Gov. Scott "Ultrasound" will never be president

The governor’s 2016 hopes will be dashed by his signing Wisconsin’s mandatory ultrasound bill

Published June 13, 2013 5:51PM (EDT)

  (AP/Andy Manis)
(AP/Andy Manis)

It’s not that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is any kind of moderate. But while polarizing, headline-chasing, right-wing senators like Ted “Abolish the IRS” Cruz and Rand “I was against drones before I was for them” Paul seem to be trying to consolidate their position as Tea Party candidate for 2016, Walker has mostly gone about his business in Wisconsin (with a little trip across the border to Iowa to keep his own 2016 chatter alive). In April, Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball named him the front-runner, and Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trende agreed. “Scott Walker is more of a blank check who can kind of modulate himself a little bit for whatever the national and party’s mood happens to be for 2015,” Trende told the Daily Caller.

But if Walker goes ahead, as promised, and signs a bill mandating an ultrasound before a woman can have an abortion, he can kiss his 2016 hopes goodbye. It will be impossible for Gov. Ultrasound to “modulate himself” once he’s associated with the most notorious piece of legislation to brand his party as anti-women in 2012. (Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a slightly softened version of it into law last March.)

“I don’t have any problem with ultrasound,” Walker said Tuesday. “I think most people think ultrasounds are just fine.” Actually, I think most people recoil physically at the idea of transvaginal ultrasounds, which the Wisconsin bill would require for anyone getting a first-trimester abortion, meaning many women. The bill would also close one of Wisconsin’s few remaining abortion clinics.

It’s not that Walker isn’t already far to the right, and terrible on women’s issues in particular. He’s signed several bills restricting abortion, and pushed through the defunding of Planned Parenthood, forcing the closure of at least four women’s health clinics in his state. Last year he signed legislation repealing Wisconsin’s equal pay for women law. But the mandatory ultrasound bill is the kind of creepy provocation that would out Walker as the far-right culture warrior that he is, and make it impossible for him to "modulate himself" and be elected president.

Of course, it could help him win a GOP primary. Walker’s foray into Iowa provides an interesting window into his appeal as a national candidate. He was invited to address state Republicans by Gov. Terry Branstad, who is kind of a moderate in the modern-day GOP, though not by any other standard. But Walker was also praised by Branstad’s ultra-right primary opponent Bob Vander Plaats. “Gov. Walker has a lot going for him and he’d be a very appealing candidate in a state like Iowa for the caucuses,” Vander Plaats told the Iowa Republican website. “Not only is he right on a lot of issues, he’s been very bold and courageous on his leadership on a lot of those issues. And being a neighbor to Iowa doesn’t guarantee you success but it certainly doesn’t hurt.” Signing an ultrasound bill is the kind of thing that would endear him to a conservative kingmaker like Vander Plaats, in Iowa and elsewhere.

Walker already has strong conservative appeal because of declaring war on public sector workers in 2010 and surviving their attempt at recalling him. The strongly “pro-business” governor has presided over a state that’s gone from 11th in the nation in job creation to 44th, and still he’s working hard to further cut taxes. He's kind of a petty little guy, too, only today rescinding his appointment of a student regent after he learned the young man had signed a petition for his recall.

The fracas over Wisconsin’s ultrasound bill is already making national news. If you haven’t seen it, watch this clip of GOP state Senate president Mike Ellis, presiding in Jim Jones-style sunglasses as well as late-stage Jim Jones-style rage (he screams, shouts, snarls and breaks his gavel). Ellis’ histrionics would seem to have been unnecessary; Republicans had the votes to pass the bill.

And that GOP legislative meltdown came on the day that Rep. Trent Franks channeled the tragic Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin while defending a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks. Arguing against exceptions in the case of rape (that’s how Akin got in trouble), Franks told his colleagues, “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy is very low.”

Now, granted, Franks’ phrasing didn’t have the same zing as Akin insisting that in cases of “legitimate rape … the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” But he’s making essentially the same point. How’s that rebranding going, Reince Priebus?

Clearly, signing the ultrasound bill will put Walker in the mainstream of his party’s conservative base. But if he signs it, it’ll have his name on it in November 2016, not just during primary season. Gov. Scott Ultrasound will never be president.

By Joan Walsh