Scott Walker becomes this year's Tim Pawlenty, with debates playing Straw Poll's role

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will end his presidential campaign today, the New York Times reported. The onetime leader in Iowa and national polling has been sinking for months and dropped to low single digits in national surveys following the first two Republican debates. Although Walker racked up a bunch of early Iowa endorsements in the winter and spring, I always felt he might retrace the path of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who quit the race four years ago after a disappointing Ames Straw Poll showing.

Part of me feels this humiliating end to a once-promising campaign couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. But the other part of me is worried, because Walker was running an incompetent campaign, and his exit means some more competent candidate may end up becoming the consensus establishment choice: perhaps Carly Fiorina, Senator Marco Rubio, or my worst fear for the general election, Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Any comments about the Republican presidential race are welcome in this thread. I will update this post later with reaction to Walker’s decision.

UPDATE: Ryan Foley points out that Walker quit the GOP primary race for Wisconsin governor early before the 2006 campaign, “a move that endeared him to the faithful and helped pave [the] way for [his] later rise.” The GOP has nominated failed candidates before (Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney), though Rick Perry’s experience shows second chances aren’t a given for one-touted candidates who under-performed.

Further updates are after the jump, including highlights from Walker’s press conference and the list of high-profile Iowa endorsers his campaign rolled out in August. They include nine current state senators and six state representatives, some of whom came on board with Walker much earlier in the year.

From the New York Times report on Walker’s September 21 press conference:

Short of support and cash, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, saying he had been “called to lead by helping to clear the field,” announced Monday that he was suspending his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. […]

“I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same, so that the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive conservative alternative to the current front-runner,” Mr. Walker said in the short appearance, at which he took no questions. “This is fundamentally important to the future of the party and, more importantly, to the future of our country.” […]

“The short answer is money,” said a supporter of Mr. Walker’s who was briefed on the announcement. “He’s made a decision not to limp into Iowa.”

The supporter said that Mr. Walker’s fund-raising had dried up after his decline in the polls and that campaign officials did not feel they could risk going into debt with the race so uncertain.

From the Des Moines Register on August 4:

Walker’s 65-person Iowa leadership team includes:

State Sen. Jerry Behn, of Boone

State Sen. Mark Costello, of Imogene

State Sen. Randy Feenstra, of Hull

State Sen. Julian Garrett, of Indianola

State Sen. Mark Segebart, of Vail

State Sen. Tom Shipley, of Nodaway

State Sen. Amy Sinclair, of Allerton

State Sen. Brad Zaun, of Urbandale

State Sen. Dan Zumbach, of Ryan

State Rep. Terry Baxter, of Garner

State Rep. Brian Best, of Glidden

State Rep. Dave Deyoe, of Nevada

State Rep. Dean Fisher, of Garwin

State Rep. Lee Hein, of Monticello

State Rep. John Landon, of Ankeny

Former state Sen. Nancy Boettger, of Harlan

Former state Sen. Dave Mulder, of Sioux Center

Dallas County Recorder Chad Airhart

Union County Treasurer Kelly Busch

Hardin County Treasurer Machel Eichmeier

Marshall County Treasurer Jarret Heil

Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard

Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren

Winneshiek County Treasurer Wayne Walter

Urbandale Mayor Bob Andeweg

Clive Mayor Scott Cirksena

West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer

Waukee City Councilman Rick Peterson

Buzzfeed’s Tarini Parti reported, “A spokesman for the pro-Walker super PAC, Unintimidated, which reported raising $20 million in July told BuzzFeed News the group will soon start sending cash back to its donors.”

Liz Mair, who worked for Walker during the 2012 Wisconsin recall campaign and was hired and fired by his presidential campaign within a 48-hour period this year, posted some interesting post-mortem thoughts on her Twitter feed today.

Topping Mair’s list of things Walker got wrong:

Things he got wrong: Misunderstanding the GOP base, its priorities and stances. Pandering. Flip-flopping.

Also,

Hiring staff who did not know him well and did not understand his record or his reputation across all segments in Wisconsin.

As well as,

Becoming so invested in winning, no matter what it took, that he lost sight of his real identity as a political leader.

Another problem:

Hiring people who spent a lot to build out a massive operation that would not be sustainable unless financing remained amazing forever.

This mistake was mystifying:

Treating Iowa as locked down, boasting early of the ability to win even in states like Nevada where winning always looked improbable.

Topping Mair’s list of smaller problems for the Walker campaign:

Minor things that didn’t help: Key staff spending their time on, uh, stuff other than work when campaign was flailing.

I agree, this was irritating for listeners:

Not training himself out of tics incl instinctively answering “yes” and “absolutely” to things, comparing lots of things to union fight.

