With the implosion of the Scott Walker campaign that culminated in his withdrawal from the race last week, we’re now in the autopsy stage. After all, Walker was at one time seen as the frontrunner in the race and the fairly obvious choice as a fusion candidate between the conservative grassroots and the business community/GOP establishment.
Walker had all the ingredients the Republican Party usually looks for – a fairly unassailably conservative record, and in his case pretty aggressively so, a history of fiscally conservative acts, not just deeds, a life story suggestive of economic and social mobility to show it can be done in America, demonstrable electability having won three elections in a blue/purple state in the last four years despite over a hundred million dollars spent against him and the executive experience of having been a governor.
What’s more, while Walker isn’t the most compelling speaker available he did have his moments. Early in his campaign he gave a couple of speeches at conservative events that brought the house down; he was capable of playing the role of successful national candidate.
But it didn’t happen. That was partly due to the arrival on the scene of Donald Trump, who robbed Walker of his story about radical change by gutting the public employee unions in Wisconsin. When Trump’s rise began, Walker fell to nothing.
That wasn’t set in stone, though, and the reason Walker didn’t have the ability to survive the protracted Trump boomlet falls on the head of Rick Wiley – his campaign manager.
Eliana Johnson had a great piece at National Review which demonstrated why Team Walker had no ability to take a punch. They spent all their money.
Of the half-dozen Walker loyalists and staffers interviewed for this article, nobody could say exactly how much money the campaign raised during its 71-day existence, though one longtime Walker friend put the number at “probably well over $5 million” and another estimated it at between $7 million and $9.5 million.
Earlier in the day on Monday, Bloomberg’s John McCormick had published an interview with the governor. Walker told McCormick he was planning to spend at least ten days a month in Iowa, the state on which he’d been hanging his presidential hopes since he rocketed to the top of the polls there in January. In the meeting with his confidants, however, he discovered not that his campaign would have to downsize severely and retrench to Iowa, but that it was already in debt. The millions he raised had been spent in two months.
The news came as a surprise to Walker and some of his most trusted advisers, and the governor’s decision to suspend his campaign rather than continue and accrue additional debt came shortly thereafter. Staffers, advisers, and the governor’s top financial backers were taken aback, and the news leaked out slowly until the governor finally made it official with a press conference in Madison.
The reason the money had disappeared, many say, is that the campaign treated the first two months of a long campaign like the closing months of an election. Walker’s organization, with Wiley at the helm, had bloated to 90 people. The Washington Post reporter assigned to follow the governor on the campaign trail marveled at campaign events that were, in her words, “elaborately staged,” even in small-town Iowa. There was a personal photographer, a public-relations firm, and an entourage of aides and staffers that seemed to follow the governor everywhere he went.
The donors who staked that campaign ought to be furious at the gross mismanagement – particularly as it comes out of a candidate who earned a reputation as a fiscal hawk both in government and in his personal life. They were betting on the Walker who erased a big deficit in Wisconsin by doing things smarter, and instead they got a train wreck.
Walker at least gets credit for pulling the plug when the money ran out rather than to run up a bunch of debt. But he doesn’t get a lot of credit for hiring the garbage army of consultants he brought on. Instead, he gets this…
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker pulled the plug on a bloated campaign that was headed into debt and was being undermined by furious donors, a warring staff and — at the root of it all — a candidate who was badly out of his league.
Prior to the governor’s abrupt exit from the Republican race, his campaign had a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency plan at the ready: Campaign manager Rick Wiley, in a half-hour phone interview with POLITICO on Tuesday night, said he had an “all-in Iowa” plan that would have moved the headquarters from Madison, Wisconsin, to Des Moines and cut the staff from about 85 to 20 as of Thursday. But Walker, floundering in debates and on the stump, was facing such a sudden drought in donations that even those drastic moves wouldn’t have guaranteed solvency.
“We built the machine that we needed to get a governor in just phenomenal shape to take a stage in a presidential debate,” Wiley said. “I think sometimes it’s lost on people the largeness of the job. I think people just look at it and say, ‘Wow! Yeah, you know, it’s like he’s a governor and he was in a recall’ and blah, blah, blah — he’s ready. It’s just not like that. It is really, really difficult. … I’m just saying, you know, like it’s a f—ing bitch, man. It really is.”
But wait, there’s more…
Wiley blamed the size of the campaign partly on Walker’s newness to the national spotlight. “It takes a lot to build a campaign to run for president, especially around someone who is introduced to a new set of issues,” Wiley said. “Foreign policy — brand new. And just the dynamics of the federal issues are different, obviously. I mean, my God, this guy is a machine — I mean he really, truly is. But that takes staff, it takes time to do that. And we built the campaign that we needed to get him ready.”
“Everything was rolling, and then we just a hit a wall,” Wiley continued. “So, you know, I’m not sure there’s anything we could have done differently. I can go back and say, ‘OK, you know, could I have done without like three of the research kids who are continuing to fill in the Walker record?’ Maybe. Sure. But then maybe Walker research suffers.”
