Big Crowds at Walker’s Self-Pity Party

This is fascinating to watch: instead of turning the page on what they universally claim to be a phony controversy, the conservative chattering classes are turning up the volume of talk about Scott Walker’s recent case of the Galloping I Don’t Knows. Walker himself is setting the tone with extended whining about “gotcha” questions from the godless liberal media, leading to this conclusion from the Wall Street Journal‘s Reid Epstein:

His comments about his treatment in the press are the latest indication he plans to make tensions with the media a central part of his appeal as he moves toward a presidential campaign. Earlier Monday his Wisconsin campaign apparatus released a fundraising appeal seeking donations to help Mr. Walker “stand up against the publicity hounds and the journalistic pack” and “show the clueless and mindless journalistic herd that you know what matters most and that it is not the pointless minutiae that they are pushing.”

Yesterday I expressed scorn that the guy who’s endured all those famous death threats in Wisconsin can’t seem to summon up the courage to answer difficult questions. But perhaps Team Walker is planning to treat media hostility as another form of persecution, along with the death threats. It does scratch the culture-war itch without necessarily involving a controversial issue position.

In any event, he’s getting robust support from the Right in this self-pity party: Charles Cook from National Review, Robert Tracinski at The Federalist, Dan Spencer at RedState, and Rushbo Himself have all validated his martrydom.

Whatever you think of the long-term prospects of this strategy, it seems to be working in carving out a mass constituency for Walker on the Right. The most startling example is a new survey from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune showing Walker in a virtual tie with Ted Cruz among Lone Star Republicans (Cruz is at 20%, Walker’s at 19%, and Rick Perry’s way back at 8%). The latest poll from Iowa (granted it’s from lightly regarded Gravis Marketing, but a lead like this isn’t a polling error) has Walker leaping out to a huge lead over the rest of the field (he’s at 24%; Paul and Bush are tied for second at 10%).

But at some point, the polarizing talk around Walker is going to start affecting his approval ratios among the general electorate and his standing in tests against Hillary Clinton. Nobody cares much about the latter right now because he’s not that well known beyond the GOP ranks, but at some point we’ll pay a price for all the street cred he’s building up with the “base.” Yes, he’ll always have those three wins in “blue” Wisconsin as evidence of his superior electability. But at some point his numbers back home are going to dive as well as he becomes more focused on perceptions in Iowa and New Hampshire than in Wisconsin, and openly takes right-wing positions he’s avoided or obscured when running for governor (that’s already happening now).

So it’s quite the balancing act he’s essaying at a time when his most important rivals for the presidential nomination are organizing, raising money, and keeping a relatively low profile–at least until CPAC gets underway!

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.