Scott Walker’s Campaign Seems To Be In Serious Trouble

Scott Walker used to have a commanding lead in Iowa, now he's in 7th place. That's just another sign of the troubles facing his campaign.

Scott Walker

A new poll out of Iowa shows most of what we’ve been seeing in recent weeks with Donald Trump at the top of the pack followed by Ben Carson and none of the other candidates in double digits. The real headline out of the poll, though is the seeming collapse of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Presidential campaign:

Scott Walker’s summer plunge was put in stark relief on Friday, with a new Quinnipiac University survey showing the Republican presidential candidate polling near the bottom of the heap in Iowa.

Walker, the governor of neighboring Wisconsin, dropped 15 points in the state in the last two months in Qunnipiac’s poll. In July, Walker led the pack at 18 percent. This time, he’s near the bottom of the field of 17, at 3 percent. He earned similar support in last weekend’s NBC News/Marist poll, at 5 percent.

The latest numbers underscore the cruel turn of events for Walker, who caught fire earlier this year with his plainspoken style and his track record of taking on and triumphing over the unions in Wisconsin. He has since tanked due to series of fumbles and a lackluster performance both on the campaign trail and in last month’s first GOP debate.

The POLITICO Caucus, a weekly bipartisan survey of the top activists, last week named Walker the biggest loser of the summer in the Republican field, with 56 percent of insiders in Iowa saying the governor had lost the season.

“He can’t seem to find his way on any given issue with a handheld GPS,” one Iowa Republican said of Walker last week. “He’s been on all three sides of every two-sided issue. For the last two months hasn’t made a single policy pronouncement that he or his staff hasn’t had to clarify or clear up within two hours. When you’re reduced to saying ‘yeah’ doesn’t mean ‘yes,’ you’re in trouble. ‘Unintimidated’ has given way to ‘uninformed’ and ‘unprepared.'”

Despite the rough top-line numbers in Friday’s poll, Walker’s favorability numbers in Iowa remain solid, at 62 percent to 15 percent, ranking fourth among candidates in terms of net positive sentiment in the Quinnipiac survey. Walker will return to the state for more campaign events this weekend, including a tailgate event at the annual Iowa-Iowa State football game on Saturday in Ames, where Donald Trump, among other candidates, will also be campaigning.

Walker’s fall in Iowa is mirrored elsewhere around the country. Nationally, where he once had a 16.8% average and was near the top of the field, Walker is now in seventh place behind Carly Fiorina with a RealClearPolitics average of 4.8%. Similarly, in New Hampshire Walker is also in seventh place with a polling average of 5.0%. In Iowa, Walker fares a little better with a 5.8% polling average that puts him in fifth place, but that is largely a reflection of the fact that he was still doing relatively well in polling up until the two most recent Iowa polls. Even fifth place is quite a fall, though, considering the fact that Walker once had a seemingly insurmountable lead in the Hawkeye State that essentially began to collapse as soon as Donald Trump entered the race. Since the August 6th debate, Walker’s numbers have only seemed to collapse further, which isn’t entirely surprising since his performance in the debate was widely panned even by people who would tend to by sympathetic to him.

It’s been quite a collapse for Walker over the past two months. Not only was he leading in Iowa and performing strongly in both nationally and in New Hampshire, but he was widely seen as a candidate that could appeal to both the conservative base of the Republican Party and the more moderate “establishment” and business wings. His rise to national prominence due to the showdown over public employee unions in Wisconsin, and his subsequent victories in not only getting his favored legislation passed but also pushing back against a recall effort that resulted from the union showdown and then wining re-election last years made him something of a national hero among Republicans and the calls for him to run for President began long before his re-election as Governor last November. Before the race for the Republican nomination really began, many analysts foresaw that Walker could be a strong competitor to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, especially if he managed to do as well in the Iowa Caucuses as the early polls were indicating.

As time went on, though, it became clear that Walker was not as good a candidate as his Wisconsin experience and press clippings made it seem. Early on even before he got into the race, Walker got into hot water with conservatives over his hiring of Republican strategist Liz Mair to run his campaign’s social media operation because, among other things, Mair had made comments on Twitter before being hired that were critical of the Iowa Caucuses as well as her personal position on immigration reform. Mair ended up resigning, but it was Walker who ended up coming out of the whole incident looking like someone who would cave to pressure over something as silly as a couple inoffensive tweets. Immigration quickly became the source of another problem for Walker when, although he had once supported immigration reform that included some form of what conservatives call “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, he was caught flip-flopping on the issue when campaigning in Iowa. Later, it was reported that Walker had told high level donors in a private meeting that he actually still did support some form of “amnesty” as party of an immigration reform effort. Walker’s effort to get in the good graces of the hard right base of the party has extended to even making statements critical of legal immigration More recently, he has been caught taking our different positions on the issue of birthright citizenship over the course of seven days in the wake of Donald Trump’s introduction of his immigration plan. All of this has led to the impression that Walker will say whatever he needs to whichever audience he is talking to, which is obviously a much harder thing to do in the era of the Internet and the ease with which someone can record a campaign appearance with their phone.

