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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Requiem for Scott Walker’s presidential campaign

Reaction is still streaming in to the news of Scott Walker abruptly ending his presidential run on Monday evening (according to this story, however, Walker apparently decided he would quit late last week). Several candidates similarly ended their campaigns early in 2011, but none had the initial star power that Walker enjoyed going into this year.

Scott Walker paradeNaturally there are comparisons between former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Walker, since they’re both Midwestern governors of blue states who managed to win and, at least according to them, govern as conservatives.

Walker comes much closer in that regard.

But the comparisons end there. Pawlenty wasn’t well known going into his race. Walker, on the other hand, had survived a brutal recall election and then won re-election last year. He was the national poster boy for teachers union busting and state budget reform.

So what happened?

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver says Walker could’ve been a terrible candidate – or he might have just been unlucky. “Walker was caught in something of the same vicious cycle as Hillary Clinton. There were some genuine but not obviously mission-critical problems with his campaign; there were some poor polling numbers; and there was increasingly negative media coverage. All of these tended to feed back upon and accentuate one another, making his situation worse.”

Silver also notes Walker failed to separate himself in a large field.

Glenn Thrush of Politico argues Walker failed partly because he was arrogant. “Several senior Republicans with knowledge of his campaign said the 47-year-old Walker — who won two elections and survived a recall effort without the help of national consultants — was simply too confident in his own abilities and often acted, ineptly, as his own campaign manager.”

Thrush also highlights Walker’s money problems, which were similar to those that forced Rick Perry to suspend his campaign. Both had the sizable backing of Super PACs, yet burned through their own hard campaign cash to the point where the PACs couldn’t make up the difference.

And finally, Thrush said Walker got “Trumped.”

Any candidate who quits from here on out is going to be credited/blamed on The Donald. But there’s no doubting Trump changed the tone of the race and Walker’s “nice guy” persona didn’t match up with the mood of the grassroots. Several surveys indicated people like someone who “tells it like it is,” and Walker’s inability to settle on policy positions indicated, somewhat, that he didn’t understand what that meant.

Caitlin Huey-Burns and Rebecca Berg of Real Clear Politics think Walker simply peaked too early. “By the time the Trump hurricane came around, Walker was already equivocating on whether the president was a Christian, punting questions about climate change, shifting to a more conservative approach to immigration and opposing a citizenship pathway for the undocumented.”

There’s some truth in their theory. Walker rose quickly at the beginning of the year but then could not build a core constituency.

Richard Viguerie likewise writes that Walker failed to establish a base and didn’t differentiate himself.

All of the above are true. Once the initial shock of Walker’s exit dies down, we may get a clearer picture of why he failed so miserably after looking so bright. Scott may end up as the Tim Pawlenty of the 2016 race, but it’s too early to say one way or the other.

(At least talking about Walker gives us a respite from battling over Muslims. Here’s the latest from Ben Carson.)

Walker’s loss is Fiorina’s gain… and, did she run a conservative campaign in 2010?

Somewhat unlike Rick Perry, Walker’s leaving the race creates an opening for his former competitors to grab his supporters. There’s already been much written about what donors are possibly going where and who’s snatching up his newly available campaign staff.

But who will get his voters? Sure, he’s plummeted in the polls of late, but he once was as high as third place, standing right next to Donald Trump on the stage of the Fox News debate in August.

Jim Antle of the Washington Examiner argues Walker’s exit is Carly Fiorina’s big opportunity.

“Walker had a good donor network and was putting together something of a ground game in the early states, particularly Iowa. Imagine what those resources could do in the service of Fiorina's emergent campaign…

“Fiorina may not have Walker's track record of taking on the worst liberals and labor unions had to offer and winning in a blue state … But there isn't much evidence that this is what Republican primary voters are looking for this time around, or that all those Wisconsin fights really did much to prepare Walker for the rigors of a national campaign.”

In other words, an up-and-coming candidate who lacks solid campaign infrastructure could gain from taking on the established campaign of a candidate who just bowed out.

