It’s been a cruel summer for Scott Walker and Martin O’Malley.
That’s the assessment of this week’s POLITICO Caucus, our weekly bipartisan survey of the top activists, operatives and strategists in Iowa and New Hampshire. Ahead of Labor Day weekend, insiders weighed in on who won — and who lost — the summer in their own parties and the results couldn’t have been clearer.
On the Republican side, nearly half of GOP insiders said Walker, the Wisconsin governor, had the worst summer on their side of the aisle. In Iowa, where he was until recently considered the front-runner but now lags in polls, insiders were particularly down on him: 56 percent said he had lost the summer.
“He can’t seem to find his way on any given issue with a handheld GPS,” an Iowa Republican said of Walker. “He’s been on all three sides of every two-sided issue. For the last two months hasn’t made a single policy pronouncement that he or his staff hasn’t had to clarify or clear up within two hours. When you’re reduced to saying ‘yeah’ doesn’t mean ‘yes,’ you’re in trouble. ‘Unintimidated’ has given way to ‘uninformed’ and ‘unprepared.'”
“Not since, well, Tim Pawlenty has a candidate so hyped or seemingly invincible had their bubble burst in this way,” agreed another Iowa Republican, who like all participants was granted anonymity in order to speak freely. “He owes the Iowa GOP a big favor for canceling the Straw Poll to keep him from repeating Tim Pawlenty’s untimely demise.”
The GOP insiders’ criticism of Walker was rooted in the sense that his positions on a number of policy issues, from immigration to abortion, have shifted repeatedly, and that he has recently attempted to pander to Donald Trump voters.
“[That] plunge [in the polls] has come as a result of his inability to articulate where he stands on a single issue,” an Iowa Republican said. “Authenticity matters in Iowa. Big time. In fact, it’s the only thing that matters. Scott Walker advocated building a wall between the U.S. and Canada. How do you NOT lose the summer with a statement like that?”
Among New Hampshire Republicans, Walker wasn’t so clearly considered the biggest loser — about 40 percent called him that, compared to one-third who gave Jeb Bush that designation. Still, Walker left Granite Staters unimpressed.