How one of the strongest-looking Republican candidates collapsed in just 71 days

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Who Is Scott Walker?


Six months ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was a serious contender for the White House.

He was leading in early polls in key states. He wowed a crowd in Iowa with a boisterous speech in January, and ended up leading almost every public poll there for about five months.

He'd garnered the implicit support of the Koch brothers, two of the most important conservative donors.

And his bid was serious enough to warrant early attacks from Hillary Clinton, along with other top contenders Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R).

But earlier this week — only 71 days into his official bid for the presidency — Walker's implosion was complete. He stood in a drab, windowless room. In a brief statement, he announced the end of his campaign.

"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," Walker said. "With this in mind, I will suspend my campaign immediately."

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Scott Walker on the campaign trail
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How one of the strongest-looking Republican candidates collapsed in just 71 days
Republican presidential candidate, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to supporters at Eureka College during a campaign stop, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Eureka, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Republican presidential candidate Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., waves as he rides the backroads during a two-day motorcycle tour through the nation's earliest presidential primary voting state, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015, in Washington, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sits with a plate of brisket at Bill Miller's Bar-B-Q as he waits to do a TV interview during a campaign stop, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in San Antonio, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 17: Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (L) holds a pork chop at the Iowa Pork Producers Pork Tent during the Iowa State Fair on August 17, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Wisconsin Governor and Presidential candidate Scott Walker delivers keynote remarks at the DuPage County GOP Summer Reception Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015 at Carlucci's Restaurant in Downers Grove, Ill.(Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
WEST ALLIS, WI - AUGUST 12: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signs a bill approving financing for a new Milwaukee arena on August 12, 2015 at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker fields a question during the first Republican presidential debate hosted by Fox News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena on August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent political polls. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 27: Republican presidential hopeful Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker washes down a 'cheezborger' with a Schlitz beer at the famed Billy Goat Tavern during a campaign stop on July 27, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Recent polls have Walker leading all Republican contenders in Iowa but trailing businessman Donald Trump and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in New Hampshire. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, chats with staff as he leaves a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, July 17, 2015. Wisconsins top court killed a criminal investigation of Walkers 2012 election campaign, removing a potential stumbling block to his presidential bid. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, pauses during a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, July 17, 2015. Wisconsins top court killed a criminal investigation of Walkers 2012 election campaign, removing a potential stumbling block to his presidential bid. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
DAVENPORT, IA - JULY 17: Republican presidential hopeful Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker steps off a motor home at a campaign event at Modern Woodman Park on July 17, 2015 in Davenport, California. Walker officially announced that he was seeking the Republican nomination for president earlier this week. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 14: U.S. presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at Red Rock Harley-Davidson on July 14, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Walker launched his campaign on July 13, joining 14 other Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential race. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, pauses during his presidential campaign announcement in Waukesha, Wisconsin, U.S., on Monday, July 13, 2015. Walker officially unveiled his White House campaign in the same venue where he celebrated a June 2012 victory as the first U.S. governor to survive a recall election, after successfully confronting organized labor the previous year. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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But though Walker's fall from GOP front-runner to early campaign dropout was steep and brutal, it followed a series of missteps publicly and privately that had been hampering the governor's run for months.

'I think I'd be pretty pissed about how he handled my money'

Walker's public demise was rapid.

He entered the race on July 13, about one month after real-estate magnate Donald Trump. And as Trump rose in the polls, Walker began to see his support deteriorate in Iowa — a state neighboring his home state of Wisconsin that was long expected to be central to his path to the nomination. Leading into the first Republican debate in August, Walker saw Trump begin to eat at his base.

Walker's dramatic decline was exacerbated by a widely panned performance in that early August debate. Many members of Walker's own team privately vented their frustrations to the press with his failure to stand out onstage — while establishment rivals like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) made headlines for their strong responses to questions.

Behind the scenes, tension began to build. Money started to dry up.

Campaign staff knew that Walker needed to perform well in the second debate if he was going to be able to survive — donors and supporters were getting antsy. As The Washington Post reported, the governor's fundraising had hit a wall — Walker failed to meet his fundraising goals by several hundred-thousand dollars.

This was a problem — because the governor had hired an ambitiously large campaign staff.

