Let’s Stop Calling Every Candidate Who Has a Good Week a Frontrunner


This morning Meet the Press host Chuck Todd declared Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in the “top tier” of the GOP 2016 field, along with Jeb Bush.

This may comes as a surprise to 85% of GOP voters who’ve yet to come around to him. Todd’s evidence consisted of an NBC News/Marist poll that found Bush and Walker were the only candidates to poll double digits in three different early primary states. That’s great and all, but for an indication of how fluid the race is at this point consider that this headline is only three weeks old:

Walker’s rise is so fresh that he wasn’t even being mentioned in some articles about polling at of the end of January. That was before he gave a speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit that earned accolades from the audience and increased his national media presence, which is what’s reflected in NBC News’ poll. That poll, however, was taken before Walker punted on a question about evolution in the middle of last week. Meanwhile just last week Jeb Bush’s chances were supposedly imperiled by a fifth place showing in an Iowa poll. That’s how quickly it all changes.

This is all unfortunately redolent of the 2012 GOP primary, when each candidate enjoyed a brief interval of “frontrunner” status before a bad news cycle returned them to orbit. Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and even Donald Trump took turns. When scandal, gaffes, or the inexorable gravity of reality spoiled their moment and the spotlight pivoted to the next on stage, the frivolity of it all was laid bare: this was less an election than an American Idol tryout, and the regularity with which candidates were replaced due to shifts of momentum suggested how little actual policy positions figured into the competition.

It’s entirely possible that Scott Walker, a talented and battle-tested politician on the state level, can prove competitive in the primaries. It’s entirely possible a ridiculous gaffe takes him down tomorrow. It’s even more possible that one of several investigations resurfaces to haunt him. Those things will decide whether he’s in the “top tier” of an election that doesn’t begin for another 330 days. Until then Todd and everybody else would do better to heed the actual headline of the poll Todd cited:

Watch the clip below, via NBC News:

[Image via screengrab]

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