Opinion writer

Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, speaks to a reporter as he arrives for the Chad Airhart Blue Jean Bash fundraiser in West Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, May 16, 2015. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

The Post reports, “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed legislation Wednesday to spend $250 million from taxpayers on a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team — a deal he has championed for months despite fierce opposition from fiscal conservatives who usually agree with him.” This may be another strike against him for fiscal purists already rattled by his flip-flop on immigration and stance on ethanol.  In and of itself this does not seem like a very big deal. But looking back over the last few months it is emblematic of a candidate who started fast, tried to capture the right wing of the party and then got swamped by a parade of more personable contenders.

Walker’s campaign kickoff provided him the chance to re-energize his campaign, but soon after that he was snared in controversies over gay marriage, the Boy Scouts and charges of flip-flopping. Then, in the debate, he seemed almost to disappear. Certainly, Donald Trump used up a disproportionate amount of the time and oxygen, but he also did not stack up well against Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who delivered well-crafted answers and projected their vivid personalities. Concerns about his lack of charisma that originally dogged him are back in force.

It was no surprise then that his post-debate poll numbers are awful. Most alarming, for a candidate who has put his eggs in the Iowa basket, a new CNN poll shows him dropping to third place at 9 percent.  “Although 11% see him as the most electable in the field, he hasn’t impressed on the issues. Walker falls below 10% on each issue tested, with his best showing the 8% who think he would best handle the economy.”

Walker it seems suffered from two cardinal errors. First, he has never come out with a distinctive — really, any — domestic agenda. While Christie, Rubio and Bush have offered boatloads of concrete proposals and given meaty policy speeches he’s stuck to trite generalizations (“take power back from special interests”). While his crash course on foreign policy helped eliminate gaffes, he still was not comfortable enough to answer questions on the ground in Israel and cannot match others in depth of understanding. (He picked a silly fight insisting he’d rip up the Iran deal on day one, a position suggesting he didn’t understand how foreign policy operates.) Second, instead of appealing to the mainstream of the party he focused on Iowa and went to the right on social issues (raising questions about flip-flopping). This is a classic case of falling in love with early poll numbers and one’s own strategy rather than responding to a quickly evolving race. And it is confirmation that unless one is comfortable in one’s own skin and perfectly certain of one’s own beliefs, a vigorous presidential campaign will blow you off course.

These decisions magnified another problem for him as well as for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.): No one is going to outshine or out-maneuver Donald Trump when it comes to grabbing the far right wing of the party by the throat. Walker, who was never known for his flashiness, simply got swamped by bigger personalities willing to go farther and farther to the right.

Can Walker regain his footing and pick up voters when Trump crumbles? Perhaps, but standing behind Trump are more flashy contenders like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and base-favorite Dr. Ben Carson. Walker cannot afford to lose Iowa and yet that is precisely where he may be heading. Having raised expectations so high for that state, a loss there would deal a grievous blow in a way a loss by Rubio, Bush, Christie, Kasich or others would not. Whereas a third-place finish for Carly Fiorina, for example, would be a huge boost, it might be the end of Walker’s race.

We’ve now come to the point where it is easy to image Walker being passed in early states by candidates like Kasich, Christie, or Fiorina — not to mention Rubio and Bush. The advantage all of them will have after Iowa is that they will have retained their mainstream appeal. Their broader appeal plus more engaging personalities may leave Walker scrambling to stay in contention.

The race has hardly begun and not a single vote has been cast so no one should write off Walker. If he does falter, however, he and his political strategists will have no one to blame but themselves. Or, like Rick Perry in 2012, this may be a case in which a candidate was not really ready for the biggest stage in politics.