The mystery of Scott Walker cratering is no mystery

smoking crater

From his perch as early front runner, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s campaign for president is now sucking swamp water. The most recent RCP average shows him with about 5.8% of the vote, oddly enough this exactly one persons’s share of a vote distributed over 17 candidates.

walker polls

Yesterday, Molly Ball of the Atlantic did a profile of Walker and his campaign, Can Scott Walker Save Himself? To say it is brutal is to understate.

But having spent much of the year as the solid Iowa frontrunner, Walker suddenly finds his presidential campaign in free fall. Nationally, he’s dropped from first place in April to sixth today, barely ahead of Carly Fiorina. In Iowa, he has fallen to fourth, 20 points behind a surging Donald Trump. Graphs of Walker’s poll trajectory over the last year look like a hat: an upsurge, a long peak, and a steady decline.

As September begins and the primary campaign intensifies, Walker finds himself in an unenviable position—the candidate who has lost the most and now must scramble to get back in contention. Walker’s gaffes, opponents argue, haven’t just been the errant flubs of a frustrated candidate—they’ve been revealing of a politician who’s never bothered to learn about issues past his own doorstep. On subjects like immigration and foreign policy, it seems clear Walker is less a lifelong student of world affairs and more a kid who’s just realized he’ll flunk out if he doesn’t start cramming. For Wisconsinites accustomed to Walker’s dominance, his fall from glory nationally has been disorienting and out of character. Back home, he has always been focused, disciplined, on-message to a fault.

[mc_name name=’Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’R000587′ ], a Republican representative from Green Bay and close Walker friend, said Walker realizes something has to change. “He can do math,” Ribble said. Ribble has been disappointed by Walker’s haphazard rightward lurch on the immigration issue. Having once supported citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Walker this year announced his view had changed and called for lowering overall immigration levels; in response to Trump’s immigration platform, Walker said his own policies were “very similar.”
Ribble, a supporter of immigration reform, believes Walker has not made up his mind. “I think Scott is struggling deep inside with what his position is,” Ribble said. “He is not in his center yet. At some point he will figure out what he actually believes.”

Even as I am writing this clears the wire. No comment on the refugee crisis? Seriously?

As Europe grapples with the mass migration of more than 300,000 refugees fleeing war in Syria, Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker won’t say whether the United States should open its doors to absorb more of the migrants.

Walker’s reason for not taking a stand is that he says it would be hypothetical for him to do so since he is not currently the president.

“I’m not president today and I can’t be president today,” the Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin governor said when asked by ABC News during a press gaggle on Monday what he would to address the current refugee crisis if he were president currently. “Everybody wants to talk about hypotheticals; there is no such thing as a hypothetical.”

If [mc_name name=’Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’R000587′ ], a close friend, is saying that Walker hasn’t figured out what he believes, one shudders at what his enemies are saying. Ball goes on to observe, that this hasn’t always been the case:

Almost nine months ago, on a chilly January day in Des Moines, Walker accomplished something almost no other candidate in this fractured 2016 field has done: He broke out of the pack.

His speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit brought the crowd to its feet over and over again. He dominated the headlines and the buzz from the event. National Review called it “dynamite.” Time observed that, “a single speech can launch a presidency.” Not yet an official candidate, having just started to test the waters of the early primary states, he suddenly rocketed to first place.

Walker’s people couldn’t quite explain it. It was just his regular speech—actually a less-polished version of the stump speech he still gives today, about how he got elected and pursued big, bold reforms and made Wisconsin a better place. If this was running for president, he must have thought, it was going to be a piece of cake!

In retrospect, Walker’s allies now say, the early success was not a good thing: “The national attention came really quick, and I don’t think the governor and his team were quite ready for that level of attention,” a Walker staffer told me. Walker got too comfortable with the title of “Iowa frontrunner” that the media conferred upon him. He thought he owned Iowa. He thought it was that easy.

For all the good color here, I think Ball misses the underlying problem that connects a dynamic, focused Scott Walker in Des Moines last January to the flailing and floundering Scott Walker today. With success came the GOP consultants.