A former Walker aide told Business Insider that the governor surrounded himself with staffers with whom he was not close — a problem that multiple people close to the campaign said resulted in few checks on the advice that he was receiving.

People inside the campaign said this became particularly troublesome during the lead-up to the second debate, when the political aides attempted to micromanage much of Walker's preparations. Policy aides, one person close to the campaign said, were largely shut out of the preparation.

"There didn't seem to be longtime Walker loyalists in the inner circle," a source close to the campaign told Business Insider. "Especially later in the campaign, the inner circle, people in control of the campaign seemed to be a small group of people that had not been with the governor in the past."

"At the end of the campaign you had a small group of paid political advisors, especially in the debate prep for the second debate. I'm not sure how helpful that is to a candidate when your inner circle becomes relatively small, and you don't have a sounding board, or you don't have someone who has known your past campaigns and seeing how you work as a candidate," the source continued.

Walker also ran into another debate problem: He wasn't eager to engage in contentious disputes with other Republican candidates.

"I think that he was very reticent to get into personal attacks against his competitors," Robert O'Brien, one of Walker's former foreign-policy advisors, told Business Insider. "I think he felt it was a strong Republican field. He had respect for folks, and it's not his style to engage in the more flamboyant conduct that maybe some of the other candidates engaged in."

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New Hampshire Republican Presidential Contenders
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How one of the strongest-looking Republican candidates collapsed in just 71 days
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 18: Donald Trump speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 18, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 18: Donald Trump speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 18, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 18: Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 18, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 18: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 18, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 18: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 18, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 18: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 18, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 18: Former Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, standing in front of the Affordable Care Act bill, speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 18, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 18: Event goers hold Stop Hillary signs during the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 18, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: Former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment Linda McMahon speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NASHUA, NH - APRIL 17: Former New York Gov. George Pataki speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit April 17, 2015 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Summit brought together local and national Republicans and was attended by all the Republicans candidates as well as those eyeing a run for the nomination. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
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But much of the criticism of the campaign staff has focused on former campaign manager Rick Wiley.

Campaign insiders and pundits noted that Wiley — who'd previously worked as the political director for the Republican National Committee but hadn't held a high-level position in an official presidential campaign — had made controversial decisions that put the campaign in jeopardy.

Some pointed at his failure to curb the campaign's zealous overspending, which left Walker with $700,000 in campaign debt.

"I don't think that people in Wisconsin are particularly pleased with how he handled the job," said Republican strategist and former Walker aide Liz Mair, who rattled off a list of reasons earlier in the week on Twitter of Walker's struggles as a candidate.

"On a human level, I have a certain amount of sympathy," Mair told Business Insider of Wiley. "But if I was a donor, I would have basically have no sympathy. ... I think I'd be pretty pissed about how he handled my money."

In an extended, on-the-record Politico interview — the candidness of which surprised many political observers — Wiley placed the onus on the media for panning Walker's performance in the first debate.

But other campaigns were aware of the fact that fundraising in a large field would be difficult, and they seemed to understand the consequences of what could happen if they overspent. Some veterans pointed out that Tim Pawlenty made similar mistakes in the 2012 campaign and was forced to drop out after many of his donors defected to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

"People drop out of campaigns because they run out of money," Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan said at a Google event this week. "That's why we run such a lean campaign."

Added Mair: "For him to sort of blame it on a poor debate performance or the media is not very plausible."

Wiley was also slowly becoming a story himself. Just before Walker decided to drop out of the race, a number of outlets circulated reports that he was on the chopping block. Politico reported that just before Walker decided to drop out of the race, donors were urging him to fire Wiley and shake up his campaign staff.

But regardless of campaign-staff problems, Walker wasn't helped by his own demeanor on the trail. He stepped into several high-profile gaffes that critics and some analysts say showed his shakiness on policy issues and his naïveté as a governor.

Walker struggled to answer questions about whether he supported birthright citizenship, an issue on which he took three different positions in a single week, and the renewable-fuel standard, an ethanol subsidy that is a significant campaign issue in Iowa. He was also criticized for refusing to answer if he would accept more Syrian refugees as president, after saying that he didn't answer "hypothetical" questions.

