Unlike Rick Perry’s (first) presidential flameout, Scott Walker’s on Monday came not with an “oops” but with a whimper. His debate performances were poor but not memorably so. His polls (according to CNN) went from 10 percent to 5 percent to, as of Sunday, essentially zero percent. He pulled the plug a day later.
What went wrong? Well, pretty much everything. Walker came across as a waffler to the base and a zealot to the big donors, exactly the opposite of the “unite all factions” reputation with which he began the race. And Donald Trump stole a big chunk of the working-class white electorate that was crucial to Walker’s prospects. But the truth is that the once-presumed frontrunner was never anywhere near as strong a candidate as he was imagined to be.
A huge portion of Walker’s early appeal came from the idea that he had won election three times in a blue state, and would therefore offer substantial crossover appeal while upholding conservative values. But as Alec McGillis documented at length in June 2014, Walker was in fact a spectacularly divisive figure in Wisconsin, polarizing politics on racial and ideological grounds to an unprecedented degree. His off-year gubernatorial victories in 2010 and 2014, fueled by right-wing talk radio, were the result of tremendous turnout in the white suburbs of increasingly black Milwaukee. The electorate that voted for Walker, in other words, was never the “blue” electorate that has gone Democratic in seven straight presidential elections.