As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker struggles to fend off a challenge from Democrat Mary Burke, the ultraconservative Republican is attempting to refashion himself as a rare GOP voice of moderation in the culture wars. But Walker’s attempts to rhetorically walk back has hardline views on social issues don’t portend a kinder, gentler governor. It’s all subterfuge, designed to obscure his Santorumesque views on reproductive rights and LGBT equality.
Speaking with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s editorial board this week, Walker dodged questions on contraception and abortion rights, stating at one point that he’d defer to the Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion before fetal viability and refusing to take a position on contraceptive coverage. But as the Huffington Post’s Laura Bassett points out, Walker has opposed abortion rights even in cases of rape and incest, endorsed “personhood” legislation, sponsored a bill that would allow pharmacists to decline to fill contraception prescriptions, sponsored legislation that would ban abortion even before fetal viability, and, as governor, has ended enforcement of Wisconsin’s birth control coverage requirement. While Walker was happy to stake out positions on these issues in the past, the candidate for re-election grew miffed when the Journal-Sentinel asked him about reproductive rights, suggesting that the editorial board was diverting attention from “the issues that matter.”
Meanwhile, Walker’s views on LGBT issues are also in lockstep with the socially conservative wing of the GOP. After the Supreme Court let stand a series of lower court decisions in favor marriage equality, paving the way for same-sex marriages to begin in Wisconsin, Walker acknowledge that the fight was “over” in his state. But a concession to reality does not an LGBT rights supporter make. Walker continues to oppose marriage equality himself, and he has refused to endorse federal legislation that would ban employment discrimination against LGBT workers. If the governor wins re-election – and at this point, that’s an increasingly iffy if – he’s unlikely to undergo a personal evolution on LGBT issues, given that he’ll probably make a bid for the GOP presidential nomination, which will require courting socially conservative voters.
For now, though, Walker must win over voters in a swing state that hasn’t supported a GOP presidential nominee since 1984. He’s pragmatic enough to realize that he can’t win such a state by running as a bombastic culture warrior, but that doesn’t change the fundamental contours of his worldview.