A huge portion of Walker’s early appeal came from the idea that he had won election three times in a blue state, and would therefore offer substantial crossover appeal while upholding conservative values. But as Alec McGillis documented at length in June 2014, Walker was in fact a spectacularly divisive figure in Wisconsin, polarizing politics on racial and ideological grounds to an unprecedented degree. His off-year gubernatorial victories in 2010 and 2014, fueled by right-wing talk radio, were the result of tremendous turnout in the white suburbs of increasingly black Milwaukee. The electorate that voted for Walker, in other words, was never the “blue” electorate that has gone Democratic in seven straight presidential elections.
Moreover, the whole “elected three times” boast has always been a peculiar one. That third election was, of course, his 2012 recall race. But a recall election is not something you “win” so much as something you survive. (Walker’s was only the third gubernatorial recall in U.S. history.) Genuine success as a governor lies not in surviving a recall but instead in the vastly more common feat of not being so divisive and unpopular that more than a quarter of registered voters sign a recall petition in the first place. (It’s worth noting, too, that Walker won in part by raising a remarkable $30 million, much of it from out of state.)