It’s hard to exaggerate how shocking it is that Scott Walker is out of the 2016 race on September 21.
On April 1, he led the field with 17 percent in the RealClearPolitics polling average. On August 1, he was in second place, behind Donald Trump, with 13 percent. And in the seven weeks since then, his support has collapsed to the point where he is in tenth place, with 1.8 percent—putting him just above Rick Perry, who has 1.0 percent support despite having dropped out ten days ago. The last three polls have Walker at 0, 2, and 2 percent support.
Some things to think about while contemplating Walker’s implosion:
* His collapse was not the result of any mistake, gaffe, or scandal. Typically, when you see a politician’s support evaporate in a short period of time there’s a proximate cause: A personal revelation, a misstatement that lingers and festers, a poor performance in a debate or interview—or even the explosion of a political time-bomb, where the candidate always had a view contrary to the party’s base and that view became suddenly salient.
With Walker, none of those things apply. He hasn’t been super consistent on immigration, but this was garden-variety political evolution. His debate performances were underwhelming, but not “bad.”
* Further, when front-runners collapse, they are often candidates whose lead-dog status was itself a fluke. Walker’s was not. He’s a successful governor with a great story who had long been viewed as a serious contender. This was not decline and fall of Herman Cain.
* So what happened to Walker? The short answer is: Donald Trump. Trump’s candidacy has been a tremendous disruption—in the Silicon Valley sense of the word. His support is drawn from such a broad expanse of the party that he’s destabilized not just the support of one wing of the party, but of pretty much everyone running. He unsettled every candidate’s coalition with his rise and changed the topography of the race.
There are other factors, too. Walker burned through too much money, too fast. He might have gotten a bad break by popping too soon over the summer. He wasn’t nimble enough to adjust his campaign to the new political reality and find angles. But at the end of the day, if Trump wasn’t in the race, then Walker still would be.
Walker is the first casualty of Trump’s rise, but will probably not be the last. Because even if Trump collapses, too, the dissipation of his supporters will change the race again.
* The long answer is that the very size of this field was probably destined to make for an unstable and unpredictable race. Nate Silver made this point a couple weeks ago: We get so caught up looking for “game-changing” moments that it’s easy to overlook the obvious factor that makes this race fundamentally different from every other. Because it’s so obvious, people will tend to discount it. But they shouldn’t: The size of this field—even at 15 candidates—is still way outside the historical norm.
And so we may not have especially helpful models to understand how events, candidates, and polling will play out in the coming weeks.
Think about it this way: If, just eight weeks ago, someone had offered to bet you $100 that Scott Walker would be out of the race before Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, or John Kasich, you absolutely would have taken that action. And so would everyone else in America.
Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.