Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's hiring of Liz Mair, a respected Republican political strategist and pundit, was problematic from the start. On Monday evening, just hours after CNN reported that she'd joined the team, conservatives and pesky Democrats were asking questions about Mair's punchy tweets. Yes, she'd consulted for Walker during the 2012 recall campaign that effectively defanged Wisconsin's left. She'd also occasionally criticized the importance of the Iowa caucuses, saying they pushed the GOP into unelectable positions.
Mair had consulted for Rick Perry during his star-crossed 2012 campaign, the nadir of which might have been an ad pandering to Iowa conservatives by bemoaning how gays could "serve openly in the military." The scars from that experience showed in January 2015 tweets, when she said that Iowa was "once again embarrassing itself" by gathering presidential candidates at a forum kicked off by jokes about undocumented immigrants, and that "morons across America" did not realize that Iowans "grow up rather government-dependent."
At the time, those tweets fit right into the roiling conversations of social media. On Tuesday morning, when the Des Moines Register reported on the tweets, Mair's role with the Walker campaign was still safe. But the problems piled up, and the worst of them was a quote Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann gave to the New York Times. "It’s obvious she doesn’t have a clue what Iowa’s all about," Kaufmann said. "If I was Governor Walker, I’d send her her walking papers."
Within hours, the Walker network was doing just that. While Kaufmann had left the door open for a conversation with Mair—he told the Associated Press he wanted her to apologize and learn about the state—the Beltway-based strategist was not connected with the GOP chairman. It was hard to see what they'd break farm bill-subsidized bread over, anyway. Mair resigned late Tuesday night with a short statement about how "the tone of some of my tweets concerning Iowa was at odds with that which Gov. Walker has always encouraged in political discourse." Rick Wiley, a top political strategist for Walker, put the decision in that context.
"We accept those who have a variety of viewpoints on issues but what we ultimately must have is absolute respect for people across the country," said Wiley in a statement. "Our American Revival is an organization formed to promote bold reforms across the country and we’re going to continue advocating for those ideals."
While those words hit the wires, Mair was tweeting what she couldn't all week: the reasons why she'd written the tweets.
Mair tweeted into the early morning, ending by giving Democrats "kudos" for digging up the tweets. "I may not like the result," she wrote, "but as someone who deals with a lot of opposition research, kudos for being quick on the fly and handling it in such a way that it wasn't obvious who originated the story."
That wasn't just praise for the Democrats. For the third time this month, Walker had dealt with a potential political problem in Iowa by caving to the demands of Iowans.
In a Fox News Sunday interview that aired March 1, Walker was asked, really for the first time, about his previous support of immigration reform. "Back when you were the Milwaukee County executive, you actually supported the Kennedy-McCain comprehensive immigration plan," said interviewer Chris Wallace.
"My view has changed," said Walker. "I'm flat-out saying it. Candidates can say that. Sometimes they don't."
At the March 7 Iowa Ag Summit, Walker surprised close observers by embracing the ethanol mandate. Nine years earlier, in his first gubernatorial bid, Walker had opposed it. "It is clear to me that a big government mandate is not the way to support the farmers of this state," he'd said, according to contemporary reporting excavated by Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney. One of Carney's colleagues, Phil Klein, put the conservative sentiment succinctly: "If Walker can't stand up to Iowans, how can he stand up to the Islamic State?"
A week later, as Walker stumped in New Hampshire, he insisted to Bloomberg Politics' Mark Halperin that "changing" his position was completely different than flip-flopping on a position. And as the Mair situation spun out of control, Walker himself was silent.
Some conservative media have scorched Walker over these stories. Breitbart News, for example, approached the Mair story as a way of getting Walker on the record about immigration policy. RedState.com's Erick Erickson wrote this morning that "Team Walker has botched this," and that the handling of Mair's departure "plays into the 'not ready for prime time' theme already developing around Team Walker."
The hire of Liz Mair was supposed to connect Walker to a network of journalists, bloggers, and influencers. Instead, Walker ended up stoking a mini-crisis in the must-win caucus state, and ending the crisis by giving those influencers their third fresh example of him buckling under Hawkeye pressure. The contrast with Jeb Bush, who's been telling crowds that he won't change his stances on Common Core or immigration, does no good for Walker.
UPDATE: Late Wednesday morning, Mair emailed a statement on the controversy.
"I think that one overlooked thing, when people including myself are putting out hits on opponents regarding differences of opinion between candidates and consultants and supporters and donors is that campaigns are about coalitions and showing voters that might not 100% agree with a candidate that, yes, they can vote for this person even if they don't agree on free trade, or abortion, or immigration, or offshore drilling, or gun rights, or gay marriage," she said. "There are hardened conservatives who were put at ease with Mitt Romney, despite his history of supporting and implementing rather liberal policies, because hey, if his conservative outreach guy could get on board, well, so could they. There were Democrats in Virginia who voted for Bob McDonnell because he had prominent people who in another campaign cycle might have voted Democratic supporting him. I think there's a hidden value in having people who disagree with the candidate on certain issues involved in the campaign, so long as they're not out there trashing or undercutting the boss. But there's also a huge risk, and a lot of reporters who love to write stories about things like Mark Penn advocating for free trade agreements when Hillary Clinton is mimicking Ross Perot."
John McCormick contributed to this report.