We can well understand the anti-establishment mood of the Republican electorate, given the timid resistance of the party’s congressional leadership to the past several years of the Obama administration, but when a buffoonish and oft-bankrupt billionaire is leading the pack and two governors who did outstanding jobs far away from Washington are the first to drop out it’s starting to get a bit ridiculous.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced his withdrawal from the race on Monday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry did the same last week, and its hard to see what fault even the most disgruntled Republican might find with either of them. During Perry’s long tenure as Texas’ governor the state became the economic powerhouse of the country, creating most of the jobs that the Obama administration likes to claim credit for, and he did it with the low-tax, low-spending, low-regulation policies that conservatives have long championed. Walker bravely took on the powerful public sector unions in a stronghold of the labor movement and somehow prevailed through an election and a recall and re-election despite all the money and mobs and rogue prosecutors that his enemies could throw at him. With all the talk about Republicans seeking someone who’s willing to fight, and the clamoring for results, Walker and Perry seemed well-positioned for a serious run.
Both were once wobbly on the illegal immigration issue that is now crucial to the party, but with Walker’s recent rhetoric and Perry’s decision to deploy the Texas militia to the border both seem to have found the light. Perry still suffered from an embarrassing moment during an early debate in his previous presidential campaign when he returned too early after a surgery and paused to remember some small detail of his proposals, but that hardly seems sufficient to overshadow his many years of effective public service. Walker’s plain-spoken and low-key style might not have fit the fighting spirit that the Republicans seem to be in, but surely that humble appearance was belied by his steadfastness through one of the most bare-knuckle political battles of recent years.
As recently as mid-summer Walker was considered the front-runner in the race, and the Democrats were nervous enough about that they unleashed a torrent of media criticism about everything from his alleged “Unelectable Whiteness” to his being a few hours short of a college degree after dropping out of Marquette University. Whiteness does not render a candidate unelectable among the Republican electorate, of course, and the fact that Walker long ago chose to begin his extraordinarily successful career in politics rather take another useless course in political science likely only burnished his anti-establishment credentials and made him seem Truman-esque to a typical Republican voter, so there must be some other explanation for his fall from front-runner to back-of-the-pack.
Our best guess is that it has something to do with Donald Trump’s entry in the race. Since his vainglorious announcement Trump has received more free media attention than the combined war chests of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush could ever buy, with the Democratic-friendly press eager to publicize his latest put-downs and bizarre conspiracy theories rather than Walker’s or any other Republican candidate’s record of accomplishments, and a worrisome plurality of Republicans has apparently bought into the idea that schoolyard taunts and petulant facial expressions and obnoxious boastfulness are better indications of a fighting spirit than a willingness to steadfastly defy the money and mobs and rogue prosecutors of a powerful special interest. We live in a time, alas, when a substantive record of accomplishment is less important than flash.
This is nothing new, of course. At this point in the ’08 election cycle we were rooting for Rudy Giuliani, whose track record of transforming New York City from a bankrupt and crime-ridden and otherwise socialist hell-hole into a livable city seemed to fit him for an even bigger job, but his “big state strategy” of sitting out Iowa and New Hampshire and other places where New York social values don’t hold sway left him too far behind by the time the big states started voting to stay in the race. The Republicans wound up with the war hero and “maverick” image of Arizona Sen. John McCain instead. At this point in ’12 we held out hope for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another soft-spoken but rock-ribbed conservative who had somehow done a lot of good things in the blue state of Minnesota, and we wound up with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who would have made a better president than he did a presidential candidate. This time around we’re once again looking for a second choice, and remain hopeful that there are still good choices left in the game, but it seems the preference for flash over substance is worse than ever, so we’ll have to see how it plays out.
Walker made mistakes, of course, and for the remainder of the news cycle they’ll be carefully analyzed and then forgotten. One pundit blames it all on his reliance on one of those “establishment” campaign managers, which might explain his cautious performances in the two highly-related debates against his far flashier opponents, the panel of sensible people on one of our favorite talk radio shows cite his failure to emphasize his long record of fighting the good fight, and of course he should have known the rest of the media were unlikely to pay any attention to his remarkable history. One can hope that he’ll learn from these mistakes in future elections, but any good conservative will also be hoping that his next chance is in eight years when the Republicans will be up against the long history of parties failing to win a third term in the White House.
The fact that Walker has been a remarkable governor concedes the fact he’s also been an office-holder, which somehow suddenly seems a black mark on any office-seeker in a Republican nomination race, but there’s still some hope. Former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina has greatly impressed us in the debates, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson also strikes us as far better than any of the Democrats. Should the Republican electorate decide that having held office isn’t a disqualification for any office seekers there’s also Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose obvious lack of timidity has annoyed the party’s congressional leadership enough to earn the establishment’s scorn and perhaps some exemption from the disgruntled base, and even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose heresy on immigration is troubling but whose record otherwise is exemplary. There’s even a chance that such an impressive fellow as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will get some traction, and for all his squishiness we’d settle for a proven winner such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich to go up against whatever nominee the even more crazed Democrats are likely to settle on.
Reports indicate that Walker’s departure from the race was prompted by his concerns about going into debt to support the campaign operation he was forced to organize by his momentary front-runner status, which further endears him to us, and his parting speech suggests he wants to clear the way for any of the other candidates to defeat Trump, which is even more endearing. His retreat is getting at least a day’s worth of media attention that otherwise would have paid to Trump’s latest schoolyard taunt or crazy conspiracy theory, so his short-lived candidacy has at least accomplished that.
— Bud Norman