Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker dropped out of the Republican presidential race on Monday, showing that simplicity and shamelessness aren’t always rewarded in politics. Walker was supposed to be a GOP juggernaut, uniting anti-union business types, evangelicals and tea partyers with his combative, ideologically charged record in Madison. Emphasizing his Midwestern identity and conservative credentials — playing a sort of everyday ideologue — he seemed to have Iowa locked up, until Donald Trump exploded.
But it would be a mistake to just blame Trump for Walker’s political demise. Even the relatively mild scrutiny applied to Walker’s run revealed him for what he really is: a man who has not thought much outside of his narrow experience and who fumbled when reporters asked him to do so. The result was a candidate who was intellectually and strategically adrift. He didn’t seem to know how he felt on a range of issues, and, in the absence of sincere positions, he didn’t seem to know how far right he wanted to run. All of this made his bluster about being a “fighter” who is “unintimidated” seem embarrassingly inappropriate.
Walker floundered on foreign policy, lamely claiming that his experience standing up to public sector unions in Wisconsin showed he had the mettle to stand up to foreign threats. He attempted to cover for previously moderate statements on immigration by clumsily lurching right, even seeming to suggest that there should be fewer legal immigrants. He took several confusing positions on birthright citizenship over the course of a few days. He refused to say whether he favored allowing more Syrian refugees into the country because the question was “hypothetical.” When he got around to answering, he tacked toward callousness, saying that he didn’t want to let any more refugees in. But at that point, who would have believed that he had really thought about it?
As his campaign sputtered, Walker returned to the only issue he seemed to know: organized labor. He proposed a national crackdown on unions that included scrapping the National Labor Relations Board. This was supposed to re-excite the goodwill he had generated among conservatives during his showdowns with public sector workers over the last few years. Instead, it proved he was one-dimensional.
Walker didn’t need Trump to fail. He didn’t just have bad luck. He couldn’t be any more than he is: walking proof that a combative style, a hard ideological edge and identity-based pandering can’t always make up for cluelessness. The conservatives who championed Walker should have expected more. The Republican Party needs more.