Walking Away

An earworm was born on November 15, 1978 – another pop song that just wouldn’t go away. Americans hummed it involuntarily. They’d hear the words in their heads when they were walking the dog or driving to work. It was that Kenny Rogers smash hit about the gambler that had everyone compulsively chanting the words under their breath that November – “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”

This went on for several years. Kenny Rogers became rich – but the tune was catchy and that was good advice. Everyone wondered if they were smart enough to know when it was time to cut their losses on what seemed like a good bet at the time but was never going to work out. The earworm did its work. There were a lot of divorces in the years that followed that song – women up and leaving what wasn’t working and would never work. Some of us left the careers we were supposed to be made for and moved to California to try something else. Sometimes it’s time to walk away. Sometimes it’s time to run like hell.

These things probably would have happened anyway. Don’t blame the song – but everyone suddenly had a soundtrack for their own little personal movie. It was always playing in the background. Know when to walk away. Know when to run like hell. And Scott Walker just had his Kenny Rogers moment:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Monday he was dropping out of the 2016 GOP presidential race, and he urged other Republican candidates to do the same to stop the party’s frontrunner, Donald Trump.

Walker said that the Republican presidential debate last week at the Reagan library in California reminded him that former President Ronald Reagan was an optimist, and that it also showed him the party “has drifted into personal attacks.”

He said that he believed the voters wanted to be for something “and not against someone.”

The idea seems to be that he drops out – he was now polling at zero – and others who aren’t going anywhere either drop out too. That would leave one or two serious people to stop Trump and all of Trump’s bombast and nastiness:

Making his announcement from Madison, Wisconsin, Walker said that the Republican Party needed to get back to the basics of its party – beliefs that include that a strong military leads to peace, and that it believes in the American people. He then took a thinly veiled swipe at Trump, whose campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again.” … “Today, I believe that I am 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,” Walker said. “With this in mind, I will suspend my campaign immediately.”

And others should join him:

“I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same so the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current frontrunner,” Walker added. Walker said offering an alternative was “fundamentally important” to the future of the Republican Party and “more importantly to the future of our country.”

It is crazy out there. The Chicago Tribune’s Rex Huppke puts it this way:

Donald Trump has been in charge of insulting Latinos. The co-chairs of the Gay and Lesbian Denigration Team are Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz. And now retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has stepped in to make sure Muslims don’t feel under-disparaged.

Over the weekend, Carson said he would not want a Muslim to be president and doesn’t believe the Muslim faith is consistent with the Constitution. A few days before that, Trump nodded along at a campaign event while a man said that President Barack Obama is a Muslim and, regarding Muslims in general, asked, “When can we get rid of ’em?”

Trump inclusively responded: “We are going to be looking at a lot of different things and, you know, a lot of people are saying that.”

Yes, and many of the same people applauded last week’s arrest of a Muslim teenager in Texas who brought a homemade clock to school to show his teachers. While police found that the clock was just a clock, Sarah Palin, a noted Trump enthusiast, showed her support for disenfranchising Muslim voters by saying: “That’s a clock, and I’m the Queen of England.”

Walker might have felt a bit out of place in all this, and then there was this:

In a “Meet the Press” interview that aired Sunday, Carson was asked if he believes “Islam is consistent with the Constitution.”

“No, I don’t, I do not,” Carson said. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Now everyone knows Carson is a deeply religious man and the Constitution is his favorite part of the Bible. So he is presumably aware of Article VI, which states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

But sometimes you have to read between the lines and, using the special vision God has given you, see the parts of the Constitution the founding fathers wrote in invisible ink. It’s there that you’ll find what Carson is talking about. I think.

What Walker saw in the Republican field was most of the vote going to the bombastic real estate mogul and reality star, the guy who had never held elective office in his life and with no experience in government, and the former CEO who had been fired in 2004 and never worked a day since, with no experience in government, and this retired neurosurgeon who’s a little shaky on the Constitution and stuff. These three, combined, have the majority of the party behind them – and they have next to nothing to do with the party. No wonder Scott Walker is upset – but to be fair, Ben Carson later said he meant that no one would vote for a Muslim for president, not that there should be a rule against them running. Someone told him about the constitution, and Donald Trump has said he was responding to that guy mentioning massive ISIS training camps in every state all across America – that’s what he’d look into. He’s over that other stuff about Obama. Political humor can be unfair.

That doesn’t mean things are not absurd. One should note the reactions to what Carson said – Trump: I Would Vote For A Muslim If I Agreed Politically With The Candidate and Jindal: I’d Vote For A Muslim President Who Honors US Judeo-Christian Heritage and Ted Cruz Blames Obama For The Way Carson Talked About Muslims and Huckabee: Obama Is “Most Anti-Christian” President In US History and so on.