It makes sense. I’m sure Fiorina’s people are on the phone this very moment trying to make it happen.

Regardless of how Fiorina could profit from the demise of Scott Walker, questions will go on as to where she stands ideologically. Is she really a conservative? Jim Geraghty of National Review details the cautionary warnings from notable conservatives like Mark Levin and then suggests Fiorina ran as a conservative in 2010 and has perhaps “evolved” since then.

In regards to 2010, Geraghty says, “But on several of conservatives’ biggest issues — gay marriage, abortion, and gun rights — Fiorina took bold, outspoken stances that put her to the right of previous leading California Republicans such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson.”

That’s not saying a whole lot considering how liberal/moderate Arnold and Wilson were during their tenures in office, but it at least proves Carly doesn’t pander to the middle for purely political gain.

As for now, Geraghty concludes, “Because of her lack of governing experience, Fiorina’s record is thin when compared with those of some of her rivals, and it warrants a thorough review by conservative GOP primary voters who feel burned by past choices. But it’s far too simple to say that she ‘staked out the moderate Republican position’ in her only other run for office.

“She pitched herself as a conservative back then, and even if she hadn’t, she’s pitching herself as a conservative now. At worst, it could be said that she’s ‘evolved’ on a number of issues since becoming a politician. And that shouldn’t be disqualifying with the Republican electorate, if Donald Trump’s rise is any guide.”

Geraghty makes a lot of good points. The fact Fiorina is such a gifted speaker makes her a compelling candidate. If, over time, conservatives trust that she is who she says she is, she’ll establish herself as a contender. If not, she may be following in Scott Walker’s footsteps.

(For a look at the humorous side of Carly, check out this story from The Hill, where she said on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have a lot in common.)

Are we ultimately headed for a Cruz vs. Rubio showdown as the last men standing?

Erick Erickson thinks so, and he makes an awfully persuasive case for it.

“I think Trump will fade, Fiorina will fade, and Carson is already fading. They are doing so because their momentum is based more on name identification and not on records or ground games.”

Erickson wrote his piece prior to Walker’s announcement, but had already predicted that the Wisconsin governor’s establishment faction would head to Rubio and the conservative grassroots element would gravitate to Cruz.

He concludes, “Next month’s debate performance could rupture it. There’s still a lot that could change. But right now to me it looks like we are headed toward a Cruz vs. Rubio primary and, given how well the outsiders are doing currently, Cruz has a slight advantage.”

Erickson’s theory contains a hefty dose of conventional wisdom – and if this were any other year, it would carry a lot of weight. As of now, there’s no sign the Republican electorate is close to abandoning the “outsiders,” however, since the three of them together still take over half the support.

Therefore, any movement is likely to be between the three of them, not towards the traditional candidates.

It very could end up as Erickson predicts – especially in regards to Marco Rubio overtaking Jeb Bush as the establishment candidate.

We’ll know more in a couple months.

Trump resumes war with Fox News

Finally today, after a several week-long détente with Fox News, Donald Trump is at it again. John Nolte of Breitbart reports, “Although Trump appeared with Greta Van Susteren (via phone) during the 7 pm hour, his criticism centered primarily on the hours hosted by Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly.”

Trump Tweeted that he was having a hard time watching Fox News, insulted Rich Lowry (who was appearing on Megyn Kelly’s show) and then picked on Bill O’Reilly twice.

Addressing the same subject, Allahpundit at Hot Air asks what we’re all wondering: “Is he calling Fox out as part of a deliberate strategy or is he calling them out because brawling with people is just sort of what he does?”

“…My own theory is that he’s not doing this as a matter of strategy, to re-create his August heyday, but out of sheer instinct to hit back whenever you’re hit and trust that doing so will always redound to your benefit. It’s worked out pretty well for him so far, no?”

The Donald knows how to use media to his advantage. I personally believe everything he does is according to his own predetermined plan. He’s been far too successful to not know what’s going to happen when he Tweets something out.

It’s the elements he can’t control – like what the other candidates do – that should worry Trump, not what’s being said about him on Fox News.

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