In March, Walker inexplicably fired social media consultant Liz Mair (full disclosure, Liz is an acquaintance of mine and while our politics are not the same I hold her in high professional regard). At the time, Erick hinted at what was going on. As the Walker campaign gained prominence, the big name RNC consultants, people who have no loyalty to much of anything, began descending upon Walker’s organization like a bunch of vultures to toss out Walker loyalists and replace them with the inbred and incestuous little group of professional RNC consultants. As Erick said, if Walker is firing Liz Mair over something this contrived he is not ready for prime time.

Then in June, the Walker Super PAC hired a veteran GOP slimeball, Brad Dayspring, to run communications. Dayspring is one of those guys who will do whatever the guy sending him paychecks tells him to do. It is entirely possible that Dayspring might have morality and conscience safely tucked away in a Tic Tacs container hidden under his bed but it has never been apparent in his public life. Dayspring, if you recall, is the guy who painted supporters of Chris McDaniel as racists while supporting the candidacy of the clearly senile and adulterous [mc_name name=’Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C000567′ ]. Even though Walker could not legally approve the hiring of Dayspring because, in theory, the campaign and Super PAC aren’t allowed to “coordinate,” it was a sign that the GOP establishment was calling the shots in all facets of the Walker campaign, both his day to day operations and the operations of the Super PAC supporting him.

We see this over and over. Whenever a candidate looks like they have a good shot at winning a federal race, they are beset with big name consultants with national clout who push aside the candidate’s inner circle and set about to play Henry Higgins to the candidate’s Eliza Doolittle. The Washington Post wrote about the extent to which candidates must accept RNC staff and contractors in return for support from the National Republican Congressional Committee:

The closely-held document offers a window into how much autonomy lawmakers often must forfeit to unelected Washington insiders. For instance, in exchange for reelection support, lawmakers must promise to exclusively use vendors sanctioned by establishment-aligned party chieftains, attend training sessions and raise six figures for the NRCC.

Let’s take a look at who is running the Walker campaign:

Campaign Manager  Rick Wiley

(started late 2014; first reported building organization by CNN’s Peter Hamby on Jan. 7, 2015)  Managing director of Mercury LLC‘s Washington office; in 2014 served as RGA’s lead liaison to Rauner, Walker and Abbott gubernatorial races and NRSC lead liaison to Ernst campaign in Iowa.  Political director at the RNC in the 2012 cycle, and Western regional political director at the RNC in the 2010 cycle.  Managed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX)’s gubernatorial campaign, Jan.-June 2009.  Deputy political director on Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign.  Executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, 2005-Jan. 2007; RNC Victory director in Wisconsin in 2004; political director of the party from 2001-02.  Midwest political manager for Associated Builders and Contractors during the 2000 cycle.  Has also worked as a legislative liasion to Illinois Comptroller Loleta Didrickson and a legislative assistant to Wisconsin State Representative Gene Hahn (R-De Forest).

Does this resume say ‘agile,’ ‘quick thinking,’ or ‘entrepreneurial?’ Or does it read pretty much like that of an RNC apparatchik who knows his next job is secure regardless of what happens to Walker?

Political Director  Matt Mason

(first reported on Jan. 28, 2015 by Politico’s Mike Allen)  National field director at the RNC in the 2014 cycle from the latter part of 2013.  Served as a RNC regional political director in the 2012 cycle and for the first part of 2013.  Executive political director for the Michigan Republican Party in 2010.  Victory director in Virginia in 2009.  Regional political director for the Rudy Giuliani Presidential Committee covering the Great Lakes region, 2007. Ohio Victory director in the ’04, ’06, and ’08 cycles.  After Sept. 11, 2001 Mason joined the U.S. Marine Corps; he served with Lima Company 3rd Battalion 25th Marines in Iraq in 2005 and is a combat veteran.  A field representative for the Ohio Republican Party in 2001.  Victory coordinator for the Ohio Republican Party in 2000.  Mason got his start in politics in the late 90’s in Southeast Ohio managing five successful local races while studying political management at Ohio University; degree in political management, Dec. 2000.

