Man of the moment: In Texas, Scott Walker passes Perry, rivals Cruz

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks to people at his table before President Barack Obama arrives to speaks to members of the National Governors Association, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, in the State Dining Room of White House in Washington. As they gather in Washington, many of the nation’s Republican governors are blaming President Barack Obama for a budget standoff that threatens a potential Department of Homeland Security shutdown. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Good morning Austin:

“I think we have a momentum candidate and I think his name is Scott Walker,” said University of Texas government professor Daron Shaw, co-director of the UT/Texas Tribune poll, when I talked to him yesterday about their latest survey, which found the Wisconsin governor breaking out of the pack to surge past one prospective Texas presidential candidate – former Gov. Rick Perry – and rival a second – Sen. Ted Cruz – in the esteem of those likely to vote in the Republican presidential primary a little over a year from now.

 Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks to people at his table before President Barack Obama arrives to speaks to members of the National Governors Association, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, in the State Dining Room of White House in Washington. As they gather in Washington, many of the nation's Republican governors are blaming President Barack Obama for a budget standoff that threatens a potential Department of Homeland Security shutdown. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks to people at his table before President Barack Obama arrives to speaks to members of the National Governors Association, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, in the State Dining Room of White House in Washington. As they gather in Washington, many of the nation’s Republican governors are blaming President Barack Obama for a budget standoff that threatens a potential Department of Homeland Security shutdown. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

I also talked with Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT and co-director of the poll, who said that Walker seemed to have succeeded in emerging as a kind of Cruz-Perry blend, someone with hardcore conservative credentials but with governing experience, that together added up to a candidate who seemed both ideologically acceptable and electable.

“He has a track record winning elections against the odds in hostile territory,” Henson said.

Here are the results of the most recent survey.

Republican Presidential Primary Vote Choice, February 2015. UT/Texas Tribune Poll

Republican Presidential Primary Vote Choice, February 2015. UT/Texas Tribune Poll

(The Internet-based state poll was conducted between Feb. 6 and Feb. 15 by the market research firm YouGov. The sample included 1,200 self-declared registered voters and has a margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points.)

In the October UT/TT survey Ted Cruz was way out front with 27 percent, followed by:

2. Rick Perry 14
3. Ben Carson 10
4. Jeb Bush 7
5. Rand Paul 7
6. Mike Huckabee 7
7.Paul Ryan 4
8. Marco Rubio 3
9. Chris Christie 3
10.Bobby Jindal 2
11.Scott Walker 2
12.Rick Santorum 1
13.John Kasich 0
14.Haven’t thought enough about it to have an opinion 11

Shaw said that Perry’s number saw a decline in intensity, both positive and negative, which, he believes, has mostly to do with his no longer being governor.

“When somebody leaves office, people no longer feel they have to be intensely for or against them,” Shaw said. “The armies have left the battlefield.”

In fact, Henson said Perry’s October numbers – which were up a bit over previous surveys – now appear to be the anomaly, and these new numbers are  return to form.

“I think the blip we saw for Perry in October came from people rallying to his defense after the indictment and Perry’s campaigns’ successful framing of that indictment. I think Perry is about where he has been in these heats – high single digits – that seems to be his natural place,” Henson said.

Walker is clearly cutting into Cruz’s support.

If Walker is out, Henson said, Cruz and Ben Carson each get 22 percent of his support, and Perry gets eight percent. If Cruz is out, 31 percent of his support goes to Walker, 18 percent to Rand Paul and 11 percent to Perry.

Walker’s emergence surprised me because, even though he has been the “it” candidate of the last few weeks, I didn’t think the broader public would have been paying enough attention to notice. Walker’s success with Texas voters surveyed here suggests there is keen interest among Republicans about the upcoming nomination battle. Of Walker’s rise in the Texas’ standings, Henson said, “this does not seem that strange to me, given Scott Walker’s emergence on conservative talk radio and conservative media.”

“I think that’s why Walker is kind of having his moment,” Henson said.

But, Henson said, if history is any judge, “It is very likely that momentum will be short-lived.”

Shaw said this cycle’s Republican field is large and rich, far more impressive than the last time around. Even a repeat candidate, like Perry, appears to be an improved version of his old self, Shaw noted.

Walker’s sudden emergence offers him both a great opportunity, and even more peril. There is a predictable pattern. Rise ’em up, and knock ’em down.

Here, at Slate a few years ago, is Jeff Greenfield recalling the 1984 Democratic nomination contest, in which Sen. Gary Hart parlayed a distant second finish to former Vice President Walter Mondale in the Iowa caucuses into a decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary:

Even as Hart’s face splashed onto the covers of news magazines, unsettling questions began to pop up. Why had he changed his name from Hartpence? Why had he dissembled about his age? Why had his signature radically changed? Then came a memorable moment during a debate in Atlanta, shortly before the March 13 primaries in several Southern states. Turning to Hart, Mondale borrowed a line from the famous Wendy’s TV ad of the day: “When I hear your new ideas, I’m reminded of that ad: ‘Where’s the beef?’ ” (Mondale had actually never seen the ad; his campaign manager, Bob Beckel, had to act it out for him).

Mondale’s borrowing from the Wendy’s ad helped him right the ship, defeat Hart and go on to a thorough drubbing by Ronald Reagan – losing  by 18 percentage points, almost as much as Wendy Davis lost to Greg Abbott for governor last year,  and losing every state but Minnesota (and, of course, Washington, D.C.).

I pause here for a moment for an advertisement for the new CNN Quiz Show, hosted by Anderson Cooper, in which, as CNN describes it, “Three teams of CNN anchors battle it out for charity in a wild quiz show that tests their knowledge of Presidential trivia!’

I know there has been a lot of criticism for the overuse of exclamation marks, but this one is well merited, because in the annals of self-parody, this show has few peers.

In any case, I didn’t have a lot of photos I could use of Scott Walker to illustrate this First Reading, so instead, I will illustrate the rest of today’s entry with a quick succession of shots I took of the Quiz Show as it appeared on the TV at the Atlanta airport Sunday night on the layover on my way from Austin to DC, where later this week I will get to see Walker, Perry, Cruz, et al, at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The CNN Quiz Show

The CNN Quiz Show

OK, back to Scott Walker and the perils of his new front-runnerish status.

In the Washington Post, Dan Balz and Robert Costa caught Walker Saturday at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a prospective Republican presidential contender, said Saturday he does not know whether President Obama is a Christian.

“I don’t know,” Walker said in an interview at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, where he was attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

Told that Obama has frequently spoken publicly about his Christian faith, Walker maintained