Saturday, September 12, 2015

Whither Walker?

This Isn't As Much of an Exaggeration As It Should Be ...

While Trump is getting all the headlines right now (with a side of Carson) the news today was Scott Walker scoring only 3% in Iowa. Let's be clear: while the polling can be very fluid right now--it's 5 months before any actual voting begins--this is a pretty significant hit. Walker has raised more than 26 million dollars--about a quarter of what Jeb has--but that's serious dough. Donors are worrying they've thrown their money away and looking for a turn-around sign.

If Walker can't change the perception that the bottom is falling out of his campaign,he's going to have trouble gaining momentum and the funding it takes to power it.

Walker Was A Favorite

To say that Walker was a favorite was putting it mildly: on paper, he was a juggernaut. He was acceptable to everyone in the fractured GOP--a successful purple-state governor, the son of a preacher, a pretty hard core conservative, and a winner against the unions, he had all the pieces to assemble a powerful uniting candidacy.

This is the same position Rick Perry was in before his launch: credibility to burn on all sides and a track-record to back it up.Way, way back on July 13th, as Walker announced his bid, Erick Erickson wrote this:
But not a single conservative disputes Walker is a fighter. At a time when Democrats are losing the middle class and more blue-collar voters, Walker’s arrival onto the national scene is timely. I suspect a college degree won’t matter when he has a degree from the school of life many people can relate to. And I suspect a lot of conservatives will be paying close attention to his first month formally on the trail. We’ve all been waiting for him.
Well, they did pay attention--and that was the problem.

So What Happened?

Here are some theories:


Theory: Walker was good a local hand-shaking, door-knocking style politicking in Wisconsin. Not so for a presidential election.
Knocking on doors is not about wowing those you encounter with a firm grip of policy or a ground-shaking vision. The goal is to introduce yourself and deliver a simple one or two-sentence message. “I’m Scott Walker and I’m fighting for lower property taxes. Go Packers.” It’s that easy. A bland candidate who will shake 500 hands at a county fair wins over an eloquent, charming one who only meets 50 people at the same event. It’s that hard.

Theory: Walker sucked.
In other words, nothing “happened” to Walker. His weaknesses as a national candidate were there for all to see, but most Republicans preferred not to see them until Walker made them impossible to ignore. Many of his fans assumed that Walker’s poor grasp of foreign policy issues would be remedied over time, but instead he has just adopted the most hard-line positions he could find with no sign that he has thought seriously about any of them.

Theory: It was the hiring of consultants that did him in--they’ve twisted him!
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.

Theory: Walker tied himself in knots by caving into must-win Iowa interests (Ethanol subsidies, for example).
That wasn't just praise for the Democrats. For the third time this month, Walker had dealt with a potential political problem in Iowa by caving to the demands of Iowans.

Theory: Walker’s game-plan was to get out, get serious, and get votes. Problem: he’s an idiot.
He planned to campaign pretty far to the right, and when Trump took that away from him he didn't seem to know what to do. Agree with Trump? Then he's just a follower. Disagree with Trump? But that could be dangerous if the base is really enthralled with the guy. What to do?
The answer, apparently, is to make it clear that he has no considered views of anything and merely wants to say whatever will make the tea partiers happy. But he no longer knows what that is. So he tap dances desperately, but does it so bumblingly that he just embarrasses himself. At this point, it's not clear if he'll ever get his act together.

The consensus seems to be pretty clear: Walker was simply not ready, didn't have "the stuff" and it showed. Let's look at the numbers. FiveThirtyEight uses the idea of a cycle of "discovery, scrutiny, and decline" as a model for how people react to candidates. This, on one had, is extremely sensible: Look at a candidate, learn something, and then make a decision.

It also explains "what we see" with, like, Cain or Perry: the candidate makes a splash, gets attention, then ... sucks (or something) ... and people move on. Is this what happened? Let's see the numbers.

The Numbers

In Iowa

Walker officially announced his candidacy on July 13. In all important, highly conservative Iowa, though, Walker peaked in May. At that time (May 4th) he was beating Bush by 8pts and Trump by around 13. The date where Walker's purple line crosses Trump's red is July 19th, six days after he declared.


In national standings, Walker's orange line (here it's orange) peaks on April 2--he beats Bush by a little for a while until June 2 where he crosses under Bush and then around June 22 when Trump passes him.

What Happened?

This is the graph of Google Trends interests for Scott Walker for 2015. It doesn't give us positives or negatives--but showing what was going on with Walker will be helpful in the analysis.

April 2 2015 (National Peak): Walker gets some friendly buzz (will he announce?) and starts steering clear of reporters. He visited the southern border.

May 2015 (Iowa Peak): The notation is letter 'C'--the topic Trends finds is Walker giving a well-received anti-union speech in Wisconsin (the headline calls him 'the right-to-work governor). The google news stories for this time are about Walker being in some heavy credit-card debt (from liberal sites)--and talking about his anti-union politics.

June 2015 (National Decline): Walker got some good buzz (the 'B' annotation is a 500MM deal for a new Wisconsin sports arena). Fox News was said to be "leaning towards him."

July 2015 (Announcement and Nationally Beaten By Trump): The massive Mt. Walker-more blue spike (with no letter notation) is July. This is his announcement month--which usually results in a bounce. It is also around where Trump overtook him. 

Analysis: Trumped

It appears to The Omnivore that Walker's decline has less to do with any specific gaffe than with Donald Trump. Walker was running a reasonably disciplined ground game (visit the border, give good speeches, say anti-gay things, play to Fox News) and that would have done him well if not for Trump bounding over him to his far right.

The analysis from Mother Jones (above) seems dead on: When Walker was no longer the most severe conservative in the race, he didn't know what to do and flailed--badly--and consistently. His flailing alienated donors, made him look like a talking-point Hall of Presidents candidate in the debates, and caused enough back-tracking that even his base started to wonder.

The Omnivore suspects that if not for Trump's over the top antics, Walker's strategy would have played well against Jeb: Jeb couldn't claim the ground Walker wanted--and Walker was a more viable candidate than Cruz (or Huckabee). 

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