BIG FAIL: The incredible shrinking Walker candidacy

While his poll numbers among rather insular tea party Republicans in Iowa may at the moment be high, wider evidence suggests the Walker worm may be turning.

The biggest sign of trouble? Growing questions about Scott Walker’s campaign style and performance, especially from within the conservative and Republican camp.

If you seek evidence that the Wisconsin governor’s national political rise already is slowing, look no further than today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The paper's opinion and news pages today are blanketed with increasing skepticism about Walker's political acumen and policies.

Walker partisans will see that coverage as part of a media conspiracy he himself has blamed for his recent public missteps. More likely, it’s journalists and political observers finally putting together the pieces, going like criminal prosecutors where the evidence leads them. And the evidence increasingly is that Walker’s command of issues, along with his candor, are wanting.

Today’s Journal Sentinel is so cover-to-cover Walker that it would be silly to list all the relevant links. I suggest you visit http://www.jsonline.com and look at today’s news and opinion listings to see the full scope of Walker’s increasingly dubious grasp on greatness.  The paper’s four-page Sunday opinion section is heavy on letters, guest columns and even an editorial on mass transit that for the most part strongly question Walker’s spending and policy proposals, past, present and future.

Sure, this might just all have been a one-day glitch in otherwise more flattering coverage that Walker himself would want to clip and paste into a scrapbook. But that scrapbook more and more looks to be begging for scraps as Walker offends and tasks Wisconsin interest group after interest group -- including a growing number formerly considered Republican-solid -- in his quest for political self-realization.

Sportsmen? Blue-collar union workers? Small businesses? All in the crosshairs of Walker’s proposed budget and his bill-signing pledges.  The man is burning bridges at a furious rate, just as he did while running Milwaukee County and preparing his run for governor.

One sign that Walker has made the big time -- and is getting himself in trouble -- are the increasing references to him in popular media, as when late-night talk show host Seith Meyer late last month featured a poster of a shrugging Walker with the legend, "I dunno."  And when, this weekend, "A Prairie Home Companion" lampooned Walker's recent non-response responsiveness. Host Garrison Keillor, a Minnesotan, told an actor playing Walker that he seemed more like an Amway salesman; although the pretend word salad was hilarious, the actor got Walker's voice wrong, so give it time. 

Two primary themes emerge from today’s Journal Sentinel coverage: Walker's continued assault on Wisconsin's proud and pioneering tradition of conservation, and his willingness to be completely malleable in his quest for national support.

How bad is it? Well, the newspaper's dependably right-wing columnist, Christian Schneider, has just penned another column questioning Walker's statements on the presidential campaign trail -- saying that, more and more, “Walker is simply looking unprepared” and that the governor's knowledge of foreign affairs "seems to have been culled from playing a game of Risk.”    

Schneider remains the sort of true-believer conservative who would love to see a President Walker, warts and all. But in questioning Walker’s performance of late, Schneider is, in all likelihood, the mouthpiece for a rising group of conservative strategists and dark-money string-pullers increasingly worried about Walker's missteps, and about his ability to sell himself to the national electorate.

That may well include Wisconsin’s own, beleaguered and fatigued electorate. Schneider’s column could be read like a letter from concerned parents that begins, “We’ll always love you, son, but … .“

You know Walker’s in trouble when right-wing pundits like Schneider make fun of his missteps while complaining in tandem with him that the press never asks Hillary Clinton those same kinds of “gotcha” questions. [Oh, by the way, ma’am: Benghazi! Secret emails! Foreign campaign contributions! Vince Foster! Whitewaterrrrrrrr…!]

Then there are those Wisconsin Republican legislators who could be left holding the bag for Walker’s “bold” but ill-considered policies -- more dubious even than the GOP’s general, corporatist agenda. Walker’s winning the presidency would leave them afloat with Acting Governor Kleefisch and a whole mess of political problems in the making.

On the other hand, if Walker loses, he’ll be weakened back here at home, since his credentials and policies -- and by extension those of state GOP legislators -- will have been picked apart on a national scale.

Today’s Journal Sentinel features lengthy pieces about Walker's recent flip-flops on immigration (did I say a path to citizenship? I meant sealed borders) and his abrupt turnabout in favor of corn-derived ethanol fuel mandates, a clear vote-getting tactic in Iowa, where he has been campaigning with fervor.

Operation Flip-flop worked for Walker within Wisconsin, where, compared to national races, campaigns are light on policy issues and whole-body political scans. He was even able to get away with campaigning on his increasingly fantastical view of himself as someone who says what he believes and acts on principle. But the overriding principle in Walker's political animus turns out to be the principal of himself. And in defense of that unprincipled principal, Walker is anything but unintimidated. 

For instance, Walker campaigned for re-election last year on his newly formulated concern for women voters. This from Governor Ultrasound, who in 2013 had signed a Republican bill making it mandatory for Wisconsin women seeking abortions to first view -- without medical necessity -- an ultrasound of their fetuses.

Walker was running against Mary Burke, a Democrat offering a strong women’s agenda. Yet Walker's sudden move to portray himself in language swiped from pro-choice groups -- even to saying an abortion decision should be left to the woman and her doctor -- raised few eyebrows.

That arguably made him seem more moderate and electable in Wisconsin, but it’s now going to raise havoc with the hard-core, anti-abortion GOP base. What to do, especially if he gets past the primaries and faces a more moderate general electorate? Flip-flop twice more?

Since re-election, Walker’s gotten squarely behind banning abortions after 20 weeks. So much for that patient-doctor relation-y thing, and so much for the majority of American women who are not inclined to cede control of their bodies to politicians, especially not creepy, control-freak, male religious zealots.

It’s all gotten so bad that Walker’s own campaign staff is now reduced to arguing that voters don’t have a right to know Walker’s views on every last thing. Well of course they don’t. Which comic books Walker might read on his free time are of little or no consequence to the well-being of the nation and the world, although that, too, might give voters at least a little clue. Heck, Bill Clinton was once asked on live TV about his underwear preferences, and that was pre-Lewinsky.

But when Walker and his seconds insist that his views on religion, science, and conservative ad hominem attacks on Barack Obama are not matters of genuine public interest? Well. What would be? Walker's paens to freedom, self-reliance and fighting terrorists before they begin (as he said) washing up on our shores?

The biggest tell of all, though, is Walker’s retreat into a highly Nixonian, counterproductive assault on "the media.” HIs current troubles are all the fault of reporters, you see. Walker on several occasions has been reduced to claiming they didn’t quote him accurately when the recordings that prove otherwise are all there on the Web, free for public viewing.

Well, governor, as Harry Truman used to say, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. But if you must re-invent yourself, rewriting your views and very words, don’t pull a Gary Hart and dare journalists to catch you in the lie. The snark has pretty teeth, dear.

randomness