"Clearly he had a hard time answering particular questions — whether you're talking about things germane to foreign policy and national security, immigration. And frankly, he first got himself intro trouble on the renewable-fuel standards. On a lot of those things he just wasn't sufficiently well versed," Mair said.

O'Brien, who advised Walker on foreign policy, disputed the claim. He said Walker was well versed in numerous national-security and defense issues, and his detailed foreign-policy credentials simply did not get picked up by the press.

"There were stories about purported mistakes on foreign policy. I saw just the opposite — I saw the governor's foreign-policy statements driving the debate," O'Brien said.

'He may well be in a position to run again'

Other campaigns were quick to try and scoop up the donors and infrastructure left behind by the Walker campaign, though Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) seems best positioned to capitalize on Walker's implosion.

The same day that Walker announced his decision to drop out, the governor's cochair in New Hampshire, Cliff Hurst, announced that he'd pledged to support Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida). Rubio's team also made a play to scoop up former Nevada Gov. Bob List, Walker's campaign chair in Nevada, a key early-voting state.

People close to the campaign say that some of the campaign's on-the-ground staffers are eyeing a jump to Rubio's campaign, while some former staffers have said that they are interested in Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as well. Both campaigns have been making overtures to former operatives.

But though Walker has already publicly touted refocusing on his governorship, some of the people close to him see his decision to leave the race now as a smart political move if he wants to run for president again in the future.

Walker comes out of the race relatively unscathed. There were no missteps in the vain of Perry, whose "oops" 2012 debate moment carried well into the 2016 campaign before he became the first candidate to drop out. Walker leaves with $700,000 of campaign debt, a relatively small sum compared to massive multimillion-dollar debts amassed by other former front-runners.

And, unlike some of his Republican opponents, Walker is still on the relatively young side of his political career — the governor is only 47, and he doesn't face reelection for another three years.

Said Mair: "He may well be in a position to run again, and if he does, he'll do a lot better."

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2016: The 'other' candidates
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How one of the strongest-looking Republican candidates collapsed in just 71 days
Lincoln Chafee, former governor of Rhode Island and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during the Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. The event, first held in 2004, raises funds for county Democratic Central Committees. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 24: Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on January 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. The summit is hosting a group of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates to discuss core conservative principles ahead of the January 2016 Iowa Caucuses. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 01: U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at a 'Stop Iran Rally,' regarding the Iran nuclear deal on September 1, 2015 in New York City. Graham is one of 16 Republican hopefuls running for the Republican presidential nomination. Congress has until September 16 to either officially support or denounce the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks to the media in the spin area after a televised forum ahead of the first Republican presidential debate at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. Seven candidates in the forum, hosted by Fox News and Facebook Inc. in conjunction with the Ohio Republican Party, were omitted from the prime-time debate stage after they didn't make the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls as recognized by Fox News. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 14: Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, speaks onstage at 'MAYDAY: The Fight To Save American Democracy' during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Hilton Austin on March 14, 2015 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Sandra Dahdah/Getty Images for SXSW)
John McAfee speaks during an interview in Miami, Florida, U.S., on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. McAfee, who is wanted for questioning in the shooting of an American citizen in Belize, was denied asylum by Guatemala. Photographer: Louis Lanzano/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 14: Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley meets with gun safety advocates on September 14, 2015 in New York City. O'Malley's campaign has struggled to gain national attention in comparison to fellow Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 05: Republican presidential candidate George Pataki is interviewed by Sirius XM Patriot host David Webb during the Republican National Committee Summer Meeting at the Renaissance Hotel August 5, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The former governor of New York, Pataki is in Cleveland ahead of Thursday's GOP presidential debate, the first of the 2016 election cycle. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 11: Republican Presidential Nominee Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) speaks to the crowd during the Eagle Forum's Eagle Council Event at the Marriott St. Louis Airport Hotel on September 11, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. A number of Republican Presidential Nominees will address the crowd to express their views on the status of America. (Photo: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 20: GOP Presidential candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., delivers a speech on his immigration policy at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Jim Webb, former Senator from Virginia and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks to attendees at the Iowa State Fair Soapbox in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. The Iowa State Fair is expected to host 18 presidential candidates and runs until Aug. 23. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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