No, Scott Walker Hasn’t Peaked Too Soon

Having tried carefully a few times recently to glean significant material from early GOP presidential polls, I’d now like to offer a reminder of the kind of excesses in journalistic malpractice that can occur from dwelling on the less significant material. Here’s a sample of breathless horse-race madness from The Hill‘s Jonathan Easley:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has hit a bump in the presidential race as new candidates have crowded the field, and his national poll numbers have faltered.

He was seen as an early favorite to win the Iowa caucuses after taking the race by storm with a well-received speech in January at GOP Rep. Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit.

Since then, some air has come out of the Walker balloon.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday still shows him with a big lead in the Hawkeye State, with 21 percent support. He leads Rubio, the next closest candidate, by 8 percentage points.

But Walker’s support has fallen in Iowa. In a Quinnipiac poll from February, Walker had taken 25 percent support and led the next closest candidate by 12 percentage points.

Easley goes on in this vein for graph after graph, suggesting Walker’s loss of a few points in this or that poll shows he’s falling like a stone, having somehow failed to preempt the potential appeal of every candidate to the right of Jeb Bush. And there’s the usual hysteria from Iowa where it’s never too early to declare total victory or total defeat:

Some Republicans in the state believe Walker’s base of support among social conservatives in the state is soft and driven largely by the buzz he’s generated as an exciting new face for the party — something that can vanish as quickly as it arrived.

Huckabee, they say, has far more durable support among the socially conservative base that propelled him to victory in 2008.

“Walker’s high numbers indicate the level of interest that there is in him in Iowa right now,” said former Iowa Republican Party political director Craig Robinson. “Huckabee’s numbers are made up of hardcore supporters that he can build off of and grow.”

Look, nothing would make me happier than to see Scott Walker stumble and fall on the campaign trail. But the reality is this: he’s survived his initiation into the glare of a presidential campaign in good order, laying to rest the lethal label of being “boring.” He has a plausible path to the nomination as an electable candidate who’s staked out ground on the Right but is acceptable to all wings of the party. Looks like he’ll have plenty of money. And unless something bad happens, he doesn’t have any “must-win” moments prior to the beginning of actual voting nine months from now; he’s not likely to be in the position of Tim Pawlenty in 2011 who gambled everything on an Iowa Straw Poll victory because he just had to show he had real, not just “on paper,” support. Walker’s probably already past all that.

There are, of course, plenty of reasons Walker might ultimately lose. His tendency to handle flip-flops poorly could catch up with him. The bad odor surrounding his earlier campaigns could turn out to indicate some indictable offenses. His electability argument could be undermined by a serious backlash from Wisconsinites who really dislike his current policies. Jeb could drown everybody in seas of money. Somebody on the Right could catch fire. Marco Rubio is positioned similarly to Walker and is a lot more polished and camera-ready.

But no, losing four horse-race points in one state while still leading the field there is only a sign of calamity if you really do think of this as literally a horse race where the early pace horse usually fades.

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.