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Walker’s relevance in GOP field fading

Set against a backdrop of powerful hydraulic machines capable of raising many tons of dead weight, Wisconsin Gov. and GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker surely hoped for a similar boost to his sagging campaign Monday at XTreme Manufacturing in downtown Las Vegas.

Plummeting in the polls, Walker returned to the theme that made him a hero to Wisconsin conservatives and the bane of organized labor. And this time Walker went, ahem, XTreme: He rolled out a plan to gut the National Labor Relations Board, end government unions and make right-to-work the law of the land.

How a President Walker would get such monumental legislation through a constipated Congress so partisan it can’t agree on its three favorite American flag colors is anyone’s guess. But that wasn’t really the point.

He was clearly trying to remind voters increasingly bedazzled by the Donald Trump circus that Scott Walker actually has a serious track record of fighting for conservative ideals. Walker reminded approximately 120 supporters he was unbowed by organized labor and was riding hard for the brand. (That’s the conservative brand, not the Koch Brothers brand.) Walker promised to give “power to the people — not the union bosses,” and “check the power of big-government special interests” in his blistering position paper.

This is where Walker, a plain-spoken family man who reminds his audience that his kids went to public school, lives in the minds of American conservatives. His unabashed zeal to take on collective bargaining laws and endorse right-to-work issues endeared him with Wisconsin Republicans, vaulted him into national prominence and lifted him to the top of the polls among Iowa GOP caucusgoers in July.

Since then, he’s faded like a bad dye job.

A new Quinnipiac University poll placed Walker at 3 percent, down from 18 percent in July.

Walker has been clipped in the political press for failing to take clear positions, or any position, on a number of fundamental issues. In today’s media, those flat lines and fumbles play in an endless loop.

A candidate can be in err, but never in doubt. Walker has been hobbled by self-inflicted wounds.

He also suffers from another serious malady. Walker has been, in a word, boring. Forget that he hasn’t been as outrageous as Trump. He plain failed to distinguish himself in the first GOP debate. A candidate who once held the genuine promise of a conservative underdog not of the ruling class now is making people wonder whether he’s ready for prime time.

As the friendly crowd disbursed, Walker paused between handshakes and selfies with supporters to take a few questions.

“If people want someone who can wreak havoc on Washington, they need two things: being a leader who’s actually got real solutions, not just political talking points but real solutions. And the other big thing is, you’ve got to have a leader who’s been tested. Hiring a novice is not the answer. We’ve seen how that’s worked. We need somebody that’s been tested. We’ve been tested unlike anybody else.”

On his way to tonight’s GOP presidential debate at the — will it be “hair apparent” Donald and the baker’s dozen dwarves? — Walker stopped off in Las Vegas to flex his anti-union muscles and remind people he’s a leader whose mettle has been tested. But if he’d hoped for a street protest by the Culinary Union or the Nevada State AFL-CIO, he was disappointed. Beyond making a couple terse remarks, AFL-CIO and Culinary leaders kept their troops off the sidewalk.

No matter how you spell it, Walker is going to have to get even more extreme in the days ahead if he’s to recapture voters with short attention spans and an aversion to heavy lifting.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Reach him at 702 383-0295, or jsmith@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

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