A little more than two months after it began, the presidential campaign for Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin suddenly – and shockingly – ended Monday afternoon with an unceremonious statement filled with subtle shots at Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
Walker’sdeparture from the race dispels two big assumptions about the Republican primary: First, that establishment-type candidates would be able to linger around until the field’s political “outsiders” have fizzled out. And second, that in a new era of super PACs, candidates could stick around much longer even if they experience money woes.
That Walker exited before the Iowa caucuses in February – let alone before the official turn of summer into fall – threw out the conventional wisdom that he, along with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, was one of the early favorites to win the Republican nomination.
Walker was once enough of a threat to Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s campaign that he was one ofthree Republican candidates it publicly attacked this summer.
Walker’s super-PAC support, however, wasn’t enough to sustain him until the Iowa caucuses.
“I think the whole super PAC deal is nothing until you get to Iowa,” Ray Washburne, a former Republican National Committee finance chairman who now heads fundraising for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey (R), told The New York Times. “Between now and then, you need to have hard money.”
Indeed, as The Times reported, the Walker-aligned “Unintimidated” super PAC was on track to raise more than $40 million by the end of the year. But super PACs cannot pay campaign staff, rent, phone bills, or the cost of flying across the country to campaign for president. Moreover, they are subject to higher rates for advertising on television.
The ramifications could be significant. Much of the Republican field has turned to a super-PAC-heavy model. The groups backing former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas (R), who was the first to drop out of the field, raised more than $12 million. But he wasn’t able to pay his staff, and his inability to break through a crowded field as a candidate left the outside group unable to pick up the grassroots elements typically left to a campaign.
“Not surprising now but stunning when you look back,” one veteran Republican strategist told Business Insider when Perry dropped out earlier this month. “He had the organization, the record, the outside support.”
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As The Times reported, the next five weeks will be a significant test of the super-PAC model, as most campaigns will depend on super PACs to “communicate with voters on their behalf” before the next Republican debate.
Most campaigns, that is, except that of Trump. The real-estate mogul turned Republican front-runner is self-funding the vast majority of his campaign. And that makes another big assumption to throw out the window – that Trump would inevitably fade while the more established, proven candidates rise to the top.
“The descent will be slow, but it’s dawning on voters that he doesn’t have any real proposals, just bombast,” said Greg Valliere, the chief political strategist at the Potomac Research Group, who ranked Trump seventh in a list of GOP candidates most likely to win the nomination.
But, he added, signaling the increased seriousness with which Trump’s candidacy is being taken, “Ranking him as high as seventh makes us uneasy.”
Though Trump has seen a bit of a deflation in his poll balloon over the past few days, he is also making clear that he is not a flavor of the month. He has led every poll of the GOP race since July – since before Walker even entered the race.
And as Walker exited the race, Trump was quick to note that he didn’t have the same deficiencies that could plague other candidates.
He told The Washington Post’s Robert Costa: “The nice part about my campaign is that my money people will always be ready, 100% ready. My money person is me.”