base is now up for grabs—the biggest prize is probably Chicago Cubs co-owner Joe Ricketts, who along with Wisconsin roofing magnate Diane Hendricks accounted for half of the $20 million Walker’s super PAC raised this past quarter.* Walker’s exit also means the unofficial Koch Bros. primary field is down to four candidates: Bush, Rubio, Carly Fiorina, and Ted Cruz, all of whom joined Walker at the last Koch donor confab earlier this summer. Those close to the campaign point to a variety of factors behind its implosion – from disastrous debate appearances, to plummeting poll numbers and gaffes galore – but it is the changing role of campaign finance that raises most questions about the wider meaning of Walker’s fall from grace.

He and others in Wisconsin said they expect Walker will try to continue to influence the national political debate as governor, focusing on tax and entitlement reforms in the next few years. More importantly, Walker’s unexpected exit could convince Republican Party powerbrokers that it’s time to circle the wagons and rally around a single candidate in hopes of stripping Trump of his front-runner status. Fresh from taking on the public sector unions in Wisconsin and winning a bitter recall election, the governor was backed by some of the richest business families in the midwest. Four donors alone – including the stockbroking owner of the Chicago Cubs, Joe Ricketts, and roofing billionaire Diane Hendricks – raised the bulk of the $20m recorded by his Super Pac, the “Unintimidated Pac”. Perhaps surprisingly, neither man drew much attention to their ID laws as part of their accomplishments in office — though Walker did send out a celebratory fundraising email after his state’s ID law was upheld earlier this year, calling it a “guard against fraud” that “protects every single voter who plays by the rules from those who don’t.” But the very fact that neither Walker nor Perry did much to brag about their ID laws on the trail may itself be revealing.

He did not take questions from reporters Monday night after announcing he was suspending his campaign, and his office spokeswoman said he was not available for questions Tuesday. But campaign finance rules prevent these uncapped political action committees from spending money directly with the campaign, which recruited heavily in the mistaken hope of matching the enthusiasm of these big donors with a rush of small contributions. “It’s a lot harder to make payroll for a staff of 90 with the FEC limit of $2,700 per person, as opposed to Super Pacs where the big cheques are for a million dollars or more,” says Matt Batzel, a Wisconsin strategist who helped Walker win his recall election. It was only a few years ago that conservative voters were demanding tougher voting restrictions, and Republican politicians were lining up to show they were listening. A Republican with ties to the organization, who was not authorized to speak for Walker and spoke on condition of anonymity, said other 2016 candidates were busy trying to hire his staff. Recriminations began to fly, particularly after Walker’s almost non-existent showing in the second Republican debate last week was followed by a tough conference call with donors and a whispering campaign against the governor’s chief strategist, Rick Wiley. “Toward the end, a lot of donors fancied themselves as campaign managers, even though that’s not their role, so there was a lot of second guessing,” says Batzel.

The fever seemed to be driven in part by fears about the Obama campaign’s ability, in both 2008 and 2012, to draw hordes of new voters — disproportionately young and non-white — to the polls. Walker’s four largest donors declined to respond to Guardian requests for comment and some are rumoured to be seeking the return of any funds left unspent in the Super Pac. But to make matters worse, the political advertising that this money could have been spent on appears to have been of declining value in a 2016 primary election dominated by the media-friendly antics of maverick candidates such as Trump. “It underscores the sense in which presidential primaries are increasingly driven by media coverage; what is known as ‘earned media’ rather than ‘paid media’,” says Chris Henick, a Republican strategist who worked with Karl Rove in the last Bush White House. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t measure money. That’s perhaps because numerous key states — not just Texas and Wisconsin, but also North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and others — have already succeeded in making voting harder.

As Walker regrouped privately Tuesday, some of Walker’s supporters noted it’s not unprecedented for Republicans who fail the first time they run for president to come back stronger the next go round. As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush oversaw a flawed purge of the voter rolls right before the 2000 election that likely disenfranchised hundreds or thousands of eligible voters. Bush and Mitt Romney. “He’s a young guy, and he’ll be relevant in our party for many, many years,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a New York-based investor and one of Walker’s national finance co-chairmen. With still a strong political future ahead of him and more than three years remaining in his term of governor of Wisconsin, those who know him say he had no desire to wage the political equivalent of a guerrilla campaign where he crisscrossed rural Iowa from pizza parlour to pizza parlour in hope of a miracle. “In a blue state, he won two elections and fought back a recall by successfully reaching out to Republicans, independents and conservative Democrats, without abandoning his core principles,” says Mark Obenshain, who was Walker’s campaign chairman in Virginia. “That has long been the key to winning elections in Virginia, and I believe that it is how we will elect a Republican in next year’s critical presidential election.” Walker had mounted an expansive campaign effort and his campaign was only one of a few in the entire field to reach out to Republicans in the far-flung Pacific island of Guam.

Had he cut his cloth to deal with the new financial and polling reality and continued to run with a more modest campaign, it would no longer have been the fight of a frontrunner. The eventual Republican nominee, Mark Green, lost decisively in the Democratic wave that year and Walker was able to keep his powder dry and gain chits to eventually win election in 2010. Kaufmann told the Guardian that he was “in a garage in rural Iowa, listening to a very good stump speech from [Walker]” the night before the news came through. Others have been less impressed with what they saw of Walker’s abilities on the national and international stage, and the Wisconsin governor stumbled often on unfamiliar issues. On foreign policy, he insisted he could take on Isis because of his experience of standing up to pro-union protesters in Wisconsin in 2011 and said that the most significant foreign policy decision of the past 50 years was when Ronald Reagan broke the air traffic controllers strike in 1981.

He even stumbled when asked about building a wall on the Canadian border, initially indicating that he favored such a policy and then taking a week to walk that statement back. During a visit to Britain before he launched his campaign, Walker was so anxious to avoid awkward entanglements that he refused to say whether he believed in evolution, an incident that set of a chain of increasingly controversial comments on social issues. Perhaps, the most poignant moment was when he played cornhole, a game popular at tailgates where players take turns throwing beanbags into a hole in an elevated wooden plank. Mary Bottari, a long-time Madison resident and editor-in-chief of the Center for Media and Democracy, was one of those outside the Edgewater Hotel where Walker made his announcement. “I’m a little surprised because he has a cadre of extremely dedicated financial backers,” she said. “For instance Diane Hendricks, and potentially the Koch brothers, who were very interested to see him and his agenda move up.” Walker’s own call for rival mainstream candidates to drop out and unite against Trump suggested he recognised it would take a different approach to dislodge the reality TV star from his perch. Other local observers agree that, for all its wealthy business supporters and impeccable conservative credentials, this campaign had passed the point of no return. “When you get down so low [in the polls] it becomes impossible to get that message out in a big personality cycle full of people like Trump,” says Batzel.

He believes Walker’s decision will benefit figures like Marco Rubio, or fellow governors like Chris Christie and John Kasich, who can make the same claim to be both Washington outsiders and yet more experienced than the challenge from anti-politicians like Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Either way, Walker’s departure – which follows that of former Texas governor Rick Perry – is unlikely to be the last casualty of an unpredictable 2016 primary cycle where, it seems, money isn’t everything.

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