Opinion

Why Scott Walker's presidential campaign could be over before it's even begun

Walker started out as a formidable candidate. But it turns out that what he does best is muddy his positions.

Scott Walker

Remember Scott Walker?

You might have forgotten him after a mini-bus worth of Republican candidates made their official 2016 campaign announcements. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are running the most impressive campaigns in the early going. Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum are gunning and grinning for what's left of the Moral Majority. Ohio's Jon Kasich, whose truth-telling style is reminiscent of 90s-era George Pataki, may try his luck — at which point he may cross paths with Pataki himself, who is also running. Rand Paul is drifting on the edges, and Ted Cruz has been eclipsed in sheer volume by Donald Trump.

And lost in this overflow is Scott Walker, who was once a sure thing. He's the guy who won three hostile elections in a purplish state, and who defeated a major public sector union and lived to tell the tale. Scott Walker is likely to announce his official entrance into the race soon. But the months leading up to it have left him looking diminished.

First there was his performance at CPAC, which revealed that Walker is almost entirely untutored in foreign affairs. Remember when he said that if he could take on 100,000 protestors in Wisconsin, he could take on ISIS? In which direction is that comparison more idiotic? He's been reading a few books on the subject, though. So there's that.

Walker also slipped into near self-parody when he hailed Reagan's conflict with the air-traffic controllers union as a major foreign policy victory. What's next, fixing entitlements by defeating the electrician's union?

Donors noticed these slip-ups. But Walker also hurt his reputation with less wealthy supporters. Despite portraying himself as a fearless man of the political battle, he engaged in some embarrassing pandering by firing an adviser merely because she had expressed some coherent views on Iowa's pathetic reliance on ethanol subsidies. The supposed fighter caved before the corn lobby, since he sees Iowa as his best shot at establishing himself in the race. The former opponent of ethanol is now a friend of the stuff.

Muddying his positions has been Walker's modus operandi since the beginning of the 2016 campaign. He's made a mess of his stance on immigration. He told Fox News he opposes amnesty, then went to New Hampshire and said he supports granting citizenship to 11 million undocumented immigrants. He reconciled these positions by saying he wanted to secure the border first, then naturalize those 11 million. And back in 2006 he was for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that had a path to citizenship. So really, who knows?

He's created a similar mess on education. Gearing up to be the conservatives' conservative, Walker is now opposed to Common Core standards, which are often labeled "ObamaCore" by the policy's most active conservative opponents. But as governor, Walker mostly let Core standards come into place, and offered only the most token opposition to them. His approach to this issue is much worse than that of Jeb Bush, who frames his unapologetic and occasionally unpopular support for Common Core in conservative terms of accountability. In the past week, a diverse ideological coalition demanded that Walker stop giving "excuses and half truths" about this issue.

Scott Walker has earned an incredible amount of antipathy from certain conservative journalists, including those whose sympathy he needs in a multi-polar race. The polls show very little movement, and don't tell us much anyway in a race with this many candidates. But for those watching the race closely, and those who have a role in shaping perceptions of Walker, it's been a bad first half of 2015 for the governor of Wisconsin. He has to start changing that right now, before he's shoved to the back of the GOP's clown car.

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