Walker's dramatic implosion: The one-time Iowa frontrunner is now barely registering in the polls

Scott Walker is trying to fight his way back into presidential contention by pretending to have a personality

Published September 11, 2015 5:37PM (EDT)

  (AP/John Minchillo)
(AP/John Minchillo)

Back in July, Scott Walker was solidly ahead of the Republican presidential field in Iowa, according to Quinnipiac’s poll of GOP voters. He was taking in 18 percent of the vote, a slight dip from the 21 percent he’d enjoyed a couple of months earlier, but still well ahead of his closest rivals. He was the favorite pick of Tea Party types, born-again evangelicals, “very conservative” voters – all the groups Walker was targeting as part of his strategy to dominate the Iowa caucuses.

Two months later, Walker’s support in Iowa has all but vanished. Per the latest Quinnipiac survey, Walker is taking in a miserable three percent of the vote, putting him slightly ahead of human punchline Bobby Jindal, and slightly behind “Don’t Know/No Opinion.” All those hardcore conservatives he once counted as his base of support have abandoned him for the flashy nativism of Donald Trump or the soft-spoken insanity of Ben Carson. You really can’t overstate how terrible this is for Walker. His entire strategy hinged on dominating Iowa. His entire message is aimed at mobilizing the party’s white, conservative base. And as of right now, he’s barely registering.

To get back in the game, Walker is “rebooting” and debuting a brand new persona: Angry Scott Walker. This Scott Walker will yell and scream and do violence upon Washington, DC in the name of principled conservative outsiderism. In a big speech at Ronald Reagan’s alma mater (the Wisconsin governor has a Reagan obsession that comes off as fairly creepy, even in a movement that treats Reagan like an uncanonized saint) Walker promised to “wreak havoc” on our nation’s capital by doing things like repealing Obamacare and punching unions in the face some more. Yeah, Scott! Get mad! Wreak that havoc! Rattle a few cages!

Angry Scott Walker is at least marginally more interesting than Normal Scott Walker, who has all the charisma and excitement of a doorstop. But Angry Scott Walker still suffers all the same defects: he’s a comically unprepared candidate who clearly entered the race with no real understanding of what it takes to run for president. Writing for The Atlantic, Jack Carver argues that the sort of politicking that Walker excels at – the granular, flesh-pressing slog of local elections – is completely unsuited to a modern presidential race, especially one that is being dominated by candidates with huge, flamboyant personalities:

On the crowded national stage, though, the same boring talking points aren't good enough. And what’s more, Scott Walker doesn't have nearly enough time to shake everybody’s hand. He can’t simply outhustle the crowded field of candidates. In fact, even while courting the small group of mega-donors that every GOP candidate is desperate to impress, Walker is facing competition and scrutiny that he has shown himself fundamentally unprepared to confront because he is still playing bush-league politics on a big-league field.

And there’s the growing body of evidence that Walker put little to no thought into national policy issues before entering the race. When facing thorny questions on foreign policy, immigration, and other topics a Midwestern governor wouldn’t be especially well-versed in, his default response has been to take several different positions, and then declare that he won’t be taking a position. His evasiveness and incoherence are made all the more noticeable by the fact that he came into the race with such high expectations. People just assumed he’d know what the hell he was talking about.

Candidates like Trump and Carson have similar deficiencies when it comes to policy matters, but for now they’re compensating on the strength of their personalities and personal histories. Scott Walker can’t really do that because he has no personality to speak of, but he’s trying to fake it give himself some “edge” with all this talk of “wreaking havoc.”

Right now Walker’s hopes rest on both Trump and Carson collapsing in the polls. He also has to hope that their supporters, should that collapse occur, will come back to Team Walker and not gravitate towards someone like Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, or any of the other “outsiders” in the race. It’s not the vainest of hopes, given that conservatives still hold him in fairly high regard, but it’s still an amazing reversal of fortune for the man who was once the candidate to beat in Iowa.

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By Simon Maloy

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