Editor’s Note: This piece first appeared in The Guardian. We reprint in part here.
In a whirlwind 24 hours that saw him hire and then quickly lose a well-respected digital strategist, the Wisconsin governor and presidential contender Scott Walker went out of his way to appease Iowa Republicans – and in doing so may have damaged his role as a darling of the conservative media.
On Monday, Walker announced the hiring of Liz Mair, who worked for his recall campaign as well as for Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential run. And by Tuesday evening, Mair had resigned.
The outspoken Republican operative had come under a concentrated attack from both Democrats and conservatives for her past criticism of the Iowa caucus process and ethanol on Twitter, as well as her advocacy for gay marriage and immigration. Democrats leaked her derogatory comments on Iowa to the Des Moines Register, which accused her of using the state as “a punching bag.”
Meanwhile, on the right, Matt Boyle, a reporter for the website Breitbart.com, went after Mair’s divergences from conservative orthodoxy and also raised questions about the GOP operative’s loyalty to the United States as a dual citizen of both the US and the United Kingdom.
But the coup de grâce came on Tuesday afternoon, when the New York Times reported that Jeff Kaufman, chair of the Republican party of Iowa, had called on Walker to fire Mair. “It’s obvious she doesn’t have a clue what Iowa’s all about,” he said. “I find her to be shallow and ignorant. And I’ll tell you, if I was Governor Walker, I’d send her her walking papers.”
But while Mair’s quick departure from the Walker campaign may have appeased the offended Iowans, it alienated conservative pundits, whom Walker needs to win over if he is to mount a successful presidential run. The Wisconsin governor has been using his resolve in fighting a recall and systematically crushing public-sector unions in his home state as his calling card, telling a crowd at CPAC in February: “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe.”
But in the course of his nascent campaign, Walker has already reversed himself on several issues, including immigration reform and a government mandate on the use of ethanol, which is a big issue in the corn-producing state of Iowa. The Wisconsin governor’s flip on the latter issue led respected conservative writer Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner to ask: “If Walker can’t stand up to Iowans, how will he stand up to the Islamic State?”
The circumstances of Mair’s 24-hour whirlwind tour on the Walker campaign have amplified this criticism. Prominent conservative voices such as Jonah Goldberg at National Review bemoaned Walker’s capitulation “to the bullying efforts of the Iowa state GOP”, and noted that the story didn’t say anything negative about Mair, just about Walker. This culminated in Erick Erickson, a hugely influential conservative who runs RedState.com, suggesting that Mair’s critics should “DIAF,” an abbreviation common on the internet for “die in a fire.”