Nobody Loves a Vacillating, Wishy-Washy Scott Walker

My take on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a presidential candidate is that he’s enviably capable of having it both ways: an acceptable-to-the-GOP-establishment figure who’s also exciting to the conservative base because (a) his blue-state context makes him look more radical than would similar positions and behaviors in a red state, and (b) his electoral record in Wisconsin gives him an electability argument based on confrontation rather than compromise or outreach.

But even before officially announcing a presidential run, Walker’s showing signs of stepping on his own image of relative ideological moderation (essential to his Establishment acceptability and MSM approbation) and of courageous if not hammer-headed convictions (essential to all Republicans). His habit of saying “I don’t know” to base-bait questions, whether it’s the theory of evolution, Barack Obama’s patriotism or Barack Obama’s Christianity, isn’t pleasing anybody.

And that’s why Brother Benen is right that the kind of questions Walker has been evading are indeed a test of his leadership ability–maybe not for all presidential candidates but definitely for this one. A wishy-washy Scott Walker isn’t what any of his admirers is bargaining for. Such perceptions undermine all the credit he’s been given by all kinds of Republicans for fixing his sights on unions and public spending as the key reasons for Wisconsin’s allegedly sluggish economy, and letting nothing stand in his way in going after them. I mean, really: could it be that the guy who’s endured death threats for standing up for his principles can’t answer simple questions?

My guess is that the evolution and Is-Obama-a-Christian vacillations are particularly damaging to his Establishment street cred, since one of the reason corporate types like him is that while he’s a conservative evangelical who talks regularly with God about his political objectives, he’s mostly focused on the pan-Republican goal of clearing away obstacles to “job creators.” The news about Walker ought to be that he’s on the brink of double-crossing 2014 voters by pushing through a right-to-work statute in Wisconsin, further aligning his state with those job-creating paradises of the Deep South. Instead we’re wondering if Walker thinks dinosaurs walked the earth not too long ago or if he subscribes to Pope Erick Erickson’s anathemas against anyone who doesn’t believe in scriptural inerrancy.

If Walker doesn’t get his act together those earlier comparisons to him as a nastier version of Tim Pawlenty could come back.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.