Under fire in conservative media for dropping GOP consultant Liz Mair over tweets questioning Iowa's frontrunner status, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker appeared to defend the decision in a speech in South Carolina on Thursday.
"It's not about the candidate or the staff. It's about the voter."'
"One of my clear rules is, if you're going to be on our team, whether on the paid staff or a volunteer, what I always say is you need to respect the voters," he said in Greenville, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. "Because really if you think about campaigns, it's not about the candidate or the staff. It's about the voter. It's about how to help people's lives be better."
Without naming Mair, Walker added that he's "going to focus on making sure that the people on my team, should we go forward, are people who respect voters."
Reached by msnbc, Mair declined to comment.
Mair resigned after Iowa GOP chairman Jeff Kaufmann demanded Walker fire her for a series of tweets earlier this year in which she said Iowa was "embarrassing itself" with anti-immigration rhetoric at a major Iowa GOP gathering and added: “The sooner we remove Iowa’s frontrunning status, the better off American politics and policy will be.” In addition to criticism from Iowa Republicans, Mair came under fire from conservative news site Breitbart in an article referencing her support for immigration reform, gay marriage, and even her dual citizenship with the United Kingdom.
But Mair was a popular figure in the conservative media circles she had been hired by Walker to court, many of whom reacted furiously to her exit. Red State founder Erick Erickson wrote a brutal post saying Walker had "botched" the episode and was joined by other prominent right-leaning columnists, including National Review's Jonah Goldberg and Hot Air's Jazz Shaw. In perhaps the toughest of the bunch, The Week's Michael Brendan Dougherty declared Walker a "gutless wonder" in a column.
"When people see you kind of maneuver it raises questions about what kind of leader you are, do you stand firm on your principles, and about how you apply your ideology to the issues of the day."'
What's worrisome for Walker is that critics were quick to tie Mair into a larger and more threatening theme, namely that the episode was further evidence that he was too willing to pander to voters and Iowans in particular. In recent weeks, he came out for a federal renewable fuel standard, a regulation he previously opposed in Wisconsin but that helps subsidize Iowa's agricultural industry, and renounced his previous interest in immigration reform, which is unpopular among Iowa conservatives. Iowa is critical to Walker's campaign hopes, where his family ties to the state and Midwestern style give him a strong starting point against likely top rival Jeb Bush.
With that high profile comes heightened scrutiny, however, and Walker will have to be careful in the coming days to make sure recent criticisms don't harden into something more difficult to shake off. An early "flip flopper" label could potentially overwhelm the benefits of moving more in line with crucial voting blocs.
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Craig Robinson, a veteran Iowa GOP operative and founder of The Iowa Republican, told msnbc that he was concerned by Walker's recent moves -- even though he agreed with Walker's new position on ethanol.
"This is about trust," Robinson said. "When people see you kind of maneuver it raises questions about what kind of leader you are, do you stand firm on your principles, and about how you apply your ideology to the issues of the day."