In a whirlwind 24 hours that saw him hire and then quickly lose a well-respected digital strategist, the Wisconsin governor and presidential contender Scott Walker went out of his way to appease Iowa Republicans – and in doing so may have damaged his role as a darling of the conservative media

The outspoken Republican operative had come under a concentrated attack from both Democrats and conservatives for her past criticism of the Iowa caucus process and ethanol on Twitter, as well as her advocacy for gay marriage and immigration. Democrats leaked her derogatory comments on Iowa to the Des Moines Register, which accused her of using the state as “a punching bag”…

No political operative or staffing decision can determine the fate of an entire campaign, but this kerfuffle may prove to deeply damage Walker. His entire brand has been built around his willingness to pick hard fights without blinking – even his campaign biography is titled “Unintimidated”. But giving in to Kaufmann’s criticism undermines that strength and risks his looking like yet another pandering politician to fellow conservatives.

For the third time this month, Walker had dealt with a potential political problem in Iowa by caving to the demands of Iowans.

In a Fox News Sunday interview that aired March 1, Walker was asked, really for the first time, about his previous support of immigration reform. “Back when you were the Milwaukee County executive, you actually supported the Kennedy-McCain comprehensive immigration plan,” said interviewer Chris Wallace.

“My view has changed,” said Walker. “I’m flat-out saying it. Candidates can say that. Sometimes they don’t.”

At the March 7 Iowa Ag Summit, Walker surprised close observers by embracing the ethanol mandate. Nine years earlier, in his first gubernatorial bid, Walker had opposed it. “It is clear to me that a big government mandate is not the way to support the farmers of this state,” he’d said, according to contemporary reporting excavated by Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney. One of Carney’s colleagues, Phil Klein, put the conservative sentiment succinctly: “If Walker can’t stand up to Iowans, how can he stand up to the Islamic State?”

Timidity is enforced by exorcising people from politics who stray. We saw this recently when Liz Mair came and went through Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign about as fast as it takes a soufflé to rise. Mair had signed on to advise Walker on his digital strategy. It was then revealed that she had said some unflattering things about Iowans, and that was it for her. She resigned after one day on the campaign…

Political campaigns are growing more timid, and ideological purists are growing more precise with their purity tests. At the same time, social media is making us more reckless and honest in public. These two things cannot continue. Or they can continue, and campaigns will simply make the screen through which any comment or staffer must pass full of the tiniest holes. Unless you were fed on a constant diet of pablum from birth and promise to dispense the same, you won’t make the cut.

This is a problem. No one who is any good at politics or even very interesting can get through the screen. Politics and public debate requires passion and risk-taking. It’s the way you win, and it’s the way you reach solutions that might actually change people’s lives for the better. Also, creating a cocoon of the most boring atrophies the skills required to talk to people who don’t agree with you 100 percent of the time. That can only lead to greater polarization. No one can say anything peppery about anything, or they’ll never get a job. 

Walker is proving to be a very careful campaigner, which is fascinating since he has been such a bold governor.

The head of the Iowa GOP demanded that Walker fire her immediately, and it appears that Mair resigned early Wednesday morning.

It wasn’t enough that Walker flip-flopped on ethanol to gain the favor of the ethanol lobby. Now he and all the other candidates are apparently required to run all their staffing and contractor decisions by the head of a party that’s only delivered the state to Republicans once in the last 30 years

Except Iowa, that is. An Iowa Republican party that’s batting .143 when it comes to picking Republican presidents in contested caucuses is not a party that will come out ahead in a competitive process that demands results. If the Republican Party really believes in free markets and competition, it should require states to compete for the privilege of hosting the nation’s first presidential contest. And if Iowa Republicans really believe that ethanol is the best, most economical solution to the world’s energy problems, they shouldn’t need to hold a presidential nominating contest hostage to get their way.

The Iowa Caucus picked Bush over Reagan in 1980, Dole over Bush in 1988, Huckabee over McCain in 2008, and Santorum over Romney in 2012. It’s straw poll has only picked the right candidate once since 1979…

Given Liz’s work history, I will put it to you this way — Team Walker has botched this. There’s just no way Liz Mair resigned with it being her idea. I haven’t talked to her yet, but there’s just no way. So instead of Walker owning this, he’s passed the ball and made a staffer off herself. That’s unfortunate and plays into the “not ready for prime time” theme already developing around Team Walker. At least it is early.

