As Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker explores the possibility of running for president in 2016, he’s facing a lot of uncomfortable questions from reporters and others. His solution so far is to try to avoid them, but he’s quickly learning it’s not that simple.
First, Walker decided “to punt” on a question earlier this month about where he stands on evolution. Then last week, he clumsily evaded an inquiry about President Barack Obama’s faith – and ended up fanning the flames of the long-discredited Religious Right lie that Obama isn’t Christian.
“I don’t know [if Obama is Christian],” Walker said during an interview at a meeting of the National Governors Association last week. “I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that. I’ve never asked him that. You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that.”
Walker said he wouldn’t answer the question because Obama’s faith doesn’t matter to most people.
“You could ask 100 people [in Wisconsin], and not one of them would say that this is a significant issue,” he said.
It’s an issue because the far right’s kook caucus has spent the past seven years screaming that Obama is really a Muslim. The reporter wanted to know if Walker agreed. The question was really a softball, and Walker botched it.
Anyone who has been paying attention since Obama became a national figure knows he’s a Christian. Obama has been perfectly clear about his faith. In a 2004 interview with then-Chicago Sun Times reporter Cathleen Falsani, Obama said, “I am a Christian. So, I have a deep faith. So I draw from the Christian faith.”
Obama also discussed his relationship with Jesus, remarking, “Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he’s also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher. And he’s also a wonderful teacher. I think it’s important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history.”
Obama went on to say that while he has been influenced by Judaism as well as Islam, ultimately he always comes back to Christianity as his spiritual base.
“So, I’m rooted in the Christian tradition,” Obama said. “I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”
Walker’s answer failed to please anyone. To sensible people, it looked like a smear. For the tin-foil hat brigades of the right, Walker didn’t go far enough. In a column for Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze, blogger Matt Walsh said Walker was “too nice” because “it’s incredibly obvious that Barack Obama isn’t a Christian.”
In a desperate attempt at damage control, Walker spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster later called The Washington Post and tried to claim that Walker wasn’t actually questioning Obama’s faith.
“Of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian,” Webster said. “He thinks these kinds of gotcha questions distract from what he’s doing as governor of Wisconsin to make the state better and make life better for people in his state.”
As far as the Religious Right is concerned, Obama’s problem has never been that he isn’t Christian. The issue for them is that he isn’t the “right kind” of Christian. You know, the sort that thinks America should be a theocracy.
We don’t know if Walker is an aspiring theocrat, but he is certainly fighting a losing battle by courting the Religious Right. He may think he needs them to win the White House next year, and he could be right. But as this incident shows, fundamentalists are very hard to please.
It’s true that Obama’s faith is irrelevant at this point, but Walker’s attempt to handle what was a fairly simple question was a total failure. Even a novice political consultant knows how to answer this kind of question: “Of course the president is a Christian. But I’d really like to talk about [fill in the blank].” Instead, Walker appeared to be sympathetic to a conspiracy theory. (What’s next – he demands to see Obama’s birth certificate?)
If this is what Americans can expect from Walker going forward, everyone should prepare to be underwhelmed.