DES MOINES, Iowa — Scott Walker arrived here in familiar Iowa in an unfamiliar place: dislodged from first place for the first time in months by the surging Donald Trump.
But the Wisconsin governor has a plan to close the gap: attacking his fellow Republicans, just not Trump or the 15 others running for president. Instead, Walker is taking aim at Mitch McConnell and the beleaguered congressional Republican leadership in an effort to tap into the same anti-establishment, anti-Washington and anti-politician anger that has fueled the rise of Trump in Iowa and nationwide.
Small jars of dried corn kernels measuring the support of the various presidential candidates at the Iowa state fair tell the tale, not just of Trump’s rise and Walker’s wane but of the growing frustration among Republicans with professional politicians. While the 2016 GOP field represents one of the deepest and most experienced in memory, the top three GOP vote-getters at the state fair — Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina — have a combined zero years of elected experience between them.
Walker, the erstwhile Iowa frontrunner, wasn’t even on the corn-kernel leaderboard.
“I think it’s a protest,” Walker said after a campaign stop Monday of recent polling and the corn-kernel vote. “I think what’s happened is people have so had it with Washington they’re sending a message and they’re picking, at least right now in the polls, they’re picking people who’ve never held office before to send that kind of message.”
And so Walker has refreshed his stump speech with a new and prominent broadside against the Republican-controlled Congress in hopes of better appealing to those disgruntled voters. “I’ve talked about what I’m for. I think the people still want to hear that. But I think they want to know”¦.that we share their frustration,” Walker said of the addition.
Walker trotted out his newest line minutes into his soapbox speech at the state fair.
“They told us during the last election that if we just elected a Republican Senate, the leadership out there would put a bill to repeal Obamacare on the desk of the president,” Walker said. “It’s August — we’re still waiting for that measure.”
He had said much the same earlier on Monday on Glenn Beck’s popular show. And he repeated a version of it later in Webster City and again at a Pizza Ranch in Clarion, using it to open his remarks. On Tuesday, Walker plans to repeat it in a speech in Minnesota as he presents his plan to repeal the health care law.
Almost every major 2016 candidate is at least trying to position themselves as the standard-bearer of GOP activists unhappy with Washington D.C. Ted Cruz talks constantly about dismantling the “Washington cartel.” Rand Paul’s slogan is to “defeat the Washington machine.” Even Jeb Bush, whose brother and father were the last Republican presidents, gave a major speech recently promising to take on the special interests residing on “Mount Washington.”
Walker, who is known as being his own top strategist, said he wants to be the candidate for Trump supporters and others when they are done protesting and closer to voting.
“In the end, I think what will help us ultimately is people taking the next step — like the people you saw here today,” he said, point to the Maid-Rite crowd in Webster City, “instead of just being angry and checking out, they’re engaged, they’re paying attention, they’re showing up for events.”
“I think what they’re hungry to find out is who amongst the 17 [GOP candidates] is not just a protest candidate, who ultimately can take the anger and the frustration they have and do something about it,” Walker added.
That’s essentially the advice that Iowa Rep. Steve King had for all the non-Trump candidates. “It’s kind of like the racetrack, you want to be sitting in third, right behind the guy in pole position,” King said. “If [Trump] has some kind of a flameout, then you’re in position to step into the front. I think that’s where Walker needs to be.”
Trump wasn’t the only problem confronting Walker on Monday in Iowa.
The power generator on his campaign-emblazoned Winnebago broke down, leaving the governor and his entourage without air conditioning, lighting or power. Walker said they’ve left the windows rolled down to stay cool. Luckily, a rainstorm Monday brought relatively cool weather for an August Iowa day, with highs in the mid-70s.
Still, as Walker departed Iowa for Minnesota, he climbed in the front cabin, the one spot where the air conditioning continued to blow.