Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is nothing if not a campaign veteran. He’s run and won three statewide races since 2010, including the highly contentious recall election in 2012. In fact, since an unsuccessful bid for the state assembly in 1990 when he was just 22, Walker hasn’t lost an election. That’s a great record to have going into a campaign for president, but just a month into his official candidacy, Walker is suffering from a perception that he’s already losing.
Stalling poll numbers and a threat to his top position in Iowa—where Donald Trump has overtaken him in a few polls there—have fed this narrative. In the national polls, Walker has been falling since his peak on April 1. According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Walker had a boost in support following his July 13 announcement that he was officially running for president, but since August he’s suffered a precipitous drop in support. Nor did the August 6 debate boost his position. In the latest CNN national poll, Walker is tied for fourth place with Marco Rubio at 8 percent, behind Ben Carson at 9 percent, Jeb Bush at 13 percent, and Donald Trump at 24 percent.
The media have taken note. Here’s a sample of some recent headlines: “Scott Walker struggles for the Iowa prize”; “Scott Walker slides as Trump rises”; “Walker chasing Trump, deepens his problem.”
But the campaign is pushing back, telling THE WEEKLY STANDARD that Walker is simply entering the “next phase," which will involve reasserting both his record as governor as well as his vision for the future. The emphasis now, Walker sources say, is on laying the groundwork for long-term success rather than chasing after the top spot in Iowa 15 months before the first caucuses.
And, perhaps, an emphasis on calming its supporters. A Wednesday report in the Washington Post describes the campaign informing its donors that it is “shifting to a more aggressive posture and will seek to tap into the anti-establishment fervor fueling the rise of Donald Trump and other outsider candidates.” This message, the Post notes, was meant to “reassure jittery donors” about the drop in the polls. But campaign sources tell TWS that Walker has always fashioned himself as an outsider; in his announcement speech last month, he called for “leadership with big, bold ideas from outside of Washington,” for instance.
Part of that new shift, they say, is putting forth more details about those “big, bold ideas,” starting with a speech Tuesday where Walker laid out his replacement plan for Obamacare. The plan has won plaudits from conservatives, including TWS editor Bill Kristol. The editorial board at the Wall Street Journal called Walker’s proposal “realistic and promising reform.” Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner says the plan prioritizes “pragmatism over purity” while Yuval Levin at National Review called it “the most substantively and politically serious conservative health care reform we have yet seen from a presidential candidate.”