Monday, March 2, 2015

Jeb v. Walker: A Showdown for the Soul of the GOP

Coming out of CPAC we note that:
  1. Scott Walker is a first-tier candidate.
  2. Jeb Bush was very, very good.
To be sure, both of these statements (taken from headline articles today on RealClearPolitics) come with a ton of qualifiers. Walker is, without question, first-tier--but how much that means so early is still up in the air. The Jeb-love comes from the Washington Post so it's suspect in relation to a Republican primary that hasn't even officially started yet.

About the most we can definitively say is that both men hit their markers--they did what they needed to do and they are both certainly still contenders.

Who Will Win?
The Omnivore thinks that right now this primary comes down to Jeb vs. Walker for a single very clear reason: Walker unites the base without being a non-starter (like the 2012 crew of Anyone-But-Romneys such as Herman Cain). This is very powerful for the primary--but it also speaks well to the General Election. Bush, having edged Romney, claims the title of the ultimate establishment champion--and a moderate (by today's standards, anyway) as well.

To get past Walker on the right you would need (a) a pretty darn flawless record on conservative topics, (b) a reasonable list of accomplishments in office, and (c) no other major flaws. It would also help to be (d) seen as "electable" (as troubling as that term is to a lot of conservatives). Rick Perry fit in that category in 2012--and was poised to do very well until his campaign exploded on the launch-pad. Rested, ready, and without heavy medication for his back surgery he could give Walker a run for his money--if he weren't already damaged goods.

Rubio and Jindal both have a play to Walker's near left--but it's a limited one. Ultimately neither of them are as exciting (to the base GOP voters) as Walker and when guys like Cruz and Rand Paul incinerate on reentry into an actual national campaign Walker will still be standing.

Conversely there's no room at all on Jeb Bush's left as he's running the General Election during The Primary. This, by the orthodox tactical doctrine, ought to be fatal--but Bush might just pull it off. In script writing we call drawing attention to something you might otherwise want to hide (because you know you can't hide it) lampshading.

In this case, Jeb Bush is lampshading his RINO-hood. Who knows? It might just work for him.

This is why Jeb v. Walker really is a showdown for the soul of the Republican party. If Walker wins then the GOP is a conservative party. If Jeb wins, it's a RINO-infested party of squishy moderates. There probably just isn't room for anyone else unless one of the two self-destructs or Jeb is clobbered out of existence early on.

What Could Take Out Walker
While there is the possibility that Walker really isn't ready for prime-time, The Omnivore thinks that's unlikely. Gaffes are pretty common in politics and Walker has said a few things that play decently with the base but sound kind of ghastly out of context with people in general--that said, he hasn't said anything totally stupid yet (YMMV, of course--but The Omnivore knows a serious gaffe when he sees one and hasn't seen one yet).

Of course it may come out that he's not suitable for office and, hey, that's a problem (then again, Sarah Palin wasn't suitable for the presidency and she got pretty far and still has a fan base). Still, more likely, if anything takes out Walker it'll be:
  1. Union Busting - Not so Good In Some Crucial Swing-States: Walker makes union-busting a key piece of his appeal with conservatives. He did it with public-service unions--but there have been some complaints from, like, the NFL's player-union about him. Could that cripple him in the winner-takes-all Ohio? Maybe. Maybe not.
  2. Hit-Jobs and Stalking Horses: Walker is still relatively unknown to the populace at large. If other 2nd Tier candidates team up to take him down, maybe they could do some damage. Liberal elites calling him kind-of-a-dumbass because "He doesn't have college! Oh My!" are one thing--that could help him. Other GOP governors doing it might not. Of course Team Jeb will quietly encourage other candidates to go kamakazi at him on the debate stages. Does Jindal want Secretary of State? You Betcha.
  3. A Scandalishous Scandal:  People are digging. The Omnivore doesn't think they'll find much: the guy has been planning this since, like, first grade. But you never know. He's going to be vetted like your pets get vetted. Like 'taken to the vet every week until Nov 2016.' If there's anything bad, they'll find it.
  4. Lack Of Mockingjay (Doesn't Catch Fire): Walker gave a good speech in Iowa. He's done okay at CPAC. However, those are friendly crowds, his life's story plays to his strong points there. There's a possibility that as he gets more exposure he has to play it safer (doesn't seem like him though, does it?). If he can't turn on the charisma on the national stage it's possible he could get leapfrogged by someone like . . . Ted Cruz? Maybe Rubio? Perry's new glasses? Someone who has real charisma might have a shot. Again, though, the odds are against this. Walker is probably 'likable enough' when the chips are down.
What Could Take Out Bush?
It is fair to say that Jeb won't have problems raising money throughout the whole primary. He probably plans on getting beat up early and staying beat up for a good long while. He'd better be planning on that, anyway. However, there's only so long you can come out in the bottom (or 3rd) in a poll. If Jeb loses Super Tuesday (or equivalent) he might be out.

Essentially Bush has to win by sticking it out through thin and thinner. He has a much harder job than Walker with the Base and may or may not have a hard-to-impossible job with the population at large. That said, while we know his weaknesses, we also know his strengths. He's presidential. He's naturally confident. He's gotten the trust of everyone in power--and despite what you may think of the dynastic name, that doesn't come easily.

The thing Bush has to fear most is The Base.

The Omnivore thinks that the race, what we've seen of it thus far, is Walker's to lose and Jeb has to do well--to really, really execute--to win. That said, Bush ought to be able to run a polished campaign (it's in his blood, mang) and Walker has already had a few screw-ups. It's not clear what Walker's backing looks like now (will it be infinite Koch dollars? A zillion small donors? Or will he need to rely on some big name power brokers and have to struggle with Jeb for them?)--we should see that shake out.

We'll also have to watch these guys in the debates. The Omnivore bets that after 2012 the debates will get pretty good viewership and that may be the real introduction for a both candidates (Jeb as "not his brother" and Walker as a first-impression). 

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