Wiley said he feels “really proud of taking Gov. Walker from one level to the other, to getting him ready to jump on that debate stage. … He did a great job.”
So this contemptible pyromaniac, through whose ministrations one of the better candidates to enter a GOP field in several cycles didn’t even make it to the Iowa caucuses, is now going to say the campaign imploded because the candidate wasn’t ready.
And apparently, that the candidate was so bad that he had to have a campaign staff of 90 just to survive.
Which is idiocy, and transparent idiocy at that.
Does Scott Walker know less about foreign policy than Ben Carson or Donald Trump? So far, this campaign is less about policy of any kind than ever in memory. It’s a schoolyard brawl and a name-calling contest thanks to Donald Trump.
With all those employees Wiley hired in bankrupting Walker’s campaign, he couldn’t craft a political narrative to attract voters?
Was any money spent on polling before Walker twisted himself into a pretzel on immigration? At one point in the campaign’s gyrations on the issue Walker actually had an interesting take on immigration – namely, that we don’t just have too many illegal immigrants in the country but too many legal ones as well, and if we’re going to have a comprehensive reform it needs to be done along the lines of giving the country a respite from the flood of new people and an opportunity to assimilate those here before taking in any more.
That was his policy for a short while, and then he said something else. Who was in charge of crafting that message?
Who was in charge of changing Walker’s statements on Barack Obama’s patriotism? That was a major controversy back in February, when Rudy Giuliani said at an off-the-record fundraising event for Walker in New York that Obama was alienated from American tradition and culture in ways previous presidents and those donors in the audience were not. The media pounced on those statements, even though they were made in private, and turned them into a firestorm aimed at Walker, though his campaign was some five months from its launch at the time.
Walker’s initial response was something to the effect that Rudy Giuliani was entitled to his opinion, and that turned a few days later into a weak statement that Obama had to be a patriot to run for president – something which more than anything else robbed the governor of the voter interest he needed. There can be little question the second statement was consultant-driven, and for that Wiley has to be held responsible.
A GOP electorate making the outspoken and non-politically correct Donald Trump and Ben Carson the top two contenders so far – and in the latest Fox poll they’re combining for 44 percent – doesn’t want weak and conciliatory statements about Obama. That mealy-mouthed withdrawal from the fight was a terrible misread of what the electorate wants after two terms of getting treated as The Other by the president; they like Trump and Carson because neither one pull any punches. Walker, who has objective qualifications to be president and a deeply conservative one at that, could have foreclosed any opportunity for Trump and Carson to make headway had he assumed such a persona – and the Giuliani flap was the moment to do it.
What Walker, if he’d had consultants worth a damn, could have said is something like this: “Patriotism, as best I can define it, is love – love of country, and love of one’s countrymen. With that definition at hand, I wish I could say I disagree with Mayor Giuliani about the president’s patriotism. But I’m struggling with that question, because while I don’t want to say that President Obama lacks patriotism I see less love for America and Americans than I can ever remember seeing in the White House. And that saddens me. Particularly when I see the damage, discord and decline all around us, and not a whole lot of interest on his part to reverse any of it.”
Such a statement would have created a massive firestorm and universal calls on the part of the mainstream media for him to get out of the race, judgments from on high at DNC and alphabet-soup network headquarters and at the New York Times that he was a Midwestern rube with no college degree and insufficient intelligence to hold the White House…and the GOP electorate, seething with hatred of the failing media elite, would have fallen in love with him as they have with Trump and Carson.
Walker also had the opportunity to present himself to the voters as the working-class candidate. He didn’t graduate from Marquette, which is the number one thing the elites were going to use against him and he can’t avoid it, so a good strategist would have used that to craft a persona to appeal to all the working-class Reagan Democrats around the country as one of them. Some two-thirds of Americans are just like Walker in not having a college degree and the majority of the jobs in this country don’t require a four-year degree.
Walker could have used that persona to craft a simple and quintessentially Republican message – namely, that he was running for president to dramatically shrink the number of Americans not in the labor force, unemployed and underemployed, and that with him in the White House every aspect of American policy would be re-examined with an eye toward creating a maximum number of our countrymen having a private-sector job with a good salary available to them. And that this would extend to immigration, trade, regulatory issues, environmental policy, energy policy, financial policy, tax policy and so on. Because regardless of everything else, we need more people working in this country and a president willing to put our ability to earn a good living above every other consideration.
And to find everything Mike Rowe has said in the last 10 years and make it part of the campaign. If Rowe was willing to come on board as a surrogate since his agenda in promoting participation in the skilled trades would absolutely conform to this message, so much the better.
None of this was done, or even attempted, despite the 90 people on the campaign staff. And Walker resonated less and less with the American people the more he was shaped by those consultants.
Those clowns ought to be blackballed from Republican politics for this textbook job of ruining a candidate. Wiley, who is now trashing Walker in an effort to save his own reputation, should never, ever work in the industry again. Not even a school board race in Paducah.