Scott Walker’s career trajectory shows weakness of both state and national candidates

The headline from the inside-the-beltway newspaper The Hill said it all: “Iowa buzzes over Scott Walker.” Well, you could say the same thing about flies, because our governor is a dead man walking. Or he would be, anyway, in a saner world. As anyone who’s paid even superficial attention to pop culture knows, zombies are making a big comeback these days. So it’s perhaps no surprise that our politics have become a reflection of our basest primal fears.

Indeed, The Hill’s headline referred to one of the most puzzling phenomena to arise in this country since grown men donned Zubaz and ardently quaffed back-washed Zima in full view of other sentient beings. Scott Walker is a rock star (a la New Kids on the Block, mind you), and members of his party see him as a viable challenger for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

Reports The Hill:

Iowa insiders say don’t sleep on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) as a possible 2016 presidential contender.

Walker gave a well-received speech to the Iowa Republican Party Thursday night [May 23], and many in the state say he would bring some strong assets to a presidential run.

While the beltway presidential buzz has focused on Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Walker’s admirers say his record as a conservative warrior, folksy Midwestern demeanor, and big fundraising connections could make him a contender.

So what does it say about the modern-day Republican Party that fully two-thirds of its presidential frontrunners are, to put it charitably, still struggling with consensus reality, and the next man up is Scott Walker?

On the heels of one-time GOP frontrunner Michele Bachmann’s decision to put her vacuous stare and preternatural knack for misinterpreting the phenomenal world to work in the private sector, those of us whose brains have not yet been scrambled by Barack Obama’s top-secret Muslim weather-controlling machines are starting to worry that the 2012 GOP field – whose sanest member, Newt Gingrich, sharply criticized President Obama’s stimulus plan yet enthusiastically supported funding long-neglected infrastructure improvements on the moon – is just a sign of things to come.

Indeed, against the backdrop of the GOP’s recent menagerie of misfits, Scott Walker makes a lot of sense. He’s no fan of Obama, which is qualification number one for any Republican presidential hopeful. He also famously slapped down public workers, which should endear him to the tea party set. And as The Hill’s story notes, he has pushed to defund Planned Parenthood clinics, thus elevating his standing among social conservatives.

But what else has he done? He rode into town touting a radical cure for Wisconsin’s ailing economy, and after two-plus years of leeching and bloodletting, our economy now looks like Iggy Pop following a three-month meth bender in the land of the mole people.

Our state’s rate of private-sector job creation has sunk to 44th in the nation (down from 11th when Walker took office). More recently, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia released its leading indexes for each state for April. The indexes are a six-month projection of state coincident indexes, which measure a state’s economic health by combining several economic indicators. The bank’s conclusion? Forty-five state coincident indexes are projected to grow over the next six months, while five are projected to decrease. Guess which group Wisconsin belongs to. Good guess.

But as unremarkable as Scott Walker’s performance has been, I see his prospects for re-election as good to very good. Why? As anemic as the GOP’s presidential hopefuls look (Rubio being the exception), the potential Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial field, if you can believe it, appears even anemic-er.

Unless Russ Feingold surprises us all, it’s a bit hard to imagine a scenario in which a state Democrat rises up to vanquish Walker, who’s a pariah in the more densely populated parts of Dane County but remains popular in our state’s more northerly outposts. (Then again, it’s worth noting that many of the people who approve of the job he’s doing are unaware of Wisconsin’s abysmal job-creation record relative to the rest of the nation.)

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Say what you want about Walker, but he’s battle tested (having won a general election and a brutal recall election) and enjoys the sort of name recognition that no state Democrat other than Russ Feingold, Herb Kohl, and Tom Barrett can approach.

Unfortunately, Feingold has shown no indication that he wants to run, Kohl appears to be done with politics, and Barrett is unlikely to expose himself to a third-straight electoral wedgie. Who’s left? Kathleen Falk? Douglas La Follette?

Indeed, without Feingold, the Democrats’ prospects – at this writing anyway – look pretty dim. A February Public Policy Polling survey [PDF] showed that Feingold would have a good shot at defeating Walker, besting the governor in a hypothetical race by 49% to 47%. But PPP also tested the prospects of five other potential candidates, and all took a hypothetical beating. (Peter Barca lost 48%-43%; Ron Kind, 46%-42%; Jon Erpenbach, 48%-42%; Steve Kagen, 48%-41%; and Mahlon Mitchell, 48%-39%.) Missing from the poll was 2012 recall candidate Kathleen Vinehout, a dark horse option whose populist approach could strike a chord with voters outside Madison and Milwaukee should she choose to run again.

Of course, it’s too early to throw in the towel just yet. Feingold himself came out of nowhere to win a U.S. Senate seat in ’92. But despite his inability to distinguish himself as a governor (as opposed to a celebrity speaker), Walker looks like a good bet to secure another term. And the fact that he’s seriously being considered as a presidential candidate shows that he’s a strong enough candidate on a national level to stand out among yet another weak (and weird) GOP field.

Scary stuff, indeed. Let’s just hope both our state and the nation come to their senses before this madness goes any further.

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