Nate Cohn writes that Scott Walker could be a unifying consensus candidate for Republicans in 2016, but he offers this caveat:
To a certain extent, Walker is benefitting from caution and obscurity. Last year, I could have easily written that “Rubio could be a voter or a donor’s first choice, not just a compromise candidate.” Perhaps Walker will disappoint, too. After all, Pawlenty shared Walker’s impressive electoral record in competitive states, but apparently lacked the chops to pursue the presidency [bold mine-DL]. There’s no way to know whether Walker’s prepared until he runs.
The Pawlenty comparison is useful, but it may already give Walker too much credit. Like Pawlenty, Walker is being touted as a serious consensus candidate for Republicans because he doesn’t seem to have much competition for the role, and he is being elevated to top-tier status long before he deserves to be almost solely on the grounds that he was elected in a traditionally Democratic state. Unlike Pawlenty, he cannot yet even boast of being re-elected in such a state. Pawlenty’s candidacy famously had no discernible rationale except that his name wasn’t Romney, but at the moment a Walker candidacy would seem to have even less of a reason to exist. The argument for Pawlenty was that he would be able to combine his working-class background and evangelical Christianity with a quasi-populist agenda that would separate him from the rest of the field, but as we discovered this was never a very good argument. The argument for Walker is even less compelling, and it amounts to little more than the fact that he isn’t any of the other likely candidates.
Beyond that, the case for Walker as a successful presidential candidate is quite weak. Cohn assumes that Walker can win over Christian conservatives in early contests despite the fact that he does not dwell on social and cultural issues, but it is impossible to imagine Huckabee and Santorum prevailing in Iowa without having done this. Walker and Bush may have “overt religiosity” in common, but Bush benefited from having no major competition for religious conservative votes in 2000. Walker could easily have two or three rivals (possibly including Santorum) whose ability to mobilize evangelical and other religious conservative supporters is probably better than his. Walker’s appeal may not be limited to the South as Huckabee’s was, but there is not much reason to assume that he will outperform Southern rivals in the South. Hailing from a neighboring state might give Walker an advantage in Iowa, but no past winners on the Republican side have come from a neighboring state and the candidates that did collapsed long before the caucuses. As far as I can tell, the idea of a Walker candidacy is interesting to journalists and pundits that are already tired of the hype surrounding Christie, but it seems to be appealing to few others.