With his purple-state re-election campaign behind him and his sights trained on the Republican Party's presidential nomination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is touting his right-wing views on social issues, reassuring cultural conservatives that he's as opposed as they are to reproductive rights and LGBT equality after striving to de-emphasize those positions during his 2014 race against Democrat Mary Burke.
The New York Times notes this shift in tone in an A1 story today:
It was a memorable political ad: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin spoke directly into the camera in a 30-second spot last fall and called abortion an “agonizing” decision. He described himself as pro-life but, borrowing the language of the abortion rights movement, pointed to legislation he signed that leaves “the final decision to a woman and her doctor.”
That language was gone when Mr. Walker met privately with Iowa Republicans in a hotel conference room last month, according to a person who attended the meeting. There, he highlighted his early support for a “personhood amendment,” which defines life as beginning at conception and would effectively prohibit all abortions and some methods of birth control.
A few weeks before the November election, in an interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the governor sidestepped questions about his earlier opposition to abortion, and declined four times to answer directly when asked if abortion should be prohibited after 20 weeks — a position he had previously embraced. He also declined to restate his earlier opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest.
But in a breakout speech in Iowa on Jan. 24, he drew loud applause from the crowd of conservative activists when he declared that he had passed “pro-life legislation” in Wisconsin and “defunded Planned Parenthood.”
Meanwhile, Walker's camp is also talking up his support for marriage discrimination -- or "traditional marriage," in conservative parlance. “He is a pro-life, traditional-marriage Republican who has taken on the special interests,” Walker's campaign told the Times in a statement. Just four months ago, after the Supreme Court let stand a ruling striking down Wisconsin's marriage equality ban, Walker all but waved the white flag on same-sex marriage, conceding that the fight against it was "over," at least in his state. Shortly thereafter, prospective GOP rival Mike Huckabee delivered a thinly-veiled jab at Walker, assailing "the so-called leadership of the Republicans who have abdicated on this issue."
There's no doubt that Walker's hard-right turn is all about appealing to GOP primary voters, who remain overwhelmingly opposed to abortion rights and same-sex marriage, particularly in Iowa, where evangelicals comprised nearly 60 percent of the turnout in the 2012 GOP caucuses. And there's no doubt that should Walker secure the Republican nod, he'll go right back to diverting attention from his social conservatism in the general election.
But while Walker is primarily motivated by his contempt for organized labor and his fervent belief in conservative economic dogma, a President Walker would hardly be inconsequential on social issues. He'd almost certainly have the opportunity to break the Supreme Court's 5-4 pro-choice-ish majority, raising the likelihood that Roe v. Wade could be overturned. And though it's exceedingly likely that we'll have nationwide marriage equality by the time he'd be inaugurated, Walker could roll back progress on LGBT rights in other areas -- overturning or weakening President Obama's non-discrimination order for federal contractors, for instance. Walker's latest moves may be driven by opportunism, but they're nevertheless a reminder of what's at stake next year.