Does the word ‘winner’ scream out at you from this? No? Me neither.

Communications Director  Kirsten Kukowski

(first reported Feb. 2, 2015 by CNN’s Mark Preston…Kukowski transitioned over to OAR during Feb.)  Came to Our American Revival (ed. Our American Revival is a Scott Walker PAC) from position as deputy communications director/press secretary at the RNC; started at the RNC as press secretary in Jan. 2011.  Spokeswoman on Rep. [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’K000360′ ]’s successful 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate.  Midwest regional press secretary at the RNC in 2009-10.  Communications director at the Republican Party of Wisconsin, Jan. 2007-March 2009, including WI Victory communications director in Fall 2008.  Press secretary to Congressman Mark Green, May 2006-Jan. 2007.  B.A. in journalism and political science from University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006.

Another RNC regular.

Policy Director  Andrew Bremberg

(reported by Politico’s Burgess Everett on May 15, 2015 “overseeing both domestic and foreign policy”)  Comes to OAR from position as policy advisor and counsel on nominations to Senate Majority Leader [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ], March 2014-May 2015.  Department manager at MITRE, Feb. 2009-Feb. 2014.  Chief of staff in the Office of Public Health and Science (July 2007-Jan. 2009), special assistant in the immediate Office of the Secretary (July 2005-July 2007) and special assistant to the Executive Secretary (July 2001-July 2005) at the Department of Health and Human Services.  J.D. from The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, 2006; B.A. in psychology and theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, 2001.

Because nothing says “conservative” and “winner” like [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ].

What is notable about the senior group is there is no one there who seems to have the slightest conservative leanings. What is also missing is a track record of winning hard-fought campaigns.

And then, of course, there are the contractors used for polling, direct mail, social media, advertising, etc., etc. who make money off the candidate’s expenditures.

There is no doubt that Walker’s campaign is on the ropes. I think it is fighting Rick Perry for that deck chair on the Titanic. There is no doubt that Walker’s problem’s are, to a great extent, self-inflicted. But what the article is really about is the RNC regulars that horned their way into Walker’s campaign doing what professional consultants do when things go south. They start dumping on the candidate. It is curious that no senior staff from the Walker campaign are quoted or even mentioned… except this:

One popular explanation for Walker’s troubles is that he lacks a guru—a Karl Rove-type figure to guide him on the national stage. Walker has always been his own chief strategist—as one observer put it to me, “Scott Walker can’t fire his campaign manager, because his campaign manager is Scott Walker.” (Rick Wiley, a former political director of the Republican National Committee, actually holds the title of campaign manager, but numerous people close to the campaign described his role as more operational than strategic.)

I wonder who this “observer” is? And why this “observer” is defending Wiley by portraying Walker as an insular, micro-manager who is out of his depth? Because if the consultant is to blame, why in the the name of Heaven would anyone hire them in the future? If the candidate had ONLY LISTENED TO ME WE WOULD HAVE WON, or, in the words of Shakespeare “and but for these vile guns, He would himself have been a soldier.”

These people don’t really have skin in the game as far as Walker’s candidacy is concerned. If Walker drops out, they will go back to their jobs at the RNC or the RNC will foist them off on some other luckless candidate. This is not to say that they wouldn’t rather be on a successful candidate’s team but the candidate’s failure has very little personal impact on them.

Do we really think Scott Walker hasn’t figured out what he believes? Or do think it is more likely that the tight little group of RNC cronies have played a significant role in this dog’s breakfast of gaffes and mixed messages. And now that Walker is enters a death spiral they are prepared to jettison him and, leech-like, latch onto something that is still alive and drain the life force from it, too.

[Correction: the previous version of this story erroneously gave the impression that Walker’s campaign and Super PAC were coordinating. The correction clarifies the point that they cannot and did not coordinate.]


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