Someday, Wisconsin political historian will consider the high point of Scott Walker’s career to be the millisecond before Donald Trump descended down his tacky gold-painted escalator at Trump Tower to announce that he was joining the Republican primary race for President.
Up until that moment in time, Walker’s political arc had been both astounding and groundbreaking. Walker will likely be the last Republican to win a race in Milwaukee–taking over as County Executive in the wake of the pension scandal. He had won three statewide elections for Governor in just four years–becoming the first sitting governor in US history to survive a recall election. Walker had severely weakened public sector union’s influence over state and municipal government with the passage of Act Ten and he had turned away Federal funding for Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act while still increasing Badgercare enrollments.
Walker was also raising huge amounts of cash for his Presidential campaign–which he had kicked off more than a month before Trump and he was doing well in the polls in the first battleground state of Iowa–usually in the top two or three. And then Trump came down the escalator. The billionaire established his campaign style immediately, turning debates with an already over-crowded field into a three ring circus–and sucking all of the air out of the room. He called Walker “a failure” and called Wisconsin’s economy “terrible”–without citing any metrics or statistics. Like every other GOP candidate, Walker had no answer for Trump–who made goofy faces for the camera that was always focused on him whenever criticism was leveled in his direction. It wouldn’t be long before Walker’s funding dried up–much of it heading to Trump–and he limped home a beaten man.
Walker then tied himself to Texas Senator Ted Cruz–the last man standing against Trump in the primary–and seemed to gain a bit of revenge when Cruz won here, forcing Trump to push the campaign farther in the primary. Eventually, Trump would win the nomination and Walker would fall in line with other members of the GOP to campaign on his behalf in the state–delivering a stunning victory for the President–and taking credit for “delivering Wisconsin”.
Then came Foxconn. The huge tax credits for the Taiwanese plant ruffled plenty of feathers of even the most ardent Walker supporters–but he got it passed. And who showed up for the groundbreaking ceremony? President Trump to take credit himself for the plant saying “he delivered it for Governor Walker”.
And then just as Walker’s re-election effort was kicking into high gear, the President decided to start trade wars with countries that import a lot of Wisconsin goods. Dairy farmers lost markets in Canada and Mexico, grain farmers lost markets in China, and Harley Davidson faced huge tariffs for bikes shipped to Europe. When they suggested that some manufacturing would have to be moved to the Continent, the President was there to blast them, to threaten higher taxes on their bikes and to urge people to boycott the company. And all Scott Walker could do was stand there and try to explain away how it might lead to “real free trade”.
Even the couple of President Trump’s campaign stops in Wisconsin in the final weeks of the campaign to “help Walker” in his close race, became nothing more than pep rallies for the President himself–with his backers that couldn’t care less about other members of the GOP and absent the long-time Conservative voters that had elevated Walker to national prominence–but have absolutely no use for the President.
And now after the 47-thousand uncounted absentee votes in Milwaukee County swung the race in Tony Evers’ favor, Scott Walker is left to wonder how it all could have gone so wrong so quickly. Much like the proverbial china shop owner must have felt after the bull went through.