Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker obviously isn’t going to be the Republican presidential nominee this year (unless the convention in Cleveland gets so weird that the party’s looking not only for a compromise dark horse but the most boring one available). But he did win the Tim Pawlenty Award for the top on-paper candidate who folded long before the voting began.
Actually, Walker made it all the way to mid-September, while, in 2012, Pawlenty crashed and burned in August. But otherwise there were some similarities: two Midwestern governors too low-key for their own good, offering themselves as an acceptable compromise between hard-core conservatives and the GOP Establishment. They both quit early when the money ran out (though that’s a bit like saying we all ultimately die of heart failure), but the bigger problem was that neither developed a core constituency.
Walker’s distinctive shortcoming was that his whole appeal revolved around his successful record of battling unions in Wisconsin and still overcoming a recall initiative and winning reelection. Turns out this was not a year for demonstrating much of anything in public office other than hatred of other people in public office. This is why Republicans are almost certainly going to be ultimately choosing between one guy who’s never been in public office and another who’s had a booming three years of experience mostly spent trying to stop or reverse what little was getting done before he arrived.
For a while there, it looked like Walker was going to be the favored candidate of conservative evangelicals at a time when there were signs the old Christian-right formula of choosing the loudest and proudest cultural reactionary had finally run its course. Unfortunately for him, the nominating contest began in the one place — Iowa — where the old formula still worked, so it’s somewhat fitting that he’s now endorsing the candidate it worked for, Ted Cruz.
But you have to figure Walker’s endorsing Cruz for the more prosaic reason that Cruz is significantly less likely than Donald Trump to pull down the whole Republican ticket and not only snuff out the career of Senator Ron Johnson but endanger GOP control of the Wisconsin legislature, which would discomfit Walker personally and also mess up his legacy as the governor who moved his state party to the right and still kept winning. He’s still under 50, and could well have future opportunities to win or transcend the Pawlenty Award.