Politico: Massive Anti-Establishment Wave Sinks Walker

Republican presidential candidate, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, speaks during a visit to the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 17, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

At Politico, Eli Stokols outlines Scott Walker’s struggles in Iowa:

After seven months as the clear favorite to win this first-in-the-nation caucus state, the Wisconsin governor is suddenly sinking in the polls— overtaken by the summer’s massive anti-establishment wave and at risk of losing his grip.

“He’s lost a lot of momentum here because he didn’t convert that early momentum into committed caucus-goers. Now he’s got to re-start his engine here, and that’s not easy to do,” said Doug Gross, a GOP operative who supported Mitt Romney four years ago and has yet to commit to a candidate this cycle.

The silver lining: The race is still winnable for Walker because other top-tier candidates have yet to ignite. Jeb Bush, despite having the strongest organization in Iowa, isn’t a natural fit in a socially conservative state. Others like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both of whom hold strong appeal to social conservatives here, seem to be focusing their efforts elsewhere.

Walker’s star turn at January’s Freedom Summit, when he emerged as a fiery, fresh face who could unite economic and cultural conservatives, thrust him to the front of the Iowa pack. But the Wisconsin governor wilted quickly with a flat performance in the first official GOP debate this month. He saw his Iowa support drop from 18 percent to 11 percent within a week.

“That Fox debate was the opening bell of this race and the folks didn’t see any passion in Scott Walker,” Gross said. “He talked from his memorized talking points; and he even gave back time. There was none of the authenticity voters want.”

Donald Trump, who stormed the fairgrounds Saturday in a spectacle of crowd adulation, sits just below 20 percent in the Real Clear Average of Iowa GOP polls, comfortably ahead of the rest of the field. Two other candidates have risen after the first debate: Ben Carson, whose 12 percent standing puts him in second place at the moment just ahead of Walker; and Carly Fiorina, who’s gone from barely registering to 8 percent, good enough for fourth place.

“The enthusiasm right now is clearly on the side of the insurgents,” said Matt Strawn, a former state GOP chairman who is neutral in the current nomination fight. “But the race is just beginning in earnest. It’s one thing to poll high in August, but whether those candidates can withstand the long campaign is still an open question.”

With the caucuses still six months away, longtime political observers here aren’t ready to call Trump the front-runner, viewing him as a cunning media manipulator who is leveraging his celebrity this summer but unlikely to endure. But they can’t ignore the strain of scorn for the political establishment elevating newcomers like Carson and Fiorina over career politicians – a strain that likely runs far deeper than The Donald’s support.

Read the entire thing.