Can one candidate steal adopt another candidate’s tone and thereby revive his struggling campaign? Scott Walker, currently languishing at around four percent in Republican primary polls, is going to try.
So today, Walker will deliver a speech meant to capture the prevailing sentiment in his party, by means of a promise to “wreak havoc” on the nation’s capital. That may sound like a joke, but it isn’t. Zeke Miller reports:
“To wreak havoc on Washington, America needs a leader with real solutions,” Walker will say. “Political rhetoric is not enough — we need a plan of action. Actions speak louder than words. I have a plan to move this country forward. To wreak havoc on Washington, America also needs a leader who has been tested. I have been tested like no one else in this race. We passed those tests and now, I am ready to lead this exceptional country.”
Perhaps in the speech’s exciting denouement, Walker will quote “Ghostbusters” and promise “fire and brimstone coming down from the sky, rivers and seas boiling, 40 years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!”
Do Republican voters really want Washington to be overtaken by “havoc”? Some politicians say they’ll reform Washington, or clean it up, or change the way it does business. But havoc? It certainly shows that Walker is not going to bother telling Republican voters that governing is complicated, and you need someone who can navigate the processes and institutions of Washington if you’re going to achieve the substantive goals you and your party share.
Which is perhaps understandable, given the fact that in current polls, if you combine the support for Donald Trump and Ben Carson — the two candidates with zero government experience, who have never run for office before, and who promise that all the problems we face have easy, simple solutions — you get about 50 percent of the Republican electorate.
So Walker, whose fall has coincided with Trump’s rise, seems ready to try anything to emulate the current frontrunner. There’s precedent for that — in past primaries, when one candidate has won support with a particular message or style, other candidates have often tried to adopt some of it. In 2000, when John McCain was successfully portraying himself as a reformer, George W. Bush started calling himself “a Reformer With Results,” and it actually seemed to work. It was possible because it’s only a couple of steps from “reformer” to “reformer with results,” so voters could decide that while they liked McCain’s reform record, Bush offered something similar, but even better.
Walker’s theory seems to be that there are voters now supporting Donald Trump who’ll say, “I like that Trump is smashing things, so if Scott Walker wants to utterly lay waste to Washington, DC, sign me up!” This seems implausible, to say the least.
Earlier this week, the National Review published an article entitled “Scott Walker: What Went Wrong?“, which sums up the prevailing sentiment among Republicans about the Wisconsin governor. Before the race began in earnest, Walker was the thinking person’s choice to become the Republican nominee, in large part because he offered something for everyone. His union-busting and tax-cutting would appeal to economic conservatives, his evangelical roots would appeal to social conservatives, as a governor he could argue that he has executive experience, and his battles with Democrats in his state showed him to be the kind of partisan warrior partisans like. Many commentators, myself included, thought this would be a powerful combination. We put Walker in the top tier of Republican contenders, along with Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
While there’s still plenty of time before the voting starts and things could (and probably will) change, for now that assessment doesn’t look so hot. Trump, on the other hand, has demonstrated the degree to which Republican voters hold not only the federal government but their own party’s leaders in contempt. As he’d say, they’re losers, politicians who have been making promises to their constituents for years (we’re going to repeal Obamacare any day now!) but have been utterly unable to deliver. If you want to capitalize on that sentiment, you can do it substantively, by moving your positions on some important issues, or you can do it stylistically, which is what Walker looks to be trying to do.
The degree to which Trump’s success would influence the other candidates is something we’ve been trying to figure out for a while now. Would he pull them to the right on immigration as they tried to capture some of his voters, or would they present themselves as more thoughtful and reasonable, to heighten the contrast with Trump? The question could matter a great deal in the general election (presuming Trump is not the nominee), because if they choose to be more like Trump, they’ll harm themselves among the voters they’d need next fall. But it may not be possible even in the primaries to win over Trump’s voters by trying to be more like him. No matter what you promise to do to Washington, you just can’t out-Trump Trump.