If Walker is the guy I hope he is (I’ve been a booster), he won’t just have to take on his enemies, he’ll have to take on his friends, too (something Cruz, Paul and even Jeb can claim to have done). Isn’t that the point of the anti-establishment movement on the right?  That reform starts with reforming how we run our own affairs? Well if there’s a more obvious hive of cronyism in the GOP than the Iowa ethanol racket, I’d like to hear about it.

I get that Walker needs to win Iowa and that staffers aren’t more important than the candidate. But principles are. If Walker didn’t want a critic of the Iowa caucuses on his payroll he shouldn’t have hired one. But he did. And throwing her under the bus for this, suggests not only that he’s got some problems getting ready for prime time, it also suggests he can get rolled by the Iowa GOP establishment. What happens when he gets to Washington?

The man who proudly ran as a conservative and won three statewide elections in four years against floods of out-of-state money and a storm of media antagonism is the man who fired a campaign aide last night because she once criticized Iowa for its dependence on federal subsidies.

The pattern is this: Scott Walker will stand up and fight the special interests, if they’re already his sworn political enemies. But when he gets pushed around by a political power broker, or a well-heeled lobby group that’s “on our side,” Walker rolls over…

Republican corporatism and cronyism is why the GOP can’t reach out to swing voters, whose main impression of Washington is that it’s a rigged game. That impression is true. An anti-corporatist, anti-cronyist Republican presidential candidate could appeal to this mindset, arguing correctly that the game is rigged, and big government is doing the rigging…

Walker’s tendency to buckle under to “our guys” shows us how he’ll behave when the subsidy-sucklers come calling. He will say “buzz off” to Planned Parenthood and the government unions, and good for him. But when the Wall Street lobbyists ask for special favors, or the manufacturers demand their subsidies — what do you think Walker will do?

Forcing Mair out was like amputating your finger to deal with a paper cut. Instead of having a problem with a few Iowans and a writer at Breitbart.com, Walker has now baffled his admirers across the right. Mair’s resignation signaled that Walker’s team either didn’t do its homework before hiring Mair, or that it was too spineless to defend her. It is hard to believe the former, since Mair consulted for Walker before during his 2012 recall.

Walker’s unwillingness to defend his own hire will give other consultants and policy experts jitters before joining the team. It totally undercuts his reputation as a tough-minded fighter who stands on principle. And it may contribute to an alternate interpretation of Walker as a ‘fraidy cat. Earlier this month, Walker caved to Iowa ethanol interests by reversing his position on the federal mandate.

The problem, in other words, wasn’t the tweets of a single staffer, but the way Iowa’s parochial concerns act like kryptonite on Walker’s convictions and reputation. He can certainly recover from this, but if Walker thinks his path to the nomination runs through Iowa, he needs to figure out how to win that state’s caucuses without turning into Tom Vilsack before he arrives in Nashua, New Hampshire…

How would Walker handle a tough Supreme Court nomination battle against a united Democratic Senate, if he folds instantly after some whinging from a right-wing muckraker? Until this week, Walker supporters could have pointed to his white-knuckle fight with Wisconsin’s public-sector unions. Now his critics can point to the way he cowers before a few rotting corn stalks.

“Scott Walker has much bigger problems than the ill-considered hiring and firing of one D.C. operative,” Malkin said in an email.

“What does he really stand for and is he fully equipped to bear the slings and arrows of his enemies on a national and global scale? Yes, he fought Big Labor and has managed his state well. But grass-roots activists in his state have long been warning me of his ideological gymnastics on core issues: immigration and education.

“He has been on the same side as the progressive Left and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Right: pro-amnesty, pro-massive legal immigration expansionist, and pro-Common Core. He’s been left, right, center, and all over the map…

“I believe conservative journalists should not be mocked for asking GOP candidates or their staffers unorthodox, ‘rude,’ and uncomfortable questions,” Malkin said. “That’s called vetting.”