On Monday September 21st, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker became the second major candidate for the Republican nomination to leave the race, only outlasting former Texas Governor Rick Perry. From afar, Walker appeared to be a favorite of the establishment GOP, with his PAC garnering large donations. But, within his campaign, anxiety had, seemingly, been high after two lackluster debate performances were accompanied by a rapid drop in Republican polls. To augment his poor performance, Walker had already created a large campaign infrastructure, even going as far as to hire a professional public relations firm, under the assumption that, due to his national prominence, the hard money campaign contributions would begin to roll in. But, alas, Scott found himself out of money and out of luck.
Having never completed his degree at Marquette University, Walker rose to national prominence during highly publicized attacks on the Wisconsin teachers’ union that, subsequently, led to a recall election, which Walker won handily. In 2014, after winning a third election for the governorship a presidential campaign became the obvious next step for the conservative darling. After announcing his candidacy in July, Walker appeared, along with Jeb Bush, to be a GOP establishment favorite, and, thus, in any usual election cycle, a decent bet to win the nomination.
Yet, unfortunately for Mr. Walker, this is not a “usual” election, if there is such a thing. This election cycle, so far, has been about Donald Trump and all other candidates, to pick some low-hanging fruit, have simply been his apprentices. Trump, along with Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, has disrupted, at least for the time being, the power to determine, for the most part, the nominee that Republican Party elites had grown accustomed to wielding. The question of whether or not this “populist outsider” disruption holds brings Scott Walker into the spotlight of American political thought.
There are two theories among political scholars on how party primaries function that form a dichotomy of sorts, though the latter theory is far more accepted among scholars . The first is that of a candidate-based primary. This suggests that a candidate is able to attract public support and large amounts of campaign donations by whatever means in the early stages of the primary, and then party elites have no choice but to flock to that candidate and push him or her to the nomination. The other theory is that of the party-based primary, which is, in many respects, the inverse of the first theory. This suggests that party elites select a candidate to support and, afterwards, this candidate garners the necessary votes due to the widespread acceptance of his or her candidacy among elites.
Traditionally, the party-based theory has been shown to be more effective, according to Cohen, Karol, Noel, and Zaller, except for a few arguably minor occurrences, such as John McCain winning the nomination in 2008, although Mitt Romney was seen as the favorite of party elites. A candidate such as McCain, an experienced legislator and national war-hero, is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an apt comparison to The Donald. Though his current success in this incredibly early period of the election cycle is not revolutionary in political science circles, if his success continues, the election cycle that could ensue, with the Republican Party elite rallying behind Trump because he begins winning the lion’s share of delegates, would necessitate a rewriting of established theories of presidential elections. The predominance of the party over the candidate would need to be revised to the extent that, potentially, the theory would just need to be withdrawn entirely.
This is where Scott Walker comes to save the day. In announcing the suspension of his campaign, Walker emphasized the role he was playing in narrowing the field and the responsibility other candidates on the fringe also have to “narrow the field.” The obvious underlying hope is that those who were going to vote for one of these “serious” candidates who could not rally enough support, including Walker, will give their vote to a different “serious” candidate, meaning Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, all in the name of defeating Donald Trump and the “populist” uprising in the Republican electorate that he seems to represent. Additionally, media outlets will, hopefully, get a better cue to the true “establishment favorite,” and this signal will then be more effectively communicated to the large swath of the Republican party compromised of loyal partisans who, willingly or subconsciously, take voting cues from elites to ensure party stability and tranquility
Men and women of grand presidential ambition do not simply withdraw from their lifelong pursuit “for the good of the party.” They are pressured to stop campaigning by those who have a serious ideological or practical stake in the election of a Republican President. That same coercion would happen if the Democrats were in a similar situation. This coercion is, presumably, not done in the secret, smoke-filled rooms at the back of the RNC that conspiracy-theorists love. Instead, this coercion is pushed softly through a small number of the candidate’s confidants and advisors, who, truly, serve “more than one master” in both the candidate and the party-at-large. A few of the candidate’s advisors then begin to prod the candidate, until, “for the good of the party,” he relents and withdraws during a dramatic press conference. Campaign reporters, I can promise you, are in for a long fall and longer winter of bleak, crowded press conferences.
Thus, through Scott Walker and the cascade of other candidates I can easily predict will also withdraw before the Iowa Caucus, the establishment is trying to fight back. Whether or not the elite are successful will define American electoral politics for the foreseeable future, but, nevertheless, Scott Walker for America is no more. So, wherever you may be, find a Dixie cup and pour out some tap water in remembrance of Mr. Walker’s campaign. Though short in tenure, the memories we shared will last a lifetime.
Also, as a rule of thumb, if you want to be President, try not to crush the teachers’ union. People tend to like teachers. They just might have something to teach us.