Paul Mirengoff at Power Line comments on Walker’s collapse:

Walker has campaigned assiduously in Iowa. His collapse there is a massive indictment of his candidacy.

Even more damning, I think, is that the case for nominating Walker is in shambles. That case, which earlier in the year had me thinking he might well be my first choice, was based on the notion that he combined the best of “establishment” qualities — a record of serious, successful governing experience — with the best of “outsider” qualities — a record of successfully taking on special interests.

Walker still has his Wisconsin record. But he has undermined the case that he’s a serious national figure through his propensity to dodge tough questions (calling them hypothetical)and/or waffle on them. “Good governance” Republicans will very likely look elsewhere for their candidate.

So will those who crave an outsider. For a significant chunk of the “anti-establishment” crowd, it is not enough never to have held office in Washington, DC. Even being governor makes one an insider — a member of the dreaded “political class.”

This odd sentiment may subside as the campaign proceeds, but is likely to hold sway among Iowa caucus-goers. (In the Quinnipiac poll, the three candidates who never have held elective office command 53 percent of the support). And Walker needs to win in Iowa.

But put aside the craze for non-office holders. Put aside too the fact that Walker breathes fire only intermittently. A candidate as wishy-washy as Walker probably cannot become the anti-establishment choice in a field with so many alternatives.

Mirengoff’s analysis is largely spot-on. Whatever logic their was the Walker’s candidacy had died away in the face of his own flip-flopping and his refusal to take positions on controversial issues. Additionally, if his performance at the debate last month is any indication Walker does not seem to me to come across as a speaker who is likely to inspire passion in even those who still ardently support him. In more than one way, he reminds me of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who was seen in the early run-up to the 2012 election as a Midwestern conservative Governor who could pose a real challenge to Mitt Romney. Instead, Pawlenty’s campaign collapsed largely because of his sub-par performance in the Iowa Straw Poll, but also because of the fact that he just didn’t run a very good campaign. Walker seems to be making many of the same mistakes that Pawlenty did, and while he’s likely to last longer than his Minnesota neighbor did, the trajectory of his campaign seems to be apparent. It is possible, of course, the Walker will be able to turn this all around. A good debate performance next month could be the beginning of that, but it would obviously also require that Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina lose their steam, which doesn’t seem likely at the moment. Other than the debate, Walker’s next big test will be fundraising, and while he did well in the quarter than ended June 30th, it’s not at all clear that he’s had similar success over the past two and a half months. By mid-October, we’ll have those figures and we’ll be able to tell if there’s still life left in the Walker campaign, or if this is the beginning of the end.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. An Interested Party says:

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy…one wonders what the people of Wisconsin were ever thinking to vote for this bozo in the first place…

  2. C. Clavin says:

    The comparison to Pawlenty is valid…but completely misses the real target.
    Walker and Pawlenty both wracked havoc on their states economies by pursuing failed Republican economic theories.
    Walker tells a bunch of lies to make himself sound good…but if he had a real honest to goodness success story to tell then he would be going gang-busters. He doesn’t.
    Clinton pretty much nailed Walker:

    “…It seems to me, just observing him, that Governor Walker thinks because he busts unions, starves universities, guts public education, demeans women, scapegoats teachers, nurses and firefighters, he is some kind of tough guy on his motorcycle. A real leader…well that is not leadership folks. Leadership means fighting for the people you represent. It looks like he just get his marching orders from the Koch Brothers and just goes down the list, whatever they tell him to do….”

    The ironical thing is that the motorcycle that Walker rides was built by union labor…a union that helped save the company from ruin back in the ’80s…and Harley-Davidson’s relationship with its workers’ unions isn’t just decent; it’s studied as an example of how corporations can benefit from organized labor.

  3. Todd says:

    Scott Walker was only ever going to be the Republican nominee is the most gleeful dreams of many Democrats.

  4. DrDaveT says:

    The Trumpernaut crushes all in its path, leaving only destruction in its wake.