The insults continued too. Trump said Fiorina will give you a “big, fat, beautiful” headache and there was this one:

The Bush campaign was not amused by Donald Trump’s latest attack video, which accused the GOP presidential candidate of smoking marijuana.

The video, which poked fun at Bush’s policy positions and admission of smoking pot forty years ago, ended with the punchline, “Are we sure it was only forty years ago?” Trump posted it to Instagram with the caption “Jeb has been confused for 40 years.”

In a statement sent to TPM, Bush spokesperson Allie Brandenburger wrote, “This coming from the candidate who can’t remember the names of our biggest enemies around the world! It seems these attacks are running out of steam.”

Walker was right to walk away from all this, but the Washington Post’s Stephen Stromberg says that Walker had no choice:

Walker was supposed to be a GOP juggernaut, uniting anti-union business types, evangelicals and tea partyers with his combative, ideologically charged record in Madison. Emphasizing his Midwestern identity and conservative credentials – playing a sort of everyday ideologue – he seemed to have Iowa locked up, until Donald Trump exploded.

But it would be a mistake to just blame Trump for Walker’s political demise. Even the relatively mild scrutiny applied to Walker’s run revealed him for what he really is: a man who has not thought much outside of his narrow experience and who fumbled when reporters asked him to do so. The result was candidate who was intellectually and strategically adrift. He didn’t seem to know how he felt on a range of issues, and, in the absence of sincere positions, he didn’t seem to know how far right he wanted to run. All of this made his bluster about being a “fighter” who is “unintimidated” seem embarrassingly inappropriate.

Walker just wasn’t very good at this:

Walker floundered on foreign policy, lamely claiming that his experience standing up to public sector unions in Wisconsin showed he had the mettle to stand up to foreign threats. He attempted to cover for previously moderate statements on immigration by clumsily lurching right even seeming to suggest that there should be fewer legal immigrants. He took several confusing positions on birthright citizenship over the course of a few days. He refused to say whether he favored allowing more Syrian refugees into the country because the question was “hypothetical.” When he got around to answering, he tacked toward callousness, saying that he didn’t want to let any more refugees in. But at that point, who would have believed that he had really thought about it?

In the end, his only issue was organized labor:

He proposed a national crackdown on unions that included scrapping the National Labor Relations Board. This was supposed to re-excite the goodwill he had generated among conservatives during his showdowns with public sector workers over the last few years. Instead, it proved he was one-dimensional.

This wasn’t meant to be:

Walker didn’t need Trump to fail. He didn’t just have bad luck. He couldn’t be any more than he is: walking proof that a combative style, a hard ideological edge and identity-based pandering can’t always make up for cluelessness. The conservatives who championed Walker should have expected more…

This guy was clueless, but NBC’s Perry Bacon says it was more than that:

In theory, Walker was a strong candidate because he could tell the more moderate wing of the Republican Party that he could win a general election, having won three straight races in Wisconsin, traditionally a blue state. At the same time, Walker’s record in Wisconsin of severely limiting public employee unions, defunding Planned Parenthood and enacting laws such as a voter ID provision would appeal to conservative, Tea Party Republicans. Walker would win by being to the right of ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but to the left of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

That turned out to be a misreading of the situation:

The establishment wing of the Republican Party largely rejected Walker. Some major donors in New York and other big cities, as well as elected officials such as Maine U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, got behind Bush early in the race. Many of the Jeb Bush backers are moderate themselves on issues like immigration and viewed Bush as in sync with them. Others felt loyalty to the Bushes or viewed Jeb Bush, with his multi-ethnic family, as a candidate who could win Latino voters and therefore was more electable nationally than Walker.

But Bush, despite strong fundraising, has struggled as well. The Republican establishment has not settled on a candidate, as most GOP elected officials have refused to endorse anyone. To many of them, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is young and inexperienced, Bush unelectable because of his last name, Ohio Gov. John Kasich too liberal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tarred by the Bridgegate scandal.

But Walker was no better:

There were deep doubts in the GOP establishment about Walker’s smarts on policy issues, concerns he reinforced when he would take a position on an issue and then reverse himself, which the Wisconsin governor did throughout his campaign. Last month, Walker gave four different answers in a single week on the issue of whether he would end birthright citizenship.

And while Bush, Kasich and Rubio speak in great detail on many policy issues, Walker struggled to go beyond talking points and clichés when asked questions like how he would deal with ISIS.

Walker “is not ready for primetime in my opinion,” ex-Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn said earlier this year, according to Buzzfeed, voicing publicly what many Republicans did privately.

So we have this:

His departure, like that of Perry, further winnows the field of more traditional candidates with previous experience in elected office. If the Republican Party is headed toward embracing a more traditional candidate, Walker and Perry leaving the race help Bush, Christie, Kasich and Rubio. But with Trump, Fiorina and Carson ahead in polls, it’s not yet clear Republicans will nominate a traditional candidate in 2016.

