Walker Walks Out

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker walked away from his presidential campaign today and urged his fellow trailing Republican candidates to do the same.

As Chris Stirewalt summarized this piece of news on “The Kelly File” this evening: “Good guy, patriotic act, classy.”

It was patriotic of Walker to exalt conservative ideas over his own campaign and it was classy to recognize that Republicans will likely fare better in the general election if they’re able to coalesce around a single candidate as soon as possible, but, I confess, I’m still surprised and disappointed.

Why couldn’t John Kasich have made this kind of gesture instead?

Like many, I assessed Walker’s most recent debate performance as “dull” — but I assumed he’d remain in the race. An early frontrunner and, more importantly, an eminently qualified candidate, Walker was twice elected the governor of a blue state (three times if you count his victory in his wholly unwarranted recall election!). A three-legs-of-the-stool conservative, he’s particularly effective when he speaks about free enterprise and earned success. Clearly, I took him for granted.

His statements on minimum wage laws Wednesday night were representative: He said he’d rather discuss how government can best facilitate the conditions that enable employers to generate the greatest number of quality jobs — jobs that pay more than the minimum wage. It was a side step, yes, but a relevant and humane one.

The moderator gave him little time to elaborate, but, presumably, those conditions include low tax rates and regulatory rollback. He also spoke of the need to improve the education and skills of the American worker, although he didn’t offer specifics as to how to do that. (I’m guessing his proposals would have returned responsibility for this to state and local government, though.)

As those who’ve followed his gubernatorial career know, Walker’s pragmatism and principle initially proved polarizing, as his budget-repair bill drew thousands of protesters to Madison.

As a junior reporter for the Heritage Foundation, I had the opportunity to sit down with him in the Wisconsin governor mansion in the midst of the protests, and I came away awed and impressed by his resolve, his sincere belief in the rectitude of his cause and his genuine concern for his constituents.

Eventually, his very success vindicated him. As I summarized in an op-ed for The Oklahoman a few years ago:

Walker had campaigned on a promise to balance the state budget, which then faced a structural deficit of more than $3 billion. To keep that promise, he asked government workers to make a 5.8 percent pension contribution (about the national average) and a 12.6 percent health insurance contribution (about half the national average). Such changes to public employee benefits entailed changes to the collective bargaining privileges of public-sector unions, as well. Those changes struck a blow to the power of union leaders — but gave greater freedom to public employees, who would no longer be forced to pay union dues, and to taxpayers.

Ultimately, Walker’s budget closed the $3 billion budget hole without raising taxes.

Such a steadfast and fortitudinous politician would have made a fine president. Alas, for charisma!

Incidentally, a dear friend was among his major donors in Oklahoma, and she attended a meeting with him before ever a debate took place to offer input into his campaign. I suggested she tell him to remember these three words: “Smile. Energy. Project.” (My mother drilled those three magic words into me before every public presentation I ever gave growing up!) She told him, but he apparently didn’t remember.

The question becomes: To whom will his donors and supporters go? At least one aide is headed to the Marco Rubio campaign, according to a text from my mom (so official, I know!).

My guess is that Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio stand to gain the most. Bush will draw Walker donors who liked that Walker was a governor who emphasized federalism and fiscal responsibility, whereas Rubio will draw Walker donors who appreciated his stalwart conservatism — including on social issues — and pseudo-outsider status (up-and-coming politician with experience, but no obvious establishment ties like, er, the last name “Bush”). A few might flock to Chris Christie for his honesty on entitlements or to Bobby Jindal if they’re just itching to boost another trailing candidate.

For now, although we’re not donors (small or large), our little family thanks Walker for his public service and wishes him well as he moves on from here.

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