by Reed Galen
Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
Days Until Iowa Caucus: 307
Officially Declared Candidates:
· Sen. Ted Cruz (R)
· Dr. Ben Carson (R)
· Sen. Jim Webb (D)
Quote of the Week: “When your values are clear to you, decision making becomes easier.” Roy E. Disney
Welcome to the American Singularity.
Why the Singularity?
· The presidential nominating process is one in which everything, large and small, is sucked into its gravitational maw, allowing nothing to escape its grasp as events pass through the campaign cycle’s event horizon.
· There is no more singular political experience on the planet than electing the President of the United States.
· The United States is still the most free, most prosperous and brightest beacon of hope to billions around the world.
Every action and reaction feeds into this black hole of press coverage, donor reactions, voter sentiment and activist opinions. Nothing goes unnoticed and nothing is forgotten. Legions of reporters, bloggers, opposition researchers, trackers, social media monitoring services, vacuum up every last syllable.
Every week we’ll take a look at the campaign as it unfolds, and how events reflect the campaigns, the issues of the day and the country at large. Have a tip, piece of advice or something to add? Email me – firstname.lastname@example.org
This Week: A Singularity Case Study – Scott Walker
Governor Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) has catapulted the top of Republican presidential aspirants. Having already won the hearts of many conservatives with his fight to take on public sector unions in the Cheese Head State, Walker subsequently wowed Iowa activists at a conservative summit in January.
But since that strong performance, Team Walker has been beset by errors – mostly unforced, that have brought into question where he stands on issues that the most conservative Republicans hold dear. Now fully engulfed in the American Singularity, the harder Walker struggles against its gravitational pull, the deeper into it he is pulled.
The Big Leagues
Scott Walker has enjoyed electoral success as governor of Wisconsin. Winning three statewide elections in four years (including a labor-backed recall effort) is indeed no small feat. But waging campaigns in Wisconsin, with its small media markets, and relatively homogenous population is a far cry from the battlefield across which he is now striding.
Now, it is not just the beat reporter or political columnist from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel keeping tabs on what Walker does and says, but every news agency and oppo research firm on the planet tracks each utterance. Then the punditocracy deconstructs, parses and analyzes those statements and determines whether the candidate is prepared to be president.
For Scott Walker, too many articles and interviews now begin with, “I’m not a flip-flopper.” Whether it is ethanol, same-sex marriage, or immigration, Walker has begun swinging to the right to try and capture conservatives in Iowa and become the conservative alternative to Jeb Bush.
Some of Walker’s initial positions might have actually helped him with Establishment Republicans. As they tend to be more moderate on social issues and immigration, he could have planted himself as a true alternative to Bush in that avenue of the Republican primary electorate. As Philip Bump of the Washington Post laid out, there are only so many ‘lanes’ in which the candidates can run.
Right now, Walker instead has chosen to careen into the crowded Conservative lane, already occupied by at least a half-dozen other aspirants – including already announced candidates Sen. Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson. Indeed, Walker is winning among the more conservative set, but don’t expect his opponents fighting for the heart and soul of the GOP to go gently into that right lane. And his continuing trouble on immigration will erode some of that support – sending some activists to other camps, and others back to the sidelines.
The Support Parabola
Being the first leader in a primary chase is rarely ideal; just ask Rudy Giuliani. More likely, we will see some version of what happened in 2012 where individual candidates rise and fall over successive weeks as voters grope for the candidate they believe best able to take the White House.
And while a survey out yesterday in New Hampshire shows Walker strong with both conservatives and moderates in that state, the further he pushes himself to the right, the more likely he is to alienate some libertarian-leaning voters. Additionally, as New Hampshire allows its voters to choose the presidential primary in which they will vote, Democrats could cross over to vote for another candidate, any other candidate, in an effort to derail his campaign.
If Walker cannot get a handle on his error-prone statements, he will be the first, but certainly not the last frontrunner to climb too high, too fast, only to fall Icarus-like back to earth as the heat and intensity of all the attention consumes their ability to communicate and act effectively.
An Existential Threat: Organized Labor
For organized labor, specifically public employee unions in Wisconsin, Scott Walker is Public Enemy #1. Historically a rock-ribbed labor hotbed, Badger state public unions first saw their ability to easily raise money and then their ability to require membership at all dismantled by Walker and the state legislature.
They will never forget.
With the prospect of Walker rising to national prominence, labor bosses in Washington and around the country must be sharpening their political knives for the apostate governor. He has committed the greatest of sins against them and I fully expect they will irrationally take out their anger on him during the course of the presidential primary season.
With Hillary Clinton a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination, unions can put their firepower to use against Walker in favor of someone less threatening to their very existence. Despite the fact it makes more sense for labor to put their resources toward retaking the US Senate or capturing statehouses, rationality has never been one of their hallmarks.
Walker may likely take fire from both sides of the political spectrum as those that detest him form an unholy alliance with those who simply don’t trust him. Either way, it’s an extremely difficult position in which to be, and Walker’s campaign will need all the armor and firepower they can get to fight off the union dragons.
Controlling the Narrative
In response to his problematic statements and restatements on immigration, Governor Walker has begun ignoring the press corps on his travels to early primary states ahead of his probably presidential campaign. Clearly, damage control is at the heart of the tactic – if we don’t talk to the bad people, they won’t write bad things about us.
However, the major drawback of keeping candidates from the media is two-fold. First, a statement from a press aide is never as substantive as one from the candidate himself. Second, and more problematic, is that the press begins writing stories about nothing but the fact the candidate is ignoring them.
When Walker visited the Texas-Mexico border last week, he did so without speaking to the media before, during or after his tour. In trying to protect himself from further bad news on a hot-button issue to conservative activists, he further the speeds the turbine of bad news.
I'm Scott, I'm From Wisconsin, and I'm Here to Help
Scott Walker isn’t yet a declared candidate for President of the United States. He’s the governor of Wisconsin. So the fact his ‘vision’ of America is boilerplate Obama-bashing and right-wing red meat is not altogether surprising. But as he moves forward with his expected bid, he’ll have to start outlining, in a positive way, why he should be the standard-bearer for Republicans next fall.
No Republican doubts that Walker is a fighter – that is one his best attributes among GOP primary voters. But as Jon Ward points out in an article this morning, he’s also the candidate who has taken the most negative tone in his speeches – preferring to fire up the crowd with angry rhetoric rather than the more positive, optimistic tone for which many of his potential opponents have opted.
What does Walker believe America needs and why is he the person to provide it? How will he bring together both a fractured Republican Party and a fractured nation? So far, he’s not telling. With such a vague notion of leadership, Walker risks being this cycle’s Tim Pawlenty. A Midwestern Governor, well thought-of by many, who couldn’t articulate the need for his candidacy and ultimately and refused to throw punches when it counted.
If Scott Walker wants to be the Republican nominee, he’ll have to do more than win the Iowa Caucuses. While an important, life-sustaining moment in a presidential campaign, it has not been the path to the White House since 2000 – and former President George W. Bush was the exception rather than the rule. We will have to wait and see whether Walker’s early decision to co-opt the conservative wing of the party rather than build a broader coalition turns out to be the correct choice. So far, he’s shown that he can give a speech – once, in Iowa, two months ago. He’s got a lot of work to do in the next nine months to prove that he’s ready to lead – not one wing, but all Republicans, next year.
Author’s Note (2): This series is not in any way related to Harold Hyman’s American Singularity – The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts and the 1944 GI Bill.