I’d call this one more than a “minor” problem:

Not educating himself fast enough on issues outside governor’s remit. Educating himself on some things by talking to the wrong people.

I thought it was stupid for Walker to throw Mair under the bus so quickly. She commented today,

But I also feared that the reasons behind his firing of me would be the ultimate causes of his demise. Now that appears to be true.

But how can Mair leave us hanging like this?

One last thought: Walker’s timing is good. Word is he just avoided getting tied to a very bad story that could well have been coming.

THIRD UPDATE: It occurred to me that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could be a big beneficiary of Walker’s demise, because he has a stronger chance of staying in the group of ten candidates invited to debate in prime time.

Jennifer Jacobs talked to some insiders about takeaways from Walker’s failure.

Carly Fiorina, a former tech company CEO, stands to benefit most, some insiders predicted.

“As fast as Walker’s stock was dropping, Carly Fiorina’s was rising. Fiorina’s current momentum could sweep in some folks who are jumping ship from Walker,” said Kevin Madden, a partner with Washington, D.C.-based Hamilton Place Strategies who helped guide Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns. […]

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who have profiles similar to Walker with experience as a governor and records of conservative accomplishment, could get a fresh look from Walker voters who are now back to shopping around, insiders said. […]

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio also could be a benefactor because he excelled in both debates, is impossible to stump on any issue, has a great personal story and “could bring the hard right and the establishment together,” said Carlson, a Republican who lives in Indianola.

FOURTH UPDATE: Dara Lind posted an excellent take at Vox: “Scott Walker could have stayed in the presidential race. But he wasn’t willing to fight.” Excerpts:

Scott Walker spent several months running for president on a platform of having the spine to stand up to the Republican Party’s enemies at home and abroad – while failing to show any backbone whatsoever during the presidential election. He ran as the courage candidate, and acted like the Cowardly Lion. […]

“I would submit to you, there is only one candidate who has consistently fought and won,” Walker continued. “If you want someone who will fight and win for you, fight and win for America, I am your candidate going forward.” […]

The problem with Walker’s message of resolve is that Walker acted at every turn to undermine it. Whenever it appeared that he was in danger of offending anyone – Republican voters, donors, or other candidates – he either backpedaled or tried to explain it all away. […]

He didn’t distinguish himself with any policy positions during the campaign, instead pulling a “me too!” when other candidates laid out their plans. But he did manage to get headlines on two separate occasions for saying something privately on immigration that was different from what he was saying in his campaign speeches.

Matea Gold and Sean Sullivan reported for the Washington Post on Walker’s major donors being inundated with asks from other campaigns today. Several insiders speculated the candidates most likely to benefit are Christie, Fiorina, Rubio, and Kasich.

FIFTH UPDATE: Just a few days ago, Walker and some of his senior supporters told reporters he planned to focus more intensively on campaigning in Iowa.

TUESDAY UPDATE: I wasn’t watching television last night, but according to Ryan Foley, a super-PAC’s commercial about how “Scott Walker never backs down” was still in rotation. Too funny.

Walker would have had a steep hill to climb in Iowa if he had stayed in. Public Policy Polling’s latest survey of Iowa Republicans, which was in the field over the weekend, showed Walker in eighth place with 5 percent support.

Politico’s Shane Goldmacher and Alex Isenstadt reported on the Walker campaign’s many problems since last week’s debate. Sounds like the big money men were offended not to be in the loop.

Yet Walker’s decision Monday to end his campaign came as a shock to some of his biggest financial backers, who were not consulted or even advised about what was coming.

“I did not get a heads-up,” said Richard Roberts, a pharmaceutical executive who hosted Walker in his New Jersey home only three weeks ago and gave $100,000 to Walker’s super PAC in June. Walker has visited the Roberts residence three times in the past year-and-a-half. […]

“I felt like I’d gone to the wall for him,” Roberts told POLITICO. “Yes, I was surprised that he didn’t consider me to be within his inner circle, to give me a heads-up, to trust me.”

Walker’s biggest political patrons, the Ricketts family, which has contributed $5 million to his super PAC, felt similarly blindsided, according to an adviser to the Walker campaign. Todd Ricketts, who has been among Walker’s most aggressive fundraisers, did not get a call until later Monday afternoon.

Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, was set to host a Manhattan fundraiser later this week and had been busily organizing a never-before-reported event for Walker bundlers at Wrigley Field on Oct. 2. Even amid sinking poll numbers, turnout was expected to be high. “The Wrigley Field thing was going to be awesome,” said the adviser. “This guy busted his ass for Scott Walker.”

Billionaire Stanley Hubbard told Politico that he left Walker a voice mail the day after the debate: “It’s the first time,” Hubbard said of Walker, “he hasn’t called me back.”

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