The big story from the GOP presidential trail is that Scott Walker, the once-highly-touted candidate whose poll numbers are now hovering just above zero, has dropped out of the race.
But that’s the big story only if you’re not looking hard enough.
The real story is that the candidate who dropped out of the race was not the birther candidate or the anti-Islam candidate, who are running first and third respectively in the latest CNN poll while running first and second in the bigotry sweepstakes.
The varying explanations for the demise of Walker’s presidential campaign are that Walker was not sharp enough, not smooth enough, not savvy enough, not ready enough, not likable enough, not debater enough, not outsidery enough.
There’s something to each point, but I don’t think any of them get at the real problem — that Walker didn’t know how to be crazy enough or, in any case, how to appeal to those voters who are.
[pullquote]It seems that religious liberty stops at the mosque door.[/pullquote]
I mean, how could he compete? It was just in the last few days that the Donald and the Ben both went so far over the line that no one this side of Tancredo could ever hope to compete.
You had Trump welcoming a town-hall question from a man who called Obama a Muslim, said Muslims were America’s greatest problem and then waved about the conspiracy theory of Muslim terrorist camps spread across the country. Trump said he’d look into it – and why wouldn’t he? You may remember that before Trump was attacking Mexican illegal immigrants as murderers and rapists, he was leading the birther movement and sending agents to Hawaii who haven’t been heard from since.
Meanwhile, Ben Carson, who has dedicated his brief political life to proving that brilliant brain surgeons are not necessarily quite so brilliant away from the operating theater, somehow got onto the subject of whether he thought a Muslim should be president. He not only predictably said he wouldn’t support a Muslim candidate, but added that that Islam was in direct conflict with the Constitution, the same document that says “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
You might also have noticed that even as the Ben was making his anti-Muslim remarks, a long line of Republicans were tripping over themselves arguing that Kim Davis is somehow being persecuted for being a Christian. It seems that religious liberty stops at the mosque door. And which Republicans are standing up to call bigotry out for what is? It wasn’t that long ago that George W. Bush was strongly making the case that we were not in a war with a religion. Who makes it now?
The poll gurus say the anti-Muslim comments can all be explained by the numbers showing that half of Republicans agree with Trump or Carson or both. You hope those numbers reflect something else – more anti-Obama sentiment that anti-Muslim — but it’s hard to deny that bigotry has become central to the race.
It’s no wonder that Walker couldn’t keep up. When he surprisingly jumped to the front of the GOP pack last winter, Walker had the antiestablishment cred due to his crackdown on public unions and he had pro-establishment cred as a governor of a blue state who was elected, then turned back a recall and was then elected again. Everyone was impressed.
And yet, it should have been clear pretty quickly that Walker was getting way too much cred, and not only because he once compared battling teachers’ unions –who rarely behead anyone — to battling ISIS. Or that he later said that Reagan’s sacking of the striking air-traffic controllers was the “most significant foreign policy decision” of his lifetime because, presumably, union-busting scared the Soviets into submission.
Still, there it was. He was said to be the Koch Brothers’ favorite. Pundits named him one of the three real contenders in the 17-person field, alongside Jeb! and Marco Rubio. It was the outsiders’ year, and as a governor from the Midwest he didn’t have the taint of Washington, which seemed to be outsider enough in the good old days before the Donald and the Trumpists changed everything.
Suddenly being an outsider meant more than being just a little outside. And as Walker saw Trump dominate the field and watched his own numbers begin to fall, he tried desperately to compete and clearly failed.
You saw him. He stumbled and all but fell on the “anchor baby” question and the matter of the 14th Amendment. He took about half a dozen tries at an answer — including the bizarre notion of building a fence along the Canadian border. He was trying to compete with bigots without actually being a bigot — and it just didn’t work. He should have watched Ted Cruz for pointers.
And so when Walker dropped out, his awkward explanation, at the close of his awkward campaign, was that he was leading by leaving the race — leading from behind, as David Axelrod tweeted — because the only way to battle Trump and his message was for a mass walkout of candidates like Walker, presumably meaning those with little support and no money.
It may not make much sense unless you think about it this way: that for Walker leaving the race was like going on strike against Trump. Who do you think will follow Walker?
Photo credit: DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons, Flickr.