Scott Walker is dropping out of the Republican presidential race because he doesn't have enough money to run a top-tier campaign.
But that's not the same as saying that Scott Walker is dropping out because he didn't have the money to keep running for president. He could have trimmed down his campaign apparatus, abandoned New Hampshire and Nevada, and dedicated all his energy to Iowa.
After all, Walker was leading the polls in Iowa for most of this year — Donald Trump didn't overtake him there until after August 3rd. He was winning Iowa for a lot longer than he's been losing it. Wasn't it worth sticking around a bit to try to win the state back?
Apparently not. One Walker supporter told the New York Times, "He's made a decision not to limp into Iowa." That's the right way to phrase it: Walker wasn't forced out of the race; he just decided not to keep struggling along.
This is a respectable choice. For Scott Walker, though, it's a devastatingly apt one. Scott Walker spent several months running for president on a platform of having the spine to stand up to the Republican Party's enemies at home and abroad — while failing to show any backbone whatsoever during the presidential election. He ran as the courage candidate, and acted like the Cowardly Lion.
Scott Walker's number-one qualification for president: he stood up to unions
Here is, in Scott Walker's own words (via a Real Clear Politics article from late July), what distinguishes Scott Walker from other Republican candidates running in 2016: he is someone who can both "fight and win."
"I’m not going to speak ill of the others individually, but I’m going to tell you there is a difference in this election," Walker said. You see, there’s really two groups out there. There are fighters and there are winners. There are fighters, many of whom are in Washington, who are fighting the good fight day after day, week after week, month after month, but they have not won those fights. There are winners, people who get elected and re-elected, but you know what? They have not consistently fought the good fights over and over for the issues of the day."
"I would submit to you, there is only one candidate who has consistently fought and won," Walker continued. "If you want someone who will fight and win for you, fight and win for America, I am your candidate going forward."
The theme made sense for Walker, because it was a reminder of the fight that gave him a national profile to begin with: his victories against labor unions in Wisconsin, both legislative (stripping collective bargaining rights from public employee unions, and passing a "Right to Work" law) and electoral (winning both a recall election and re-election despite heavy union involvement against him).
Walker is incredibly proud of his record against unions, and consistently brought it up on the campaign trail as an example of the kind of leader he would be. He even tried to cover for his relative inexperience on foreign policy by turning union-busting into a foreign affairs issue — saying that the "most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime" was Ronald Reagan's decision to break the air-traffic controller union's strike in 1981, and answering a question about how he'd handle ISIS by saying, "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe."
A little tone-deaf? Sure. But at least it was on-message. Scott Walker really, really wanted Republican voters to know that he was the sort of leader who would stand up to powerful forces and win through sheer resolve.
Scott Walker's presidential campaign: he didn't stand up to anybody
The problem with Walker's message of resolve is that Walker acted at every turn to undermine it. Whenever it appeared that he was in danger of offending anyone — Republican voters, donors, or other candidates — he either backpedaled or tried to explain it all away.
He hired Liz Mair, who'd helped him survive his recall, onto the campaign on March 17. By March 18, she'd "resigned" — she and everyone else now agree she was in fact fired. The reason for the short tenure? Iowa Republicans had dug up some tweets from January in which Mair dissed their first-in-the-nation caucus, and pressured Walker to show he cared about Iowa by dumping her. Which is exactly what he proceeded to do.
But I also feared that the reasons behind his firing of me would be the ultimate causes of his demise. Now that appears to be true.— Liz Mair (@LizMair) September 21, 2015
He didn't distinguish himself with any policy positions during the campaign, instead pulling a "me too!" when other candidates laid out their plans. But he did manage to get headlines on two separate occasions for saying something privately on immigration that was different from what he was saying in his campaign speeches. While one of these could have been a simple slip of the tongue, having two — especially when one was a call with an important Republican economist — certainly made it seem that Walker was trying to agree with pro-immigration Republican elites in private, while agreeing with anti-immigration Republican base voters in public.
This is actually a known verbal tic: Walker has this thing where he says "yes" to any question he's asked. Back in Wisconsin, the Democratic Party ran an ad that showed Walker nodding as a reporter asked him if he was "at the center of a criminal scheme" (as this deeply amusing Daily Beast article puts it). It was definitely a problem for Walker on the campaign trail — it led to him, absurdly, agreeing to put a fence on the US-Canada border, among other things. But it was also a reflection of a deeper problem with his campaign: Scott Walker simply wasn't interested in disagreeing with anyone within the party.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, that attitude won't win you many points in debates. The first GOP debate came right after he'd slipped out of first in the Iowa polls — a time, in other words, when he desperately needed people to pay attention to him. Instead, here's what happened, in the words of Vox's Andrew Prokop:
You don't stand out for blandly reciting standard conservative views on a stage full of candidates doing the same thing in more compelling ways — and Walker didn't stand out, as this analysis of Google search traffic by the Washington Post's Philip Bump shows. Walker was the second least-searched-for candidate on stage (topping only Mike Huckabee). He was essentially absent from the conversation afterward.
Instead of fixing that tendency to keep his head down and not pick any fights during the second debate, Walker was even more retiring. In a debate format where candidates were essentially encouraged to interrupt each other, this was a problem — and it resulted in Walker getting less air time than any of the other 10 candidates on stage. But more importantly, Walker's unwillingness to go on the attack meant he didn't give voters a reason to give him another look — and didn't reassure waffling supporters that he really had the guts to stick it out, after all.
It turns out that those waffling supporters were right: Scott Walker didn't have what it took to stick around in a presidential campaign. That's not what you might have expected hearing his rhetoric. But given the way his campaign worked during its brief life, it's not surprising that he would rather quit when the going got tough.