  5. ernieyeball says:

    Scott Walker’s Campaign Brain Seems To Be In Serious Trouble

    The Great Northern Wall: Parts 1 and 2
    “Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire,” Walker responded. “They raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that’s a legitimate issue for us to look at.”
    “I never talked about a wall of the north, I’m certainly not now. That’s just what happens when things get run amok,”

    All persons born or naturalized in the United States…
    Walker shuffled between three answers on “birthright citizenship” before saying he would oppose ending it.

    White Milk-Chocolate Milk!
    Nestle’s Quick-Hershey’s Syrup!

    Come on Scotty! Take a position on something!

  6. Argon says:

    Walker only needed to open his mouth to doom his campaign. What surprised me is that people like Mirengoff, who claim to be politically astute, would think that Walker was anything other than a stuffed shirt and a dumb one at that. You’d really have to be wedded to your fantasies to think that he was ever a solid candidate.

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    Walker’s claim to fame was winning 2 elections in a blue state in low turnout elections. He was never more than a moronic sock puppet of the Koch brothers.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Walker thought he was selling pugnacity. Unfortunately for him, pugnacity didn’t cut it once the party found someone to supply the pure incoherent rage and white panic they really crave. Walker is trying to sell weed to meth addicts.

    If the money Republicans had a brain in their little heads they’d unite behind Kasich, and focus their money and resources. Eventually the choice will have to come to Trump vs. Not-Trump. So long as there are half a dozen non-Trumps the field is split and all the non-Trumps will be trapped below 15%. They need to keep Trump from racking up a majority of delegates before the convention. If they manage that, and if they have a consensus candidate, they may still stop Trump.

    Fortunately, I doubt the egos of the billionaires will allow the Kochs and Adelsons etc… to conspire to get behind one guy. They each want their very own purse dog, not one they have to share.

    By the way, I eagerly await the inevitable acceptance of Trump by the front pagers of this site. It will start with a “serious” look at his positions. Throw in plenty of misogyny directed at Hillary, and some nonsense about Trump having had a “shaky start” but having “righted himself” and “proved himself.”

    Right around New Hampshire, I’d guess. Once they realize he’s actually going to win the nomination.

  9. Neil Hudelson says:

    @michael reynolds: @michael reynolds:

    I had opened this article a few hours ago and walked away, thinking I’d come back and write a few paragraphs on how Walker came to popularity because he was a bully, but now there’s a bigger bully on the playground.

    However “Walker is trying to sell weed to meth addicts.” is pretty much the most apt metaphor I’ve seen this campaign season, and sums up all of my ‘graphs in one sentence.

    You should get paid to do this or something.

  10. Paul Hooson says:

    Surprisingly, establishment candidates Jeb Bush and Scott Walker have both quickly stumbled and proven themselves to be weak campaigners, where Donald Trump is actually likely to be the GOP nominee at this point in time…

  11. ernieyeball says:

    Perry’s Out

    Jesus said: “You won’t have Rick Perry to kick around anymore.”

  12. Tillman says:

    @ernieyeball: Well shit.

    I can’t believe Jim Gilmore is still in this thing.

  13. Surreal American says:


    Do you ever get the feeling that there are days when Jim Gilmore and Lincoln Chafee are sitting at their respective breakfast tables at 10 AM thinking to themselves: “There was something I was supposed to do today.”

  14. Gustopher says:


  15. michael reynolds says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    I so seldom get to use a good drug metaphor in my paid work.

  16. Barry says:

    @DrDaveT: “The Trumpernaut crushes all in its path, leaving only destruction in its wake.


    I think that that is the key – Trump’s loud mouth trumps Walker’s cruelty.

  17. Wisconsin Lover says:

    Walker’s record in WI is that of incompetence (Google WEDC, which he created and chaired) and corruption – pay to play has been rampant in all levels of his administration. He has divided the good people of this state with his broken promises and lies, but even his supporters are waking up and are embarrassed they voted for him. We’re at the bottom for job creation and wage growth. Protections for our air and water have disappeared as he rewards his big donors who profit from pollution. He took $250 million from our university system (on top of former, drastic cuts) and gave it to the Milw. Bucks’s billionaire owners. He didn’t even know the West Bank and Gaza bordered Israel until he flew over the area – and was stupid enough to admit it to a reporter. But he wants to lead the country and set Middle East policy! My dog has more common sense and brains than this pathetic excuse for a governor. Will someone please take him off of our hands?

  18. Grumpy Realist says: