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March 18, 2015

In Defense Of Scott Walker

A bunch of online righty types are mad at Scott Walker for firing/accepting the resignation of his online outreach director Liz Mair. Mair was hired on Monday and resigned last night after a bruising day in which a writer at Breitbart went after her for pro-amnesty positions (and ridiculously her dual UK-US citizenship) and then the chairman of the Iowa GOP attacked her hiring in the NY Times for some tweets that went after Iowa voters, Iowaís place in the primary calendar and ethanol mandates/subsidies.

There are basically two groups upset here. The first is GOP and conservative campaign and media types who know and like her personally. They think she got a raw deal from Walker and the obnoxious Iowa GOP chairman. The second group consists of online conservatives who were supporting Walker or predisposed to do so. They think Walker's willingness to sacrifice Mair is at odds with his fighting, no surrender image.

I really didnít get why people were upset about this at first. Yes, Iowans are obnoxious about their supposed superiority in vetting candidates. Spoiler, they arenít. In years without an incumbent the winner of the caucus has only gone on to win the nomination twice (Dole in 96 and George W. Bush in 2000) and only one of them went on to win the general. Thatís not an impressive record. Plus the caucus system is stupid. In 2012 Santorum and Romney basically tied in the voting but Ron Paul wound up with the most delegates. So IowaÖshut up.

That said, candidates place a great deal of effort there. You simply canít expect Walker or any candidate to spend a week or two defending his hiring of someone who insulted the very voters heís trying to woo. Staffers exist to make the candidate look good, candidates donít exist to take hits for 3rd or 4th tier advisers (and she was an adviser not in a policy making position so her personal views are less relevant). When staffers become the story, staffers go. This is not a controversial thing in the real world.

Iím all for fighting-fighty candidates but there are a few stops on the continuum between ďnope, thereís no hill to die onĒ and ďMy online outreach director is the hill to die on.Ē A smart candidate and office holder knows the difference.

So I get why people will argue he should have told Iowa where they can go but thatís not what candidates do. You may think he should lay down a marker to end the tyranny of Iowa but heís trying to win the nomination and the presidency not prove a point. The RNC should tell Iowa they have no business being such a major player in the nomination process, not individual candidates.

But hereís where my recent piece on Walker and his early support comes in. For a lot of people their support or interest in Walker was based on what they perceived as his take no prisoners, back down to no one attitude. Well, thatís not actually who he is, itís who they think and want him to be though. As someone pointed out to me on Twitter last night, Walker didnít go after every public union in Wisconsin. He went after teachers but left cops and firefighters alone. Picking your battles and targets is an important political skill. But that was a level of nuance a lot of people havenít considered.

Now this seemingly inconsequential staff move is having some repercussions with activist support for Walker. It wonít be a major problem because no one who actually votes in Iowa or anywhere else in appreciable numbers will know about this or care about this. Eventually Walker will have to make an effort at wooing back these activists. Right now he needs to make sure he doesnít make his introduction to Iowa all about a staffer who insults them. He can mend the other fences later.
Campaigns are often exercises in damage control. He and his team are trying to put out one fire before it gets going, theyíll put out the other one that it is creating later.

This is why it pays to wait and see about candidates. Running for President is unlike any other thing an American politician will do. No previous experience truly prepares you for it. The union battle in Wisconsin is going to look like a tickle fight compared to what happens on a daily basis in a presidential run and you never know where it will come from on any given day. You just canít tell if someone can hack it until they do. Or they donít.

I get why people think this is a misstep by Walker but in the end I think he did the obvious and right thing.

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posted by DrewM. at 09:37 AM

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