We have reported over the past few months Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s stumbling campaign. The flip-flops (on immigration, ethanol, gay marriage), the lackluster debate performance and a lack of both policy and presence have plagued him. And that is what the Walker team itself now admits.
In a conference call, one-on-one conversations and at a Tuesday lunch, the Wisconsin governor and favorite of anti-union conservatives told backers that his campaign is shifting to a more aggressive posture and will seek to tap into the anti-establishment fervor fueling the rise of Donald Trump and other outsider candidates.
During a conference call with top fundraisers Monday afternoon, Walker and his campaign manager were relatively candid in their assessment of the campaign’s shortcomings, according to notes of the conversation taken by a participant. Walker said the campaign will strive to do better in three areas: protest, passion and policy.
Unfortunately for Walker, his campaign has misdiagnosed the problem and is, in fact, making things worse. Instead of racing to catch up to Trump — making Walker appear desperate and weak — he needs to define his own position in the mainstream of the party. Now he is stuck fending off question after question about repealing birthright citizenship — a policy he embraced only because Trump talked about it. This is reminiscent of his recent struggles over gay marriage. As governor, he was content to let the courts have a final say; as a presidential candidate, he tried to hawk a constitutional amendment.
He is getting heat from donors, who express mainstream dismay over his newfound radical positions:
Walker has veered to the right on abortion and other social issues, worrying some top backers. Stanley S. Hubbard, a conservative billionaire who oversees a Minnesota broadcasting company and has donated to Walker’s campaign, said the candidate has promised that he would not push a “social agenda” as president and is simply expressing his personal beliefs when asked.
“If he’s smart, he will get back to basics and get back to what he did in Wisconsin [and] get off the social issues,” said Hubbard, who had lunch on Tuesday with Walker and other campaign supporters. “No one is asking him to change the morals of America.” . . . Hubbard said that he “might really quickly change my allegiance” if Walker pushed for such a repeal, and that he “did not get a real straight answer” from the candidate at his Tuesday lunch. But Hubbard, who came away ready write more checks to help Walker, added: “I got the feeling that he is not at all anxious to talk about taking away those rights.”
And that is someone who backs him. It is highly unusual that a donor would trash his own candidate on the record. Other GOP contenders must be licking their lips, ready to siphon off support.
What is worse is that Walker and his aides insist on providing punditry on their own campaign — telegraphing what they are doing just in case you were not sure the shifts were contrived. Ironically, for a candidate who says no one intimidates him, he has now been thrown entirely off his game by Trump.
Experienced Republicans express a mix of disgust and amazement that such a promising candidate could have bungled things to such a degree. Some point to a staff too enamored of making news themselves, too easily impressed by meaningless early poll numbers and too quick to panic. Others, however, observe that Walker has never been on a national stage with such fierce competition. As Rick Perry found out in 2012, many governors arrogantly assume success at the state level prepares them for a presidential campaign.
In fact, presidential politics is a whole new ballgame. Walker has not yet lost any primary contest, for voting is months in the future, but if he continues to flip-flop and chase Trump, he’ll lose in Iowa and effectively be benched for the campaign. He’d do better to go back to the old Walker, before his strategists decided to make him into something he is not.