Before we complete the post-mortems on Scott Walker’s campaign, I want to note how unfairly he was treated during the debates. According to Nate Silver, Walker spoke for only 13.7 minutes in the two debates.
This was the the least for any candidate on the main stage in both events. It was less than half the time Donald Trump spoke. It was ten minutes less than Jeb Bush spoke. It was almost five minutes less than Chris Christie — whose poll numbers were barely sufficient to get him on the stage — spoke.
The three candidates whose speaking time was comparable to (but greater than) Walker’s — Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich — were all long-shot contenders at best when the debates began (and remain so). By contrast, Walker was considered a top-tier candidate going into the first debate, as his place on the podium reflected.
I believe that candidate speaking time should not be based on poll standing — all candidates should have roughly the same amount of time. But Fox News and CNN didn’t share that view. There was a clear correlation between speaking time and poll status. Walker is the blatant exception.
I don’t claim that Walker’s problems were limited to lack of speaking time during debates. He was only intermittently inspiring on the trail and he committed several gaffes (though it isn’t obvious to me that they were worse than those of several other candidates who remain in contention). The dynamic of the race, as I argued here, was against him.
But Walker arguably was only a good debate line or two from remaining in strong contention (first debate) or possibly climbing back in (second debate). After all, a few good lines, unrelated to policy by the way, were sufficient for Ben Carson.
Would Walker have delivered those lines had he talked for five or ten more minutes? Probably not. If he had the lines, he should have wedged them in, the way Carly Fiorina wedged Planned Parenthood into a question about Iran. (This skill, by the way, has nothing to do with being a good president).
But Walker should have had a fair shot. Neither Fox News nor CNN gave it to him.
I can’t think of any ideological/political explanation for this. Perhaps they just didn’t consider Walker entertaining enough.