9:27 a.m. ET:
Wonder how long it’ll be before the first “major donor abandons Walker” story appears
— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) September 17, 2015
Two hours later, via WaPo, voila:
There is mounting anxiety among Scott Walker donors about the direction of his campaign and increasing fears that it is running low on cash, leading to a growing consensus among some of the Wisconsin governor’s biggest financial backers that he needs to make a dramatic change…
Stanley S. Hubbard, a Minnesota media mogul and top Walker donor, said that while he is sticking with Walker for now, he is considering also giving money to Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, all of whom performed well at Wednesday’s debate, he said…
[A]mong major Walker fundraisers, angst has built in the last two weeks as his poll numbers have plummeted in Iowa and nationwide. Donors have started holding spontaneous conference calls, patching a half-dozen people together on the phone to try to game out what the governor should do. Some have taken solace in an internal poll that shows Walker leading in Iowa by a sizable margin among Republicans who participated in the GOP caucus in 2012…
[T]heir hopes that Walker would have a breakout performance at Wednesday’s debate did not materialize. While many felt he was stronger than he was in the first forum, they were frustrated by his tentative approach to the free-wheeling format and unwillingness to jump in the fray. He ended the night with the least amount of airtime of the 15 candidates.
Some donors want Walker campaign manager Rick Wiley axed for burning through too much dough too soon, building out operations to a staff of 90 full-time employees and refusing to cut back salaries as Rick Perry was forced to do in the last weeks of his campaign. It would be a legendary collapse if Walker ran out of financial gas before Iowa, a state where he’s demographically well positioned and which he now candidly admits he’s betting his entire campaign on. For all the truisms about how early it still is in the campaign (Rick Perry led at this point in 2011) and how low-polling candidates have time to turn things around, the reality is that weak numbers right now put you at risk of a campaign death spiral — the poor polling scares off donors, which leaves the candidate with less money to put out his message, which in turn leads to even poorer polling. Walker needs to somehow pull out of that. Last night was an opportunity but the poor guy ended up with just eight minutes of airtime in a debate that ran more than three hours. Now, with Iowa still four and a half months away, he’s in trouble, compounded by the fact that he occupies a niche in the race for which there’s lots of competition. Ted Cruz’s donors can stay put because he’s the only top-tier full-spectrum conservative in the race. Walker’s donors, by contrast, have lots of center-right options to choose from — like Hubbard says, there’s Rubio, Fiorina, Christie, even Bush and Kasich.
David Harsanyi, watching the vultures circle, says Walker will make a fine labor secretary in some future Republican administration:
Walker isn’t outsider-y enough to generate enthusiasm among the grassroots and not insider-y enough to generate the funding that might help him overcome his unwinnable situation. Walker does not possess the appeal or rhetorical acumen to shake things up on his own. The problem with expectations is that you usually only get to meet them once. Ask Rick Perry.
If you’re going to cast yourself as the hardheaded blue-state union buster, you can’t go wobbly at the first sign of trouble. When more than 100,000 protesters occupied Wisconsin’s state capitol, Walker did not back down. Death threats? Walker did not back down. A few anti-immigration activists demanded he get rid of Liz Mair, who was tabbed as his digital strategist, and Walker, by then a presidential candidate, folded quicker than it takes to hold three separate positions on birthright citizenship. So around a week.
His debate performance yesterday was workmanlike, but he probably offered far too little too late to save him in this crowded field. With the consensus being Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina were the winners, and with Jeb Bush available for any Republican pining to support some moderate governor type, Walker has no place to turn for votes.
That’s the problem. Which voters who have abandoned Walker already are prepared to come back if he fires Wiley or starts hammering his labor record or begins running as the moderate on immigration that he truly is? Christie dropping out might shake loose a few votes, but Christie’s only polling in the low single digits himself. For Walker to pick up some momentum he’d need to be the last center-righty standing so that he can consolidate support from multiple candidates and it’s simply unthinkable that he will be. Jeb Bush’s Super PAC has $100 million in the bank to keep him going. Rubio’s been strong enough at the debates that everyone wants to keep him around, especially if Bush goes bust and the donor class needs a strong retail politician as their fallback option. A more realistic way for Walker to regain lost ground in Iowa would be for Trump and/or Carson to lose momentum there, but there’s no reason to think that’ll happen soon or even that Walker, rather than Ted Cruz, would be the main beneficiary. How long can Walker keep going in the interest of waiting them out?
Here’s my question: What, ultimately, hurt Walker? Yeah, I know — “Trump!” — but what specifically about Trump, or Trumpmania, undercut the case for the guy who took a wrecking ball to PEUs in Wisconsin? Remember, on the red-hot topic of immigration, Walker was the Trump in this race before Trump was Trump. He was gladhanding Jeff Sessions and talking up the idea of reducing legal immigration to help American workers weeks before Trump even announced his candidacy. If, as Trump fans insist, Trumpmania is mainly a function of conservatives wanting the feds to get serious about border enforcement, it doesn’t sit easily with the fact that the other guy in the race who went hard right on immigration has nearly washed out before October. It could be that Walker’s insincerity on the subject was palpable and that spoiled it for him. Or it could be that Trumpmania is less about immigration itself than how immigration fits into Trump’s larger persona: He’s pitching himself as a superhero, a consummate winner who can build the wall that the other losers can’t, who’ll make America great again by deporting 11 million illegals while the RINOs stand around mumbling that it can’t be done. Walker’s immigration rhetoric has no similar resonance. Which is ironic, because if there’s one professional pol in the field who’s proved that he can achieve things through sheer force of political will that other pols can’t, it’s Scott Walker. What a shame.
Update: Full speed ahead, says Walker campaign chief Rick Wiley.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Wiley told the Cap Times on Thursday. “The vicious rumor cycle has begun. Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated.”…
Wiley was the one to deliver the campaign’s official post-debate statement.
“Gov. Walker wore his Harley boots tonight, and it showed … He put Donald Trump in his place early on, and the billionaire never recovered,” Wiley said after the debate. “Even when he wasn’t speaking, Walker’s ideas — terminating the Obama-Clinton Iran deal and canceling China’s state visit — dominated the discussion. Whether highlighting the successful, conservative reforms he’s implemented as governor or his plans to repeal Obamacare, create jobs and keep America safe as president, Walker’s message was clear: He will fight and win for the American people and he is ready to do it on day one.”