The governor left his closest supporters in the dark, even his biggest financial backers.
It’s almost always bad news when a candidate’s spouse calls an emergency meeting.
But that’s what happened late last week when Scott Walker’s wife, Tonette, and his campaign chairman, Mike Grebe, reached out to a small number of longtime Walker aides and summoned them to the governor’s mansion on Monday morning.
The topic was obvious: the future of Walker’s struggling presidential campaign.
Walker had just limped out of a disappointing second presidential debate. The governor had spent weeks preparing for the showdown, knowing his political life depended on it. He’d practiced giving punchier answers and making sure to use up all his allotted time.
But the reviews had been brutal. Donors were grousing, and money was drying up. It was a painful turn for Walker, who had quickly vaulted to the top of the Iowa polls, powered by a fiery January speech in Des Moines, only to drop precipitously in the summer amid Donald Trump’s rise. He had gone from frontrunner to also-ran in a matter of months.
So on Monday morning, the group of advisers – including veteran Walker hands John Hiller, Bill Eisner, Ed Goeas, and Jim Villa – huddled with Scott and Tonette Walker. The top of the agenda, according to campaign sources: polling and fundraising. And the numbers were bad.
Shortly after the meeting wrapped, Walker arrived at his decision: He was out. It was a shocking and sudden move that blindsided many of Walker’s closest allies, threw the power of super PACs into doubt, and opened opportunities for rivals to pick up patrons, staff, and supporters.
The seeds of Walker’s withdrawal had been planted five nights earlier in Simi Valley, when Walker spoke for fewer minutes than any other candidate on the debate stage. Instead of a breakout performance, the closet thing he had to a signature moment came as Carly Fiorina finished her impassioned answer on Planned Parenthood. Walker lifted his finger, as if to interject. He wasn’t called upon. He would speak only once in the next 30 minutes.