What Walker’s campaign bow out means for the GOP race
GWEN IFILL: As we reported just a few minutes ago, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has just decided to drop out of the Republican nominating race. He spoke to supporters in Madison.
Here's what he had to say just moments ago:
GOV. SCOTT WALKER, Republican Presidential Candidate: I was sitting at church yesterday. The pastor's words reminded me that the Bible is full of stories about people who are called to be leaders in unusual ways.
Today, I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race, so that a positive conservative message can rise to the top of the field. With this in mind, I will suspend my campaign immediately.
I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same, so that the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive conservative alternative to the current front-runner. This is fundamentally important to the future of the party and, more importantly, to the future of our country.
GWEN IFILL: Walker's decision was the headline of the day, but not the tum — sum total, that is, of a weekend of politics, which also strayed onto the third rail of religion.
Joining me for Politics Monday, Susan Page of USA Today and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.
Let's start by talking about Scott Walker.
Did he lose support, lose money, or was it the tail chasing the elephant, as it were?
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: As it were. It's probably a combination of both.
You know, Scott Walker was a candidate who looked so perfect on paper. And I'm guilty of saying this, too, that he looked like the ideal candidate for the Republican Party. But when it came to being an actual candidate, not a paper, but a real-live candidate, he didn't do a particularly good job of it.
And part of it was his message, which was I am the consistent conservative, I did something in a blue state that no other Republican governor has been able to do…
GWEN IFILL: Which is to knock down the unions.
AMY WALTER: Which is to knock down the unions. Elect me because I can be both an electable candidate, but a conservative candidate.
That message got muddled throughout the campaign when he was chasing — and talk about chasing the tail — mostly, what he seemed to be chasing was a party or a message that kept moving to the right, and he was moving along with it.
GWEN IFILL: So, if this is a party of outsiders, does that mean that, if you are a governor or someone who actually comes from inside the process, the system, that you are at a disadvantage?
SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: Well, it is sort of amazing that in the latest poll, we have got — Scott Walker was at less than one-half of 1 percent, this guy who has won three gubernatorial elections in Wisconsin, and — which is significant, to be the only person in American history, the only governor to survive a recall election — and at the top of the field we have three people who have never won an office, among them, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.
Now, that might say this is the year of the outsider. We have seen that before. But I think that we — I think that it continues to be the likelihood that we — that the Republican Party will nominate someone who's held office before.
And so, in this way, Scott Walker's withdrawal is good news for people like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio…
GWEN IFILL: That was my next question. Who benefits?
SUSAN PAGE: … and John Kasich, who have maybe just a little bit more territory now to claim that part of the party's support.
GWEN IFILL: So we can assume that, somewhere, in some basement of campaign headquarters, people are dialing for his support?
AMY WALTER: Well, and some of them are already moving over.
We started to hear talk about supporters, donors already starting to give money to other candidates. The candidate that seems to benefit most from them, maybe somebody like Marco Rubio, who is already picking up some of his support and staff in some of these early states.
SUSAN PAGE: But I don't think Scott Walker is a victim of Donald Trump, which I think some people are trying to — he was a victim of his own failure to campaign effectively.
He had a great speech in January in Iowa that really launched him. He was leading in Iowa. But then he became a very inconsistent campaigner. He has flip-flopped on birthright citizenship. He seemed uncertain on addressing national security issues. This was a failure of this candidate to deliver on his promise.
GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about another candidate who a lot of supporters seem to think is showing promise, but had an interesting — I guess depending on how you look at it — it looked like a stumble this weekend.
And that's Dr. Ben Carson, who was on "Meet the Press" and over the weekend he was asked about people who should be running for president.
Actually, let's just play what he said, so that we can make our own judgment about what he meant.
CHUCK TODD, Moderator, "Meet the Press": Should a president's faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?
BEN CARSON, Republican Presidential Candidate: Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.
CHUCK TODD: So, do you believe that Islam is consistent with the constitution?
BEN CARSON: No, I don't. I do not. I wouldn't advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely wouldn't agree with that.
GWEN IFILL: Now, this was an interesting exchange, because Chuck Todd basically threw out an open-ended question, and then he opened the door and drove the truck through, the question about whether having a Muslim as president is consistent with the Constitution, which doesn't have a religious test.
AMY WALTER: Correct.
But I think we're now sort of splicing and dicing maybe this a little bit too much, just in that I think the fundamental thing, the takeaway, at least for me, was that this was a candidate that looked like he was saying that: I don't want to see a Muslim elected president, whether — as opposed to getting into a debate about whether — the constitutionality of whether a Muslim could be president.
In fact, you're hearing a lot of Republicans saying he didn't advocate that people couldn't elect one. He just doesn't want to see one.
But I think what a lot of voters are going to see out there — and if he is the nominee, this, I think, would be a very big problem for the Republican Party — is a party, Republican Party that seems intent on dismissing or looking like they're closing down ranks, instead of opening up their base to a bigger, broader electorate.
If you look at what Republicans talked about after the 2012 elections, the number takeaway from the RNC was, we are a party that is too insular, we are too white, we are too old, we need to expand our base, we need to bring different people in.
That's not a message that brings people in.
GWEN IFILL: And yet, and yet, if you're just going by what it is that the Republican polling universe believes, this is actually a popular position that he's taking.
So, you wonder sometimes. And he's continued to defend it after a first statement. You wonder whether he's — doubling down is the new Republican political tactic.
SUSAN PAGE: Well, I think that Donald Trump has demonstrated doubling down can serve you well. It makes you look tough. You never have to apologize.
And in a Republican primary, I'm not sure this is a big problem for Dr. Ben Carson, because a lot of Republicans would agree that they wouldn't be comfortable with a Muslim as president. But when you're trying to run for president of this great diverse nation — not that there are so many Muslim voters, although there are a couple million — it's that it seems intolerant to say that you wouldn't elect a Muslim president.
There was a time when we wouldn't have elected a black president. And we did. Or we wouldn't have elected a Catholic president. And we did. And so who is to say that there wouldn't come a time when we would elect a Muslim president?
So I think there are a lot of people, Americans who are non-Muslims, who would say, this is not the — this is not what I think of when I think of the country of America.
GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about the two women in the race briefly here. We have Carly Fiorina, who actually seems to be surging a bit.
AMY WALTER: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: Of course, these polls, after every debate, somebody else surges, depending on what the headline said the next day.
But how is she trying to capitalize on this moment?
AMY WALTER: Well, the first question is, can she capitalize by getting money and by getting infrastructure? Those are two things that she hasn't had.
So she's got to like do this on the fly, put together a campaign team. She has a very skeletal staff. This is going to be important for her. And the second is taking the incoming flak for her record as the CEO of H.P. It was very, very rocky. She talked a lot about what some of her successes were, but, at the end of the day, she was fired. The company didn't do particularly well during her tenure there.
That is going to be something that is a serious line of attack that she's got to figure out a better answer for.
SUSAN PAGE: There's a lot of things about our politics that don't make sense, but one thing that actually happens in a presidential election is you get submitted to scrutiny.
AMY WALTER: Yes.
SUSAN PAGE: And you either stand up to it or you don't.
And Scott Walker got submitted to some scrutiny, and he didn't stand up to it. And now Carly Fiorina is now from the bottom of the pack into the top tier, and she is going to have a chance to demonstrate whether she can stand up to the scrutiny.
GWEN IFILL: These are not new arguments.
SUSAN PAGE: No. No.
GWEN IFILL: This was litigated against her when she ran for the California Senate.
SUSAN PAGE: And she didn't do so well last time. But she's done better this time in addressing the questions about her tenure as head of H.P. than she did then.
But this is different. The stakes are pretty — the stakes are very high and the scrutiny is very tough.
GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about Hillary Clinton. She was on — she has got a whole new media strategy.
Now she did a Sunday talk show. She did late night. She's done all kinds of — a day rolling out kind of a new media strategy, trying to say, I guess, reintroduce, re-re-reintroduce herself.
Let's hear what she had to yesterday on "Face the Nation" to our friend John Dickerson.
JOHN DICKERSON, Host, "Face the Nation": Give us three words that is the real Hillary Clinton.
JOHN DICKERSON: Just three.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Democratic Presidential Candidate: Just three? I can't possibly do that.
I mean, look, I am a real person, with all the pluses and minuses that go along with being that.
GWEN IFILL: OK, it's been 20 years that she's been in the public eye. Why are we having this conversation? Why is she having this conversation?
AMY WALTER: This has been the debate that the Clinton campaign has had with folks like us in the media from the very beginning. She's the most famous person nobody really knows. This is our chance to go and reintroduce her.
But if you're going to reintroduce one of the most famous people in the world, it has to look genuine. So I think the challenge for her is that she's not the best orator. She is not somebody that's going to go up and rev up a crowd in the way some of these other candidates do.
But she's very good at other things. And it's focusing on those things. I thought she did very well on "Face the Nation" yesterday. She's very good in that context, especially when it's policy-heavy. When it comes to some of the other parts of campaigning, not so good.
SUSAN PAGE: Well, she was pretty good on "Jimmy Fallon," though.
AMY WALTER: Oh, that's…
SUSAN PAGE: Although, if you have to say, "I'm a real person," as though that should be news to people, possibly a sign of danger as a candidate.
The question is, do you have a second chance to make a first impression? Impressions of her pretty well-set, hard to change. Maybe not impossible.
GWEN IFILL: I have to ask one more thing. In your column this week, you made a reference to Death Cab For Cutie.
AMY WALTER: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: What were you talking about?
AMY WALTER: Oh, my gosh, you didn't know about them? They're a great indie band. They're great.
GWEN IFILL: And? And the connection to politics is?
AMY WALTER: That they have a song called "The Sound of Settling," which in my mind goes to the challenge for Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, in that they're not the most exciting candidates, but ultimately you may just find that voters are settling for them.
GWEN IFILL: Does that reasoning ring true you, Susan?
SUSAN PAGE: Well, I do think we have a sorting out process, and sometimes the candidates that we have counted out early on ended up — end up winning the election. And we should never forget that.
GWEN IFILL: There is nothing wrong with a — little indie band references in our Politics Monday.
AMY WALTER: No.
GWEN IFILL: Amy Walter, Susan Page…
AMY WALTER: Listen to them. They're good.
GWEN IFILL: You insist that I have to listen to them?
AMY WALTER: No.
GWEN IFILL: I will see what I can do.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you both very much.