Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination Monday, ending a brief bid for the White House by encouraging other Republicans to also suspend their campaigns for the “good” of the party.
Walker took a not-so-veiled shot at current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump in his brief remarks from Madison, Wis., and used Trump’s traction with base voters as a reason why other struggling GOP candidates should help clear the way for “positive conservative” candidates who can defeat the reality TV star-turned-political juggernaut.
“Today I believe I’m being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race so that a positive conservative message can rise to the top of the field. With this in mind, I will suspend my campaign immediately,” Walker said. “I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to do the same so that voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current frontrunner. This is fundamentally important to the future of the party — more importantly, to the future of our country.”
The New York Times was the first to report the imminent end of Walker’s campaign.
But Walker’s focus on Trump on Monday obscured the more significant reasons for him to end his campaign, chiefly his plummeting in recent polls and inability to take consistent stands on a number of important issues, like immigration.
Walker’s decision to end his bid for the Republican nomination comes just two months after he launched an official campaign and brings to a close a brief but well-documented fight to win the most rightward base of the GOP while also struggling to raise the money necessary to contend for the White House amid a sprawling field of candidates. As recently as June, Walker led the crowded Republican field in Iowa, where he was expected to lay the foundation for his candidacy with the state’s powerful social conservatives. But surges from outsider candidates Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina — none of whom have formal government experience — completely drowned out Walker’s antiestablishment campaign.
A CNN/ORC poll released Sunday found that Walker, who was once leading the crowded GOP field, registered less than half a percentage point of support among Republican voters.
Ironically, the once-winning focus of Walker’s campaign — his biography as a conservative firebrand who prevailed in three gubernatorial campaigns over five years against immense pressure from Democrats — would become a stumbling block.
Recent polling suggests that more than half of the Republican base supports a candidate with no government experience at all. And unlike another conservative governor running for the presidency, former Florida chief executive Jeb Bush, Walker did not have a huge war chest to keep him afloat while as many as 17 candidates in the still-early primary contest vied for the base’s affection.
Over the months he was formally running, it became clear that Republican voters’ enthusiasm for Walker would not match the enthusiasm his candidacy generated in the Washington chattering class before he got in the race.
A large part of the problem was Walker’s inability to simultaneously please the establishment Republicans he needed to donate big dollars to his campaign and energize a conservative base often at odds with those donors.
No single issue illustrated that tension more than immigration.
Walker had once been the favorite of the well-financed and extremely powerful Koch brothers, among the most significant donors in a political system overrun with cash. But his waffling on immigration reform, which the Kochs support and Walker himself once backed, was widely reported to have been the source of his fall from their favor.
Walker had supported reform and in a telling July New York Times story had assured an official from a preeminent conservative think tank in Washington that “I’m not going nativist, I’m pro-immigration.” The official later recanted that story after days of pressure from the Walker campaign.
Later, in August, Walker flipped his position on birthright citizenship three times in seven days, first saying he believed birthright citizenship should be ended, then saying he wouldn’t take a position on the issue — only to change his stance again by week’s end, denouncing frontrunner Trump’s calls to eliminate birthright citizenship in a nationally televised Sunday morning interview.
As Yahoo News pointed out during Walker’s July announcement, the governor already had been struggling to find footing on immigration questions even before becoming a formal candidate. At the time, an aide indicated to the National Journal that Walker could make a “more easy” pivot from being a conservative primary candidate to a more moderate general election one, even though his record did not back that claim up and such a sentiment dogged the campaign of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.
The Wisconsin governor is the second GOP candidate to bow out of the 2016 race. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry ended his presidential bid earlier this month.
At an event in Washington sponsored by the National Review, Google and YouTube — which coincidentally was ongoing as the Walker news broke — top aides to many other GOP campaigns commented on the Wisconsin governor’s departure from the race.
While those operatives’ reactions mostly centered around surprise, one political operative offered an even more generous take: that perhaps Walker was bowing out too soon.
Ben Carson adviser Barry Bennett told the crowd at the NR event that the lesson of Tim Pawlenty — the former Minnesota governor who dropped his bid early in the 2012 cycle amid a crowded field — was “don’t give up. you’re going to hit rough spots. But apparently [Walker’s] given up.”
— With Yahoo News Chief White House Correspondent Olivier Knox contributing reporting