Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker appeared at the Iowa State Fair last week, where he was confronted by protesters. One, in particular, drew the Wisconsin governor’s attention. “I am not intimidated by you, sir, or anyone else out there,” Walker declared.
It’s an important part of the candidate’s pitch: plenty of Americans may not be comfortable with his far-right vision, but the governor will not back down in the face of pressure. To drive the point home, Walker titled his recent book, “Unintimidated.”
There’s nothing wrong with the message. There may, however, be something wrong with the messenger.
Walker’s record on immigration can charitably be described as “erratic.” He’s overhauled his entire approach to the issue more than once, contradicting himself along the way, and the governor’s position tends to change based on the audience he’s speaking to at the time. Last week, the GOP candidate’s troubles became more acute when the debate shifted to birthright citizenship.
For example, on Monday, the Wisconsin governor told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt that he opposes the constitutional principle. To my ear, it was unambiguous – Hunt asked,” Do you think that birthright citizenship should be ended?” He replied, “Well, like I said, Harry Reid said it’s not right for this country, I think that’s something we should, yeah, absolutely going forward.” Clarifying further, Hunt asked again, “We should end birthright citizenship?” “Yeah, to me it’s about enforcing the laws in this country,” he answered.
On Friday, Mr. Unintimidated retreated, telling John Harwood that he refuses to take a position on the issue altogether.
All of which led to Sunday, when Walker took this third position in six days during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. It took several attempts, but eventually viewers heard the candidate’s answer:
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’re not seeking to repeal or alter the Fourteenth Amendment.WALKER: No. My point is any discussion that goes beyond securing the border and enforcing the laws are things that should be a red flag to voters out there….
So, he went from “absolutely” wanting to change birthright citizenship, to refusing to talk about it, to saying he doesn’t want to change the policy after all.
One can only speculate as to how and why Walker underwent such a speedy evolution, but Sam Stein flagged an interesting Washington Post article from last week, noting the Republican candidate had heard from Stanley Hubbard, “a conservative billionaire who oversees a Minnesota broadcasting company and has donated to Walker’s campaign.” Hubbard said he was prepared to “quickly change my allegiance” if the governor stuck to the position Walker announced on Monday.
Less than a week later, the Wisconsinite effectively took a 180-degree turn.
As for the larger context, Walker’s unapologetic boasts about how “unintimidated” he is seem increasingly hollow. At least for a while, the governor positioned himself as a brash, take-it-or-leave-it conservative, reaching out to the GOP’s anti-immigration wing, even going so far as to consider curtailing legal immigration. When he opposed birthright citizenship last week, no one seemed especially surprised.
A week later, though, Mr. Unintimidated seems lost, unsure whom to pander to next.