Josh Marshall wonders about that too:

Scott Walker’s departure from the race sure seems abrupt and even premature. It’s hard to have much hope when you go from a first tier candidate to significantly under 1%. Still, not only is it early but the race is so unsettled and chaotic, couldn’t he have held out a bit longer?

But that would be to ignore something:

Going back to the early days when he was the new Governor of Wisconsin, Walker was always a creature of the Koch Brothers and like big donors. (There was actually a comical episode some of you may remember when a prankster called Walker up as “David Koch” and talking to Walker for something like an hour. He recorded the call and then made it public.)

There’s already reporting out there that Walker’s campaign was having a very hard time raising money in recent weeks. But that’s no different in itself to what we’ve seen in countless campaigns, a standard cycle. You lose traction and poll numbers, get the look of a loser, donors stop answering calls and suddenly you’re done. It is a brutal and vicious cycle, a campaign death spiral that it’s extremely difficult to break out of.

The issue, then, is money:

One of the premises of this campaign has been that a lot of candidates who would have had to drop out in earlier cycles will be able to hang on much longer. As long as they have their billionaire willing to fund things, they can go on pretty much indefinitely. Remember, that’s what kept Newt Gingrich in the race in 2012 – Sheldon Adelson’s cash. A similar story with Rick Santorum with his own billionaire.

But the converse is also true. I wonder whether Walker’s own attachment to Koch like mega-donors and the change in the campaign finance landscape brought about by Citizens United has shifted the terrain and forced Walker to pull the plug more rapidly than we might have expected. When the game really is controlled by a small group of billionaires, if they say you’re done, you’re done.

And he’s done.

That would mean that Walker isn’t the sly gambler. He didn’t know when to fold them and know when to walk away. That wasn’t his decision. A small group of billionaires walked away from him. They wouldn’t fund him. That’s how things work these days, and Russ Choma adds this:

The most interesting question amid the wreckage of Walker’s campaign may now be this: Where will his wealthy backers go with their money? In July, the super-PAC supporting Walker, Unintimidated PAC, reported having locked up more than $20 million, placing him in the top echelon of GOP candidates in terms of financial backing. The bulk of the money, $13.4 million, came from just four people, including Wisconsin-based roofing supply magnate Diane Hendricks, a longtime supporter who gave $5 million.

Most of Walker’s war chest came from outside traditional sources, in part because he never achieved much traction in strongholds for GOP campaign money such as Texas. Instead, his campaign and super-PAC seemed to rely on big donors who Walker had cultivated for his state political runs and who were based in the Midwest. Hendricks, for example, has never laid out such large sums of cash for political causes as she has for Walker; the next largest check she has written to a national group was $1 million (donated last fall to the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners Action Fund). With so many candidates remaining, Walker’s biggest impact on 2016 may have to do with where his deep-pocketed former backers turn next.

There’s still time to purchase the Republican nominee, or at least a piece of him, but Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog reminds us that it is possible to buy the wrong guy:

Yes, Walker was dull as dishwater. But Ben Carson is in the top tier, and, as Timothy Egan put it over the weekend, Carson regularly “looks like he can’t find his glasses after waking up from a long nap.” So what’s going on?

Walker led the field early in the year because he’d persuaded a lot of voters that he was the guy who knew how to pummel enemies into submission. Unions busted! Three electoral victories in four years! All in a state that consistently votes blue in presidential elections! He was that and he was a soft-spoken suburbanite with a great love for Jesus.

And then it happened:

Donald Trump came to seem like a much more powerful agent of revenge. Walker’s vengeance was in the past, but Trump’s was in the present – he was currently infuriating the political world (and anyone who criticized him) with his low but effective cheap schoolyard attacks.

So Walker lost the revanchist vote to Trump – and at the same time, voters in search of a quiet, deeply Christian detester of liberalism gravitated to Ben Carson, who isn’t sullied by having held elected office and whose blackness probably gives GOP voters a frisson of excitement that his actual personality doesn’t provide.

Horserace journalists say that every candidate occupies a “lane,” but most straddle a couple of lanes. Walker was in exactly two – and in each one an outsider roared past him. So he was left in the dust.

So, a small group of wealthy investors, working with the Koch Brothers, bet on Scott Walker, or invested in him, or bought shares in him. Then they realized what wasn’t working and would never work. Kenny Rodgers was singing. They up and left him. “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” They were the ones who walked away.

They’ll find someone else – but that won’t solve the Trump problem. He’s self-funded. He has his own billions. And Scott Walker is probably still trying to find out what just happened. He was never at the table in the first place. Few will ever be.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Walking Away

  1. Andy Hall says:

    I have no grand predictions about the GOP primary campaign but this: Bush will be gone by Christmas.

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