Scott Walker has now suspended his campaign for the 2016 presidency. The Wisconsin Governor saw his candidacy go from being a true contender for the nomination to having almost no support at all among likely voters. Before dropping out of the race, his campaign canceled trips to Michigan and California in order to focus more on early primary states. Many said this was a sign that Walker’s presidential bid is officially in panic mode. They were not wrong.
Like anyone running for public office that experienced plummeting popularity, there were certainly some things that the Walker campaign could have done better. His two debate performances were mostly forgettable and he struggled to articulate a number of positions on key issues. But for those who paid attention to Walker’s record as governor, a big problem was his inconsistency on the very core positions that were supposed to help his cause. The most notable of these may be the plan he unveiled to build a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks in order to keep them from leaving town.
Walker’s administration has put forward a proposal to spend $250 million dollars (with interest) of taxpayer money toward building a new arena in Milwaukee. The governor defended the plan by making the bogus claim that “Our return on investment is three to one.” This claim is widely debunked by recent economic data. Projected gains made by subsidized stadiums are almost always overstated. This is because of what economists sometimes call “the seen vs. the unseen.” Economic activity taking place at a venue like a stadium (buying tickets, paying for parking, concessions, etc.) can always be seen. But what can’t be seen are the activities at other places of business that are reduced by those wishing to avoid the excessive traffic and crowds that come with those games at the stadium.
This expensive and ill-advised deal is especially troubling considering Walker’s frequent claim to be a fiscally conservative budget hawk. His campaign website claims that:
“he has proposed bold reforms that have eliminated the state’s $3.6 billion budget deficit without raising taxes…these profound changes have saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $2 billion.”
To have a record demonstrating these things and then to display such inconsistency and recklessness with taxpayer money is not a promising sign.
It’s been rather interesting to see members of both the left and the right come together in opposing Walker on the stadium issue. On the right, Americans for Prosperity, Reason Magazine and the Cato Institute have objected to the plan. On the left, NPR contributor Charles Peirce, Bloomberg and Think Progress have also been critical. With this kind of bipartisan opposition, Walker’s recent actions have become a frequent target.
The “average” Republican voter may still be unaware of the Walker stadium debacle. Other candidates hadn’t aggressively criticized him on the issue and it didn’t come up in either of the GOP debates. In the last debate, frontrunner Donald Trump did bring up an example of Walker’s lack of fiscal restraint as governor. But the accusation was proven to be misleading. Perhaps Trump is hesitant to criticize his rival over crony capitalist deals out of fear that it may shine a light on The Donald’s own use of eminent domain laws to pad his personal bank account.
Even though the $250 million dollar stadium deal may not be one of the major causes of Walker’s downfall, it looks to be one of several examples of his incoherent message. From flip flopping on support for ethanol subsidies to briefly backing a wall along the US-Canada border, missteps and inconsistency have been the norm. Spending the kind of money Walker wants to spend on a new stadium doesn’t appear to be the cause of his electoral collapse. It’s simply a symptom of it.