Is Walker’s dive a temporary blip or a sign of deeper problems with the candidate? The case for calm is fairly strong. There are five months and five more debates left until anyone must settle on a candidate. Trumpmania has overtaken the entire GOP field, not just Walker. When the “frontrunner” is only polling in the high teens or low twenties, the title doesn’t mean much—voters remain undecided. And Walker continues to lay the groundwork for long-term victory: On August 18, he introduced a plan to repeal Obamacare that Yuval Levin, a leading conservative reformer, called “the most substantively and politically serious conservative health care reform we have yet seen from a presidential candidate.” There’s still hope for Walker that when the dust settles he’ll be the candidate left standing who can unite a fractious party.
But signs of deeper trouble for Walker are also strong. The theory behind a Walker candidacy is that after two terms of Barack Obama, voters are ready for a workhorse, not a showhorse. The Trump phenomenon may indicate that’s not true, and voters still want a candidate with charisma—someone who can inspire or, in the case of Trump, at least entertain them.
Walker has always acknowledged he’s an ordinary guy who doesn’t give soaring speeches, but he believes that charisma is about much more than oratory. “I think there’s a certain appeal that people have for candidates who are authentic, people who have a passion for ideas and who believe in things,” Walker told me during his 2014 gubernatorial reelection campaign. “We say what we mean, we mean what we say. I think that’s certainly appealing.”
Lately, however, Walker himself seems intent on undermining his core appeal as an authentic, straight-talking conservative.