Now, three years later, on the verge of a presidential announcement and status as a tenuous front-runner for the GOP, Johnson is on the outs, multiple sources tell U.S. News, sidelined by a new raft of national advisers that Walker has tapped to navigate the gargantuan task of reaching the White House.Catanese attributes Walker's abandonment of Johnson as turf wars between Johnson and Walker's new top guy, Rick Wiley. Catanese also said that Johnson's dismissal "is just a piece of the growing pains Walker is experiencing as he attempts to transform himself from a battle-tested governor with a close-knit circle to a national leader who can pull together a broad coalition and maintain his image under an unforgiving national spotlight."
Seizing the reins now as expected campaign manager is Rick Wiley, the bald, goateed RNC veteran from Illinois who resembles a cross between professional wrestler Steve Austin and Mr. Clean.
Johnson just a few months ago had indicated his role was still unclear but seemed prepared to sign on for the endeavor in some form.
“What [my] capacity will be when things progress is not completely defined at this point,” he told U.S. News in March. “Things will be more apparent when things progress. I’ll imagine I’m always going to be involved in some capacity.”
But two Republican sources tell U.S. News that Wiley’s emergence as Walker’s new top aide essentially pushed Johnson out of the mix this spring, leaving the governor without the trusted political jedi who waged his biggest battles.
“He’s a casual observer now,” says one Walker supporter outside of the campaign. “R.J.’s always in the governor’s orbit. I just think R.J.’s focused on other things currently.”
Another Wisconsin Republican who has worked for Walker and knows Johnson frames it more harshly: “There’s been internal challenges, not uncommon of a growing organization. And R.J. is out. I’m surprised they couldn’t find a place for R.J. But I think a scenario where Rick and R.J. were going to coexist was always a fantasy.”
These factors might have played in a role of Johnson finding Walker's campaign bus' tire tracks on his back, but they are probably not the only reason.
Walker has a long history of dogging out old friends and new the moment they become a liability or an embarrassment.
John Hiller, his campaign treasurer of 18 years, under the bus when it came out that Hiller was part of the John Doe investigation known as Walkergate.
When Walker's lifelong friend and top campaign aide, Tim Russell, was arrested and charged in the Walkergate investigation, Walker turned his back on Rusell, not lifting a finger to help his old chum.
A couple of years ago, after I broke the story about Walker's infamous Black Friday fundraising email, he scapegoated his deputy finance director for it, although he claimed it was for some racist tweets she sent out years before she joined his campaign. It was just coincidence that he only learned of them when the fundraiser story went international.
Most recently, he canned Liz Mair before she even got settled in, just because some Iowan Republicans didn't like her.
And Johnson definitely has the potential to be a big liability.
After Walker officially announces his presidential campaign next week (unless he changes his mind about the date again), the national media will (hopefully) start taking a closer look at Walker and his history - not just the fantasies that Walker tells them, but his actual history, including the Walkergate investigations.
And Johnson's name is rampant throughout the investigations and the tens of thousands of emails, as I have reported here, here and here. It also appears that Johnson might have been part of the current - albeit temporarily suspended - second investigation into Walker's illegal collaboration with the dark money groups that had been supporting him.
While Walker might have thrown another old crony under his campaign bus due to "growing pains," it's just as likely that he is trying to cut loose some baggage that will only hinder his presidential aspirations.