Scott Walker, once viewed as one of the top two or three contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, announced he was suspending his campaign at a press conference Monday evening.
In a brief speech clearly meant to denigrate poll leader Donald Trump, Walker cited his hero Ronald Reagan to explain his decision. "Ronald Reagan was good for America because he was an optimist," he said. "Sadly, the debate taking place in the Republican Party today is not focused on that optimistic view of America. Instead, it has drifted into personal attacks."
"Today," he continued, "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." And he called on other candidates to quit too, so that "a positive conservative alternative to the current frontrunner" could emerge.
Donald Trump and Walker's own poor debate performances led the governor to fall in the polls and his fundraising to dry up
Over the past month or so, Walker's campaign had been beleaguered by a series of increasingly grim developments. He's collapsed in the polls, failed to impress in the two debates, lost the exclusive support of a key financial backer, and reportedly had stopped paying his bills. According to multiple reports, those money problems are what convinced him to pull the plug.
But Walker began the 2016 campaign season in a promising spot. He had a record of fighting for conservative priorities in Wisconsin in a way that impressed both the GOP's base and its elites. Since he wasn't so identified with pro-immigration policies as Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, it seemed to some that he was well-positioned to unite the party's disparate factions. And despite some early rockiness on policy issues, Walker took the lead in Iowa caucus polls in mid-February, and held it for the next five and a half months.
Then Hurricane Trump rolled in. The billionaire's showmanship and disdain for what he called "political correctness" on the topic of unauthorized immigration excited the Republican right, and powered him to the front of polls nationally and in Iowa.
In comparison, Walker looked like a typical politician, had an unimpressive speaking style, and failed to stand out from the crowd in the two debates so far. In last week's second debate, the Wisconsin governor spoke the least of any candidate, and two post-debate surveys asking Republican voters who won this week's debate found Walker in last place of the 11 primetime debaters. After the first debate, he plummeted in the polls both in Iowa and nationally. Currently, he's in 11th place nationally and in 7th place in Iowa, according to RealClearPolitics's poll averages.
It was clear that Walker's campaign was having serious money problems, especially when the Associated Press's Scott Bauer and Julie Bykowicz reported Thursday that "nervous campaign vendors are currently waiting to be paid more than $100,000 for outstanding debts." Such reports often serve as the canary in the coal mine — signifying an imminent campaign collapse. And poll declines and financial woes combined can start a downward spiral, leading more and more supporters to jump ship and fundraising to dry up because the candidate looks increasingly like a loser.
Still, it would theoretically have been possible for Walker to seriously downsize his campaign and stay in the race another few months — I expected he'd tough it out at least a bit longer, since many candidates polling much worse and raising less money are still in. Some past candidates have stayed in when things are looking grim, hoping for a win in an early state to restore their chances — which can make sense, considering the volatility of early polls. Indeed, Walker had been insisting that he'd focus heavily on Iowa from here on out.
But, unlike past candidates like John McCain in 2007-'08, Walker apparently had no interest in scaling back his operation and trying to win an early state on a shoestring budget. "He's made a decision not to limp into Iowa," an anonymous supporter told the Times.