The Mair Saga and the Pincers Movement Against Scott Walker

Amazingly enough, the Scott-Walker-Staffer-Disses-Iowa-And-Gets-Her-Ass-Fired saga is still going strong. But now that the Iowa GOP’s Jealous God has been propitiated, the wind’s blowing hard the other way, as all sorts of conservatives are using the incident to challenge Walker’s strength of character, or to put it more bluntly and accurately in the Frat House atmosphere of GOP politics, his manhood.

Yesterday I briefly noted that Erick Erickson was bridling at the dismissal of Liz Mair, though he couched it more as a matter of questioning the political skills of a candidate who would dare fire a friend of his. But Erickson was hardly alone: Jonah Goldberg of National Review proclaimed himself “very, very disappointed” with Walker’s surrender to the “bullying efforts of the Iowa GOP.” Similarly, Sean Davis at the Federalist scored Walker for obeying the “farmland fatwa” of Iowa Republican chairman Jeff Kaufmann.

But the Washington Examiner‘s Tim Carney signaled the real problem for Walker that is emerging from this tempest in a bowl of cornflakes:

The man who stood up to his state’s most powerful special interest groups is also the man who, when summoned to a cronyfest in Iowa, rolled over on ethanol and then tried to weasel his way out of a flip-flop.

The man who proudly ran as a conservative and won three statewide elections in four years against floods of out-of-state money and a storm of media antagonism is the man who fired a campaign aide last night because she once criticized Iowa for its dependence on federal subsidies.

The pattern is this: Scott Walker will stand up and fight the special interests, if they’re already his sworn political enemies. But when he gets pushed around by a political power broker, or a well-heeled lobby group that’s “on our side,” Walker rolls over.

So the firing of Liz Mair isn’t just an injustice, or even a politically pragmatic decision to protect his flanks in a key state: no, it’s part of a narrative of Walker not being the tough guy he has professed to be. And Walker’s tough-guy persona is right at the heart of his appeal to conservatives as the pol who proved vicious ideologically-driven behavior is a secret turn-on to swing voters.

If this all sounds a little psycho-babbly–I mean, really, do serious Republicans seriously think testosterone levels are seriously a serious credential for the presidency?–think about Rick Perry in 2012. He was soaring in the polls as he swaggered across stage after stage in what almost looked like a parody of George W. Bush in his flight suit, promising to terrify the godless liberals before ripping out their spleens. Then he went all emo on DREAMers in a debate, and soon plunged to his political death.

The backlash to the Liz Mair firing has all the hallmarks of a pincers movement by Establishment types backing Bush or Rubio and True Conservatives backing Cruz or Paul or even Perry or Jindal. They all have a major stake in going after Walker’s most-conservative-electable-candidate pretensions, which have made him an early co-front-runner alongside Jeb Bush’s wallet.

In the end, I suspect Walker made the right call in showing Iowa Republicans they could count on him; after all, they still have a lot more influence on the Republican presidential nominating contest than twenty or thirty conservative pundits shouting at once. It would have been better, of course, if he hadn’t hired Mair to begin with. And he may soon need a fresh example of his hammer-headed stolidity, which is probably bad news for the people of Wisconsin. But so long as his flip-flops and pandering are towards the right rather than the center, he’s probably okay.

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.