For union members and others on the left whose teeth grind and heads ache at the thought of Gov. — much less President — Scott Walker, it was starting to look like things might break their way.
A wooden first-debate performance and the attention-sucking presence of Donald Trump had Walker falling out of the lead in polls in Iowa, where he needs to win or place a strong second in the caucuses next year to have any chance at capturing the GOP nomination.
Then came the kind of boost he relies on.
It would be understandable if it were mostly Iowa union members who acted as Walker’s foils during his remarks Monday at the Des Moines Register’s Candidate Soapbox — a common stop for presidential candidates at the Iowa State Fair.
Iowans wouldn’t be expected to understand that it’s the haters — and especially the haters from organized labor — that give Walker his mojo.
But about 50 of the 75 people with the Service Employees International Union were bused in from Wisconsin, according to SEIU officials. They were among those waving signs, heckling, booing and otherwise making it clear they weren’t there for an autograph or a selfie with the candidate.
Worse, a Walker-detractor named Matthew Desmond made his way to the front of the stage with a sign (“Warning: Don’t let Scott Walker do to America what he did to Wisconsin”) so that Walker could point at him and declare: “I am not intimidated by you, sir!”
Dian Palmer, a registered nurse and president of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, said Desmond wasn’t with her group. But that hardly matters.
Less than an hour after the exchange, Walker’s campaign posted 27 seconds of video on YouTube entitled “Scott Walker To Protester: ‘I Am Not Intimidated.’”
“I am not intimidated by you, sir, or anyone else out there,” Walker says in the video, the applause building. “I will fight for the American people over and over and over and over again. You want someone who’s tested? I’m right here. You can see it! This is what happened in Wisconsin. We will not back down. We will do what is necessary to defend the American people going forward.”
Walker is not the flashy billionaire (Trump), the brilliant outsider (Ben Carson), the youthful Floridian to bring in the Latino vote (Marco Rubio), the libertarian (Rand Paul) or the scion of American political dynasty (Jeb Bush).
Without the union types and other leftists to stand up to, Walker is just another middle-aged white guy with a bald spot, a nasally Midwestern twang and some pretty conventional (if conservative) politics. In a crowd of 17 people running for the GOP nomination, he would be easy to overlook.
Cathy Glasson, president of the Iowa SEIU Local 199, said the union would continue to “call out” Walker as he campaigns around her state.
As for the danger that that kind of attention is what makes Walker a serious presidential contender in the first place, Glasson didn’t seem worried.
“Being the bully in the room ... gets old,” she said, referring to Walker.
But then Walker’s victory in the 2012 recall, his 2014 re-election and his status among the top tier of Republican presidential candidates suggests she’s wrong.