Scott Walker’s Resilience Shows the GOP Base Has Learned Some Lessons–But Not Enough

It appears that Scott Walker is still the man to catch in the Republican presidential primary:

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has expanded his early lead in Iowa, while former Florida Governor Jeb Bush continues to face headwinds and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida shows upside potential in the state that hosts the first 2016 presidential nomination balloting.

A new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows more than a third of likely Republican caucus participants say they would never vote for Bush—one factor in a new index to assess candidate strength in such a crowded field. Forty-three percent view him favorably, compared to 45 percent who view him unfavorably.

Two points stand out here. The first is Jeb Bush’s high unfavorables, even among GOP base voters in a non-Bible Belt state. Bush’s struggle gain as much support one might have suspected by now has a number of possible reasons coming from a variety of perspectives. Jeb’s obvious association with his younger brother leads some moderate, electability-concerned Republicans to view him as nonviable compared with Clinton, while strongly ideological conservatives view both him and his brother as too RINO establishment on issues like immigration. Bush’s ties to high finance make him unattractive to some Tea Party conservatives who despise Wall Street, “crony capitalism” and bailouts. And his somewhat more moderate stance on climate change, along with his comparative lack of social conservative issues, leads some in the GOP to see him as a squish.

But it’s curious that so many of those who are disenchanted with the prospect of Jeb Bush headlining their ticket would back Scott Walker. While Walker certainly has conservative bona fides of all kinds without most of the negatives associated with Bush, he is also mostly devoid of the sort of raw charisma presidential ambitions usually require. He’s also not as scandal-free or controversy-free as a politician who wants to establish a “boring but dependable” brand should be. Walker is a tainted ideological firebrand without the charisma to back it up.

And in a presidential field that includes women, minorities, multilingualists, rock-n-roll guitarists (on both sides!), tech CEOs and a variety of others, Walker is about as culturally stale a traditional white male conservative political candidate as it’s possible to create. It’s hard to see Walker competing successfully over time against Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley or even Bernie Sanders in an increasingly diverse nation seeking real answers to hard problems and the leadership to match.

So far, it appears that the GOP base has learned some lessons from the experiences of the last decade and a half. But not, apparently, as many lessons as it needs to.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.