Obligatory opening that everyone already knows: Scott Walker suspended his campaign this afternoon in a brief statement that savaged Donald Trump. The one-time Republican frontrunner’s terse exit brings up some questions about the future of the nomination contest that this blog hadn’t fathomed would be compelled so early.
What do Walker’s slide and Trump’s ascent tell us about this campaign cycle?
Walker adopted and hewed to a positive message about America’s future. He steadfastly refused to attack other Republicans, abandoning that philosophy only to go after Trump in the final debate. That debate performance was admirable and, in a different race, effective. But he didn’t do the impossible of recapturing lost voters who unmoored from Walker following a handful of much-critiqued and predictable-in-hindsight gaffes. Before and during his campaign, Walker repeatedly admonished that candidates should tell voters what they’re for, not what they’re against.
On the other hand, Trump has focused his grade school aspersions almost exclusively on his Republican rivals. The success of his knuckle-dragging appeals to the ugly, bitter side of bedraggled voters is a sign of the times. These days, our country has a vile appreciation for caustic rhetoric with the shock value of clickbait on social media. However, the basics of the human condition still apply in an era of anti-intellectualism, and an appeal to peoples’ optimism is still far more potent than easy, disposable cheapshots flung against the headboard by a sleazy star of rhetorical porn like Trump.
What role did talk radio play?
Regular listeners of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity know that these two kings of conservative talk radio have propped up Trump since his announcement. They know their bread is buttered by the ratings buttress of wall-to-wall Trump talk. But earlier in the year, Limbaugh in particular spoke very highly of Walker – until a shinier object came along. The reversal of this right-wing opinion leader’s commentary – and his silence about Walker following Trump’s entrance – is mind-blowing to the point of being suspicious.
It’s time for conservatives to seriously re-assess whether these entertainers should really occupy the role of right-wing opinion leaders that William F. Buckley once held.
Where will Walker’s support go?
Though he might have been barely registering one percent in the polls, Walker did raise a lot of money early on, allowing him to build a strong organization and attract top talent in many key states. One Walker statewide leader has already switched to Rubio, a youthful carrier of the torch who has broad appeal, who comes from the same “class” of leaders elected in 2010, and is ideologically Walker’s twin.
Walker has also praised Rubio in the past. In his exit speech, Walker urged Republicans to unite around a positive message of conservative reform, as opposed to the Faustian deal Trump offers. Rubio’s genuine, articulate, informed, positive message could, maybe, might be what Walker was referring to. But even if the Walker-to-Rubio exodus isn’t the result of phone calls by Scott, I believe it will happen anyway, and it will help Rubio build the right support at the right time in the coming months.
What should Walker do now?
Walker will come back to Wisconsin and get back to governing, but with the budget process over, he needs to focus on re-building the state GOP’s grassroots infrastructure. Walker builds a powerful voter turnout machine – he needs to devote his political energy to doing everything possible to re-elect Sen. Ron Johnson and carry Wisconsin for the eventual GOP nominee.
While I doubt he’ll publicly endorse, I suspect Walker will follow through by urging inevitable losers like Huckabee to understand their role in making way for Trump by dividing the 76 percent of Republicans who don’t support the bombastic billionaire. But given the focus of one of the most important speeches of his life, his exit, it looks like Scott Walker will now make the case for popping Trump’s sulfurous balloon.
And more power to him – the world had to find out that our current president is a joke they needn’t take seriously. With a President Trump, the world will have already known it for years.