Politics & Policy

Scott Walker Bows Out after Dramatic Fall from the Top

(Andy Manis/Getty)
His supporters and donors are up for grabs.

Scott Walker shocked many in the political world on Monday evening when he announced that he was suspending a presidential campaign that took him briefly to the heights of political stardom but that he could not sustain in a volatile election cycle.

In front of a bleak white backdrop in his state capital of Madison, Wis., the same place where he amassed a trio of gubernatorial victories, Walker confirmed the news that had popped a couple of hours before. His campaign, once filled with so much promise, was over. “Today, I believe I’m being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race for a positive conservative message to rise to the top of the field,” he told the reporters gathered to hear him.

The news surprised even some of his own staffers, who were summoned to a meeting and informed of the news on Monday afternoon, according to two sources close to the campaign. Several of them had already learned of the governor’s plans from news reports.

Rumors of a staff shakeup had circulated for weeks, and given the campaign’s recent troubles, a leadership change wouldn’t have been entirely surprising. But the news Monday afternoon came as a shock to many, and confirmed a different set of rumors: That the campaign, which was forced to staff up virtually overnight, had hired too large a staff at too high a cost, and could not sustain itself once Walker’s early momentum let up. Nor could it weather the bumps on the long road to the early nominating contests this cycle.

RELATED: Scott Walker: What Went Wrong?

“Candidates don’t drop out because they get tired of giving speeches,” Marco Rubio’s campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, said at an event hosted by National Review that took place as Walker was announcing his withdrawal from the race. They drop out, he said, “because they run out of money.” Meanwhile, Walker’s challengers are already looking to capitalize on his misfortune: One of his first supporters in New Hampshire, his state co-chair Cliff Hurst, already announced that he is backing Rubio and will serve as a co-chair for his campaign.

Other campaigns are scrambling to bring on state leaders who had endorsed Walker, and courting the governor’s donors furiously.

#share#Walker has plummeted in the polls in recent weeks: The one-time front-runner hit a nadir this weekend when he registered below half a percentage point — as an asterisk — in the latest CNN poll. The dramatic fall came thanks to a number of self-inflicted wounds, from an early focus on Iowa to several clumsy statements on the campaign trail.

RELATED: Rubio Team Moves Immediately to Capitalize on Walker Flameout

When the finger pointing begins, much of the ire is likely to focus on campaign manager Rick Wiley, who failed to manage the outsized expectations placed on the governor’s shoulders when he rocketed to the top of the polls; who allowed the campaign staff to swell to 90 people; and who couldn’t seem to keep the governor on message.

#related#In Washington, Republican operatives already had their knives out. “Scott Walker had several smart operatives on his staff, but Rick Wiley wasn’t one of them,” says a top Republican strategist. “Their campaign plan should’ve kept him afloat through New Hampshire, regardless of rough patches, but instead, it’s over on the first stumble.”  

The governor’s advisers are more circumspect. “Obviously it’s disappointing to people who supported Scott,” says Robert O’Brien, who has served as a senior foreign-policy adviser to the governor. “Clearly this is a very unusual campaign cycle and something we’ve never seen before.”  

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