Scott Walker and the Masters of Deceit

As Scott Walker finally makes his presidential bid official today, National Journal‘s Tim Alberta wonders if the candidate can perpetually get away with tailoring his views to the particular audience he is addressing. That certainly seems to be the calculation in Walker-land:

[A]ccording to Walker allies, he’s going to pursue exactly the opposite strategy Romney used in 2012. Whereas Romney started in the middle and moved rightward throughout primary season, Walker is starting on the right and will shift toward the middle.

“You start in Iowa and lock up conservatives, because if you don’t do that, none of the rest matters,” said one longtime Walker adviser, who requested anonymity to discuss campaign strategy. “It’s much easier to move from being a conservative to being a middle-of-the-road moderate later on.”

The adviser added: “In Iowa, you see the beginnings of that. He’s capturing that conservative wing first and foremost, and then moving from Iowa to the other states and bringing other voters into the fold.”

Pretty candid, I’d say, particularly when you remember the brouhaha that erupted in 2012 when Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom talked about the “pivot” his candidate was about the execute after locking up the GOP nomination:

“Everything changes,” Mr. Fehrnstrom, 50, said on CNN, with a slight smirk that suggested he believed he was about to use a clever line. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”

So here’s a Walker “adviser” (who did have the good sense to stay unnamed) saying the same sort of thing. Won’t there be some angry recriminations from conservatives who are being told Walker’s going to start sounding like a different person once Iowa is in the bag?

Maybe, but it’s worth thinking about the subject Alberta uses at the top of his story to demonstrate Walker’s slippery nature:

“I’m pro-life,” Scott Walker said, looking directly into the camera. “But there’s no doubt in my mind the decision of whether or not to end a pregnancy is an agonizing one. That’s why I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options. The bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.”

That was last October, less than a month before Election Day, when the Wisconsin governor was locked in a tight reelection battle with Democrat Mary Burke. Her allies were attacking Walker for signing a bill that required women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion. He responded with this memorable 30-second ad, part of an ongoing effort to soften Walker’s image in the eyes of on-the-fence voters. In deeply polarized Wisconsin, they would decide the race. Exit polling shows they broke to him: Walker beat Burke among independents by 11 points en route to winning a second term.

Walker will announce Monday that he’s running for president. And dovetailing with the campaign launch will be a ceremony in which the governor signs into law a 20-week abortion ban that makes no exception for rape or incest. This hard-line stance on abortion, juxtaposed against the tone he struck on the issue last fall, provides a window into Walker’s political style and helps explain how he got to this point.

That “hard-line stance” has been packaged across the country with the very rhetoric about “safety” and “information” that Walker used in his gubernatorial campaign. The latter is a deliberate deception to make medically unnecessary and onerous requirements imposed on abortion providers and the women seeking their services sound innocuous. And it’s part of a long, long pattern of deceit by antichoicers who act as though they’re only concerned with women’s health and rare late-term abortions even as they fight with each other as to whether an outright ban on all abortions should include a rape-incest exception or perhaps even extend to “abortifacient” birth control methods like IUDs. So they’re not exactly going to be upset at Scott Walker for playing the same game:

“Even as he cut that abortion ad, there isn’t a single pro-life voter in the state who suddenly thinks he’s pro-choice,” said Matt Batzel, executive director of American Majority, a conservative activist group. “They know he shares their views.”

You could undoubtedly say the same about Walker’s business backers, who may well have laughed up their sleeves during this last campaign when the good and gentle governor disclaimed any interest in passing a right-to-work law–which is practically the first thing that happened after he was safely returned to office.

So perhaps there is something about Scott Walker that inspires the kind of trust in ideologues which makes a little deception now and then acceptable so long as it produces electoral victories and he delivers the goods in the end.

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.