Monday afternoon, in a move that surprised many, Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker ended his bid for the White House. He now joins Rick Perry as the second GOP leader to have to bow out of the race, due to a lack of support. Both have been very successful governors, and were once considered two of the most qualified candidates vying for the Oval Office.
Few people would have predicted this turn of events just a few months ago. Walker was an early favorite, having earned strong popularity among conservatives and moderate Republicans alike for his principled leadership as the governor of Wisconsin. There, he successfully took on public unions (something most Republican politicians only talk about), dealt effectively with state budgetary problems, and demonstrated an ability to win multiple elections in what has traditionally been a blue state.
Much the way Rick Perry entered his first presidential race in 2011, Walker struck the right tone with the Republican base, and managed to stand out among the crowd as an “outsider” with solid messaging and strong conservative achievements.
What neither candidate could have predicted, however, was the anti-establishment earthquake of 2015. This political conundrum, triggered by voter frustration with the Washington DC establishment, has somehow extended far beyond Washington, and is now beginning to hammer nails into the coffins of any candidacy tethered to a public record.
We seem to be at a point in time when government experience (even if it’s rich with achievements) is strangely seen as a detriment to one’s candidacy. In a metaphor that Rick Perry might use, we’re shooting at John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, and hitting the kinds of leaders we’ve been saying for years that we need in the White House.
I can’t help but find this troubling…very troubling.
I get that Walker and Perry weren’t the most polished of candidates, and some of the problem is certainly attributable to the size of the Republican field. A number of these candidates, after all, are running purely for the notoriety, which is far from helpful. Walker and Perry weren’t two of them, however. They were serious contenders who became early victims of a vendetta they were never even a part of.
The anti-establishment sentiment in this election-cycle has been off the charts. A good portion of the Republican electorate is so eager for a political novice that they can’t even bring themselves to evaluate such people as actual candidates. They overlook their obvious weaknesses, and refuse to hold them to the high level of scrutiny they impose on the rest.
For example, many people point to Donald Trump’s stance on a border-wall as the reason his candidacy caught fire. There’s probably some truth to that, but the reality is that Rick Perry was a strong, effective advocate for border security long before Trump ever opened his mouth on the topic. Perry, in fact, earned a great deal of national publicity for his outspoken rhetoric against President Obama’s inaction on the border, an even took some gutsy border-security measures himself.
Yet, because Perry is a politician, he will forever be identified as the guy who suffered through a painful moment of absent-mindedness during the 2012 campaign, and thus shouldn’t be seriously considered for the Oval Office.
When you’re a total outsider with no public record, however, it’s a different story. You can pretty much say anything at all right now, and not pay any kind of political price for it. You can mock American POWs for being captured, make up stories about Mexican rapists, say that “prison sex” makes people gay, talk about journalists’ menstrual cycles, etc. None of it matters. In fact, the rhetoric will likely help you, because in these anti-establishment times, being politically-incorrect equates to authenticity, even if it’s factually inaccurate.
Heck, you really don’t even have to demonstrate any knowledge of serious global issues when you don’t have a public record. You just have to display some personality, promise you’ll study up on the policy stuff later, and then switch the topic over to something you’re more comfortable talking about.
That doesn’t work with experienced politicians — not right now, anyway. If it did, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio would be sitting at the top of the polls, based on their charisma alone.
You know, I feel a little strange writing this column, because I’m not someone who believes that an individual necessarily has to have a distinguished public record in order to be an effective president. I think a few people can pull it off. I do believe, however, that there is no substitution for relevant experience, and it seems ridiculous for voters to discard candidates for having the gall to practice governance before running for the presidency. Yet, that’s exactly what we’re doing, and we’re doing it because we’re dissatisfied with people who aren’t even running for the office.
The result has been the loss of two effective leaders, more than a year out from an incredibly important election. Are we better off because of it?
I don’t know… Maybe I’m a pro-establishment guy for thinking it’s important to have a strong bench of candidates to choose from. Maybe I’m a RINO for expecting those candidates to be vetted using a single standard. Maybe I’m a “cuckservative” (or whatever the latest traitor Republican catchphrase is) for wanting someone who’s well-read, informed, and passionate about policy.
All I know is that any message we’re trying to send to congress by adapting to this new methodology for selecting presidential candidates is totally incoherent. If anyone can explain it to me, please do so.