Walker ’16: Death By Vanilla

So John Podhoretz goes off on National Review‘s post-election cruise with 550 true believers, and lets us know this pretty significant focus group has already figured out what to do with the vast Republican presidential field for 2016:

The cruisers are consumed with politics. And overwhelmingly — and I mean no one else was even close — their favorite for 2016 is the governor of Wisconsin.

Podhoretz himself doesn’t sound all that bullish on Scott Walker, thanks to his famously unexciting personality, so perhaps this isn’t just hype. He ultimately compares Walker to baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew–someone best admired through his stats, not personal exposure. And so, inevitably, we’re told Walker “looks great on paper.”

This is why Walker is so very commonly compared to Tim Pawlenty in 2012; the Minnesotan was perfectly positioned to become the most-conservative-electable-candidate nominee in a large but shaky field. And he wound up being the first candidate to drop out, before a single vote (other than in the completely non-official Ames Straw Poll) was cast. His sin was congenital blandness, and the defining moment of his campaign was when he all but repudiated his one great zinger: referring to the Affordable Care Act as “Obamneycare.”

But TPaw’s demise does point up one big difference between these two avatars of the Republican revival in the Upper Midwest: nobody suspects Scott Walker may be too nice for his party. He may be bland, and a bad orator, but his bad intent towards conservatism’s enemies is unmistakable. He’s sorta Death by Vanilla, or a great white shark; boring until he rips you apart. I think Republican elites get that, and it excites them. But how about voters?

Daniel Larison made this observation about Walker in his own comparison of the Wisconsin to Tim Pawlenty:

[I]t’s possible that Walker won’t repeat Pawlenty’s mistakes, and he may very well take Pawlenty’s failed campaign as a cautionary tale in what not to do, but the similarities are nonetheless striking. Another similarity between the two is that enthusiasm for Walker seems to be concentrated among activists and pundits in Washington, while most rank-and-file Republicans have no idea who he is, and if they do most of them don’t support him. That’s not so surprising when more than half of the voters that turned out to vote in the gubernatorial election thought he wouldn’t make a good president.

Maybe Walker realizes that. WaPo’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin speculates that he’s not going to run in 2016, perhaps keeping his powder dry for a future campaign. It’s true he’s only 47, which is pretty young for a great white shark or a politician.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.