Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and now Marco Rubio have kicked off their presidential campaigns with impressive speeches. Rubio in particular took the fight to Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton has responded with grainy footage of a Chipotle visit, presumably looking for the senior burrito discount, and a Scooby Doo-like van trip.
As her fellow Democrat the late Jim Traficant would say, “Beam me up.”
But Hillary Clinton isn’t the only one who should be worried. Since his breakthrough in January, Scott Walker has been at or the front in the polls despite the presence of several other conservative candidates with significant pockets of support.
The Wisconsin governor leads in the latest Fox News poll of national Republican voters, leads in most Iowa polling and is either tied or ahead in New Hampshire.
Even with Paul, Cruz, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee all at or near double digits, Walker is within 1.2 percentage points of Bush in the Real Clear Politics polling average. And even that is mainly attributable to an ABC News/Washington Post poll that has Bush up by a bigger margin than any other recent survey.
Since his announcement, Cruz has been pretty consistently been polling in the double digits. Public Policy Polling found his national support exploding from 5 percent to 16 percent.
What if that happens to Rubio and Paul too? At some point, it has to start eating into Walker’s base.
Let’s face it: even if Paul and Rubio don’t get much of a bounce from their respective campaign launches, they and Cruz are much better speakers than Walker.
It’s easy to imagine either Cruz or Rubio stomping all over Walker in a debate. Paul demonstrated with his comments challenging media bias on abortion that he is fast on his feet and capable of showing solidarity with conservatives in his own right. All three know more about federal and international issues than Walker.
One of Walker’s biggest advantages — winning three seriously contested elections in a blue state in just five years — could at that point become a liability. What time has the busy governor had to bone up on the subjects he is less familiar with? Answer: not much.
Right now, Walker has two things going for him. The first is that unlike his other conservative rivals, he can say that he’s had to accomplish things as an executive.
Yes, Cruz ran the Texas solicitor general’s office. Paul has run a medical practice and a taxpayer advocacy group. Rubio was in the leadership in the Florida state legislature.
Walker is a governor, and for some Republican voters who have take the criticism of Barack Obama’s “community organizer” past seriously, that’s going to count for something. He can argue that his three tea party upstarts are simply a debating society.
Just as important, for the moment Walker is beating Bush. You don’t have to engage in total wishful thinking to think he might be a credible general election candidate.
Conservatives have been hungry for that. Not since Ronald Reagan has one of their own become president. Most years, conservatives have to decide between their principles and throwing away the presidency on a Michele Bachmann type who can’t win.
You know in your heart who’s right, but you know in your gut who can win.
That’s going to be a hard thing to beat. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition, however. If at some point Walker no longer looks like he can beat Bush or that he is not as strong of a Hillary opponent as Rubio or Paul, he is in trouble.
Conservatives might be in trouble too. The only way Jeb Bush can win the nomination is if conservatives fracture. What’s made this cycle different is that so far they haven’t. But the primary season is still young.
W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.