ABC The Drum
It's time for the Grand Old Party to forget about gadfly candidates and take a very close look at genuine contenders like Scott Walker, who could actually keep the Clintons out of the White House, writes John Barron.
The entry of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker into the Republican presidential nomination contest should help end the party's summertime fling with current national frontrunner Donald Trump.
Like so many holiday crushes, the Trump infatuation should soon be tactfully forgotten, erased from social media accounts and never spoken of again:"What on earth did you see in that guy?" "What can I say, he made me laugh."
Yes, Donald Trump makes some people laugh — the buffoon with the bouffant is indeed a joke. But the damage he is doing to the Republican brand is very serious indeed.
The GOP needs to close the gap in Latino support for the Democrats, who in 2012 enjoyed a whopping 44 per cent advantage — Barack Obama winning 71 per cent to Mitt Romney's 27 per cent. But Trump has branded illegal Mexican migrants "rapists", and pledged to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. Trump campaign events are now being met with large groups of brown-skinned protesters — not what his party needs.
Scott Walker, on the other hand, is no joke. He is likely to be one of the last major candidates to declare his candidacy, but he enters an already over-crowded Republican field of 14 presidential hopefuls.
Earlier this year, as potential top tier candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie marshalled their campaigns towards the starting gate, Walker was already surging to the front in polls in first-to-vote Iowa and nationally.
Yet Walker's numbers have since faded during his undeclared campaign period and the spotlight has shifted instead to Trump and to the intimidating money-making power of Bush: a so-called "Political Action Committee" which supports Jeb has tallied up in excess of $100 million since January. The Bush campaign itself was raking in close to a million dollars a day in the fortnight after he declared his candidacy in June. The Bush war chest is believed to be more than double that of his closest cashed-up rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
Donald Trump doesn't need to worry about raising funds, he has indicated he will self-finance his campaign out of a personal fortune he claims to be around $9 billion. As for Scott Walker, having only just formally filed papers with the federal Electoral Commission (FEC), he doesn't yet have to report on his fundraising, but it is expected to be substantial.
Walker is seen by many influential Republican-backers as the real deal: he was elected governor of Wisconsin in 2010 as the state faced growing levels of debt in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. In 2011, Governor Walker stripped most public employees of rights including collective bargaining over wages, igniting a bitter battle with unions that led to a successful petition to hold an early "recall" election.
Walker won that recall election and was re-elected to a second term in 2014. He became a conservative hero for taking on the labour unions, reducing the size of government, cutting taxes and reducing debt.
As a presidential candidate, Walker has a number of important things going for him. Born in Colorado, he grew up in Iowa, which will be the first state to vote for the Republican nominee. A strong showing there can give a campaign serious momentum.
Significantly, one of Iowa's conservative "kingmakers", Bob Vander Plaats from the socially conservative Christian Family Leader organisation, recently described Walker in glowing terms. Speaking on the July 10 edition of the Iowa Press TV program, Vander Plaats said, "What he did as governor of Wisconsin, taking on the labour unions, winning that battle, winning that fight... people want bold and courageous leadership today."
Walker's father is a retired Baptist preacher who spent years in the Hawkeye State, and the son is already playing well among local Christian conservatives.
Governor Walker also can claim to have a track record of running a conservative administration that few rivals can match. He has national boosters as well, including significant positive coverage on right-wing media outlets including the influential Fox News.
Nevertheless, in order to become the Republican nominee, Scott Walker will have to overcome a reputation for both blandness and relative inexperience. It's worth noting he has shown signs of becoming a more dynamic speaker on the stump in recent months (perhaps tapping into the cadence and rhythms of his preacher father).
Now that he has formally entered the fray, Scott Walker should probably be considered Jeb Bush's major obstacle to becoming the Republican nominee in 2016. So it's certainly time for the Grand Old Party to get serious, forget about gadfly candidates, and take a very close look at Walker, Rubio and Bush. They would do well to listen to other candidates of stature and experience like Senator Lindsey Graham, and governors Bobby Jindal and John Kasich.
But if instead they continue their misguided infatuation with a buffoon like Donald Trump, they may as well let Hillary and Bill Clinton book the U-Haul trailer back to their old address at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue now — the Obamas will happily leave the keys under the mat.
This article was originally published at ABC The Drum