Scott Walker, weasel: Why even Wisconsin GOPers are sick of their cowardly governor

He pitches himself as a tough truth-teller, but Walker flagrantly shape-shifts & dissembles. It may catch up to him

Published June 24, 2015 2:05PM (EDT)

Scott Walker                     (Reuters/Carlos Barria)
Scott Walker (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

Scott Walker brags about how fighting unions in Wisconsin prepared him for fighting ISIS. But lately what’s notable is how often the 2016 GOP presidential hopeful squirms and weasels and outright lies when the truth would hurt him politically.

After Walker ducked the question of South Carolina’s Confederate flag all weekend, his staffers emailed reporters claiming he wanted the flag to come down all along, but he thought he should let Gov. Nikki Haley say so first.  At home, he won’t raise state fees or taxes to pay for urgent bridge and road repairs, so he’s proposing to weasel out of a jam by borrowing the money – and Wisconsin Republicans are in revolt. “It’s not been well received, is the best way to put it,” the state Senate GOP leader told the New York Times.

Then there’s that little matter of the lies he told about his abortion stance in 2014, trying to get re-elected. They’re coming back to haunt him. Anti-abortion Republicans seized on an ad Walker ran in October, when he was running way behind with women, calling abortion an “agonizing” decision, insisting his goal was to “increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options,” and claiming his legislative agenda “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” Walker also refused during his re-election campaign to say whether he supported a 20-week abortion ban.

When out-of-state conservatives unearthed the mealy-mouthed ad and began using it against Walker, he became a staunch supporter of the 20-week ban, promising to sign the bill that was “likely to come to my desk.” Now it comes out that Walker himself asked legislators to send him the ban – and he’s also the one who made sure that it contained no exceptions for rape or incest.

Walker famously made light of concerns about women who become pregnant during rape. “I think for most people who are concerned about that, it’s in the initial months when they are most concerned about it,” he told reporters, presumably speaking from his vast reservoir of experience counseling women who’ve been raped.

Anti-abortion conservatives may find themselves mollified, for now, by Walker’s tough new stance. But expect his primary opponents to have fun with his flip-flopping and evasion over the last year. And if Walker isn’t tough enough to stand up to pro-choice forces in Wisconsin and tell the truth about his record, how will he fight ISIS?

Oh, and then there was that lie about how the “Wisconsin Idea” governing the state university system got rewritten, replacing goals like “search for truth” with workforce-development jargon. Walker called it a “drafting error;” legislators later produced evidence the changes were demanded by the administration. (He reversed them.)

It turns out Wisconsin Republicans are none too happy with Walker’s plans to solve his budget mess by carving $300 million out of the university system’s budget. “The university doesn’t deserve this cut,” GOP state Senator Luther Olsen complained. “We are fools if we go around bashing one of the best things in the state of Wisconsin.”

But Walker seems less interested in what’s best for Wisconsin than what’s best for him in early primary states.  His strength right now is his ability to raise money, and his status as leader of the pack in neighboring Iowa, the first caucus state. But it’s hard to imagine that news of his in-state troubles isn’t crossing the border into Iowa.

Those troubles are already having one tangible campaign impact: They’ve pushed Walker’s official announcement back by a few weeks at least. The governor said he was waiting until he’d signed the budget – but there’s no budget deal, largely because of dissent among Republicans. It’s likely to take until mid-July at least to reach an accord.

Walker’s evasions undermine the image he’s tried to cultivate of a leader who makes tough choices. He puffed himself up on Red State last week, writing about his rivals: “Some want you to think they fight,” then adding, “But speeches aren’t fighting or winning.” But lying and weaseling aren’t fighting or winning, either.


By Joan Walsh