Scott Walker – the Wisconsin governor who built a political brand around bold actions – is now making a habit of staying away from hot topics entirely, from President Obama’s faith to evolution, as he eyes a White House bid next year.
“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that. I’ve never asked him that,” Walker said. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”
A Walker spokesperson later called the paper to say “of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian,” but his initial response reflected a disapproval of “gotcha questions” that “distract” from his record.
Democrats charged that Walker had “doubled down on his divisive politics,” linking his comments on the President’s religion with his unwillingness to weigh in firmly on Giuliani’s remarks earlier in the week.
“Scott Walker had a simple test,” said DNC national press secretary Holly Shulman. “He could have risen above the fray, but he continues to flatly fail and instead push the same polarizing agenda and politics he has for years in Wisconsin.”
Walker took to Twitter Saturday night to deliver a personal rebuke to critics and promote his recently launched political committee.
“Enough with the media’s gotcha game, we started Our American Revival to talk about big, bold ideas,” Walker wrote.
The governor’s comments about Obama’s religion came as he has faced scrutiny for declining repeated opportunities in recent days to assess Giuliani’s controversial statements regarding the president’s love of country.
“He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me,” Giuliani said at a dinner that Walker attended this week, according to Politico. “He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”
When asked about the comments during a CNBC interview, Walker refused to rebuke Giuliani.
“The mayor can speak for himself,” Walker said. “I’m not going to comment on whether, what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself. I’ll tell you I love America, and I think there are plenty of people Democrat, Republican, independent and everybody in between who love this country.”
That deflection came after Walker, during a visit to London last week, punted when asked if he accepted the idea of evolution.
“That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or the other, so I’m gonna leave that up to you,” Walker responded.
He later released a statement seeking to clarify his views.
“I believe faith and science are compatible, and go hand in hand,” he said.
If politics is a circus, then running for president is the high-wire act. And while one high-profile stumble could derail a campaign, there also might be a risk in playing it too safe.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said his decision to run for the Republican nomination will be based on two things: his family and whether he can lift America's spirit. His father and brother are former Presidents.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has created a political committee that will help him travel and raise money while he considers a 2016 bid. Additionally, billionaire businessman David Koch said in a private gathering in Manhattan this month that he wants Walker to be the next president, but he doesn't plan to back anyone in the primaries.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is establishing a committee to formally explore a White House bid. "If I run, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction," he said in a news release provided to CNN on Monday, May 18.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, has said the United States needs a "political revolution" of working-class Americans looking to take back control of the government from billionaires. He first announced the run in an email to supporters early on the morning of Thursday, April 30.
On March 2, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson announced the launch of an exploratory committee. The move will allow him to raise money that could eventually be transferred to an official presidential campaign and indicates he is on track with stated plans to formally announce a bid in May.
Hillary Clinton launched her presidential bid Sunday, April 12, through a video message on social media. She continues to be considered the overwhelming front-runner among possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidates.
Sen. Marco Rubio announced his bid for the 2016 presidency on Monday, April 13, a day after Hillary Clinton, with a rally in Florida. He's a Republican rising star from Florida who swept into office in 2010 on the back of tea party fervor. But his support of comprehensive immigration reform, which passed the Senate but has stalled in the House, has led some in his party to sour on his prospects.
Lincoln Chafee, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat former governor and senator of Rhode Island, said he's running for president on Thursday, April 16, as a Democrat, but his spokeswoman said the campaign is still in the presidential exploratory committee stages.
Vice President Joe Biden has twice before made unsuccessful bids for the Oval Office -- in 1988 and 2008. A former senator known for his foreign policy and national security expertise, Biden made the rounds on the morning shows recently and said he thinks he'd "make a good President."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has started a series of town halls in New Hampshire to test the presidential waters, becoming more comfortable talking about national issues and staking out positions on hot topic debates.
Sen. Rand Paul officially announced his presidential bid on Tuesday, April 7, at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky. The tea party favorite probably will have to address previous controversies that include comments on civil rights, a plagiarism allegation and his assertion that the top NSA official lied to Congress about surveillance.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced his 2016 presidential bid on Monday, March 23, in a speech at Liberty University. The first-term Republican and tea party darling is considered a gifted orator and smart politician. He is best known in the Senate for his marathon filibuster over defunding Obamacare.
Democrat Martin O'Malley, the former Maryland governor, released a "buzzy" political video in November 2013 in tandem with visits to New Hampshire. He also headlined a Democratic Party event in South Carolina, which holds the first Southern primary.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a social conservative, gave Mitt Romney his toughest challenge in the nomination fight last time out and has made trips recently to early voting states, including Iowa and South Carolina.
Political observers expect New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to yield to Hillary Clinton's run in 2016, fearing there wouldn't be room in the race for two Democrats from the Empire State.
The refusal to fully engage on the questions about evolution and the President’s faith, or to pass some kind of judgment on Giuliani’s comments, creates a dissonance with Walker’s would-be campaign message: that he represents “fresh leadership” and is someone with “big, bold ideas and the courage to act on it.”
While his handling of these episodes might not cause him much pain with the Republican base, it could pose problems down the road in a general election with independent voters. On the question of evolution, specifically, 65% of independents believe humans evolved over time, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey.
For Walker, who is still introducing himself to voters around the country, he must make a calculation when it makes sense to lean in, and when to play it safe.
“Whenever you run for president you are playing a high-stakes game of poker,” said veteran GOP strategist John Brabender, who advised former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign.
“There is so much risk in saying the wrong thing, you will find in the short-term people who will be cautious,” he added. “Great campaigns know there is a time to run and a time to walk.”
The time for running will come soon enough, with candidates likely to launch their official bids in the coming months, and primary debates soon to follow beginning in August.
In the meantime, Brabender expects the 2016 contenders will focus not just on building up their name identification with voters, but their “brand equity,” which could help to blunt a misstep once the campaign is fully joined. Consider it the lesson of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry from 2012, whose prospects failed to recover from his infamous debate lapse.
“Because there are so many qualified candidates, one mistake can be too many in a race like this,” Brabender said. “You don’t get multiple opportunities to introduce yourself.”