- - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Six months ago no one would have bet that Rick Perry of Texas or Scott Walker of Wisconsin would have been the first to step off the Republican presidential merry-go-‘round. Both looked like authentic contenders.

Mr. Perry is an exciting speaker. He had boned up on the issues, determined not to repeat his disastrous performance four years earlier when he appeared not to know very much about the world beyond Texas, and several wealthy Texans were eager to finance a second chance. But energy and good humor were not enough. Soon it was two and out.

Scott Walker shot to the top of the polls after a riveting first performance in Iowa, and he raised a lot of money with a better narrative than Mr. Perry‘s. He had won as a red man in a blue state and he demonstrated a reach deep into the Republican base. The Tea Party liked him, the party establishment thought he was salable, and the evangelicals and fiscal hawks warmed to him as a man of courage and grit who was not only willing to fight, but who had won his fights once, twice and again.

But Mr. Walker, like Rick Perry, forgot what every traveling salesman before him has to know — and a candidate for president is the ultimate traveling salesman: “You’ve got to know the territory — the territory, the territory, the territory.”

Mr. Walker, intelligent, bright and thoughtful, nevertheless revealed himself to be woefully ignorant of the things he had to know to be a credible candidate. In interviews, he appeared to not understand, for example, the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform or the details of why the dissolution of the Export-Import Bank is a goal of many conservatives. Such issues may be mere wonkery in Wisconsin, but they’re important stuff inside the Beltway. You can mock inside-the-Beltway wonkery, but you’ve got to know what you’re mocking, and why. Mr. Walker didn’t.

On another occasion, he called Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air-traffic controllers in 1981 “the most significant foreign-policy decision of my lifetime.” He compared the task of destroying ISIS to that of standing up to the labor unions in Wisconsin, and boasted to CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Committee, that “if I can take on 100,000 protesters [in Wisconsin], I can do the same all over the world.” Answering a question on “Meet the Press,” he said building a wall on the Canadian border, like building a wall on the Mexican border, was “a legitimate issue for us to look at.” A few days later he said it was a bad idea that he had never supported and the reporters twisted his words. Reporters can do that, but it sounded like a whine.

Rick Perry, caught in a similar bind, quit the race with his head high. Even in losing he emerged a winner. Mr. Walker, on the other hand, squandered a very real chance to win. Even when Donald Trump shook up the race as few before him had done, Mr. Walker zoomed to the top of the polls in Iowa and the smart guys said he would stay at the top, with Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Marco Rubio for the final round.

In his graceful valedictory, Scott Walker said he was quitting the race to make room for others who could restore the race to reality, to enable an authentic conservative to win the right to carry the banner against Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden or whomever the frightened Democrats finally put in place. He wouldn’t stand in the way of someone who could do what he could not. When it was time to come to the aid of the party, he did his duty. The party owes him thanks.

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