As his lead slipped in Iowa after the first Republican debate, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker pivoted Tuesday: he swung directly at Donald Trump.
Walker accused Trump of using Democratic talking points and tied him to Hillary Clinton – a sharp turn from his recent strategy of ignoring the Republican front-runner.
“Donald Trump’s just using the same old tired talking points of the Democrats and they didn’t work in the past and they’re certainly not going to work in Iowa,” Walker told Fox News Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump had knocked Walker in his first call with Fox since making peace with the network.
“Well, you know Scott was going to be sort of the leader in Iowa and the common wisdom was that Scott would win Iowa because he’s from the adjoining state,” Trump said on Fox. “You know his numbers are not good in the adjoining state. He’s got a $2.2 billion deficit, they predicted that he’d have a big surplus of about a billion.”
Walker had been deflecting Trump jabs recently – refusing to take the bait from the developer and sticking to a message that said all Republicans should be training their sights on Clinton.
In a post-debate interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, he was asked repeatedly about Trump, but successfully moved off Trump to Clinton.
“What did you think of Donald Trump being the only person on the stage to say he wouldn’t support?” Hannity asked.
Walker answered directly, then shifted right to Clinton.
“I thought it was wrong. When you think about Hillary Clinton, I think any of the 10 of us tonight, and any of the people on earlier, would be infinitely better qualified, and much better for America and for the world to be president than Hillary Clinton,” Walker said.
During his speech at the annual RedState Gathering last weekend, he made no mention of Trump, only Clinton – which got plenty of applause.
But he shifted Tuesday trying a new tack – talking about Trump and Clinton. And tying the two together.
Walker supporters pointed out that the governor was facing a new, more direct attack from Trump on Tuesday and that the rebuttal had nothing to do with polls, but was instead a necessary defense of his record as governor.
Walker used a similar retort two weeks ago when Trump first knocked him for his state’s economic performance in a tweet.
But Walker’s mentions of Trump virtually disappeared until Tuesday, when he was asked directly about Trump’s latest knock on his performance.
“I get attacked by Hillary Clinton,” Walker said. “I get attacked by him with the same Democratic talking points this morning.”
It wasn’t a bomb blast – like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who hit Trump for his deferments from serving in Vietnam and challenged him to a pull-up contest.
What changed was the release of polling showing Trump toppling Walker from his perch in Iowa for the first time. Suffolk University released a poll showing 17 percent of Iowa Republicans going for Trump over 12 percent for Walker. And, nipping at Walker’s heels, is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who came in with 10 percent support.
Walker has long stood atop the Hawkeye state – which borders Wisconsin, and where Republican caucusgoers often pick candidates who are strong on social issues. But even that was not enough to keep Trump at bay, and that’s bad news for Walker, who’s supporters have said Iowa is a must-win.
Spokeswomen for the Walker campaign did not immediately respond to emails Tuesday.
Walker’s super PAC began fortifying the state last week, announcing one of the biggest early ad-buys there, $7 million for four months of hits.
The official campaign, meanwhile, announced that former Nevada Gov. Bob List would direct Walker efforts in the early caucus state. And more early-state leadership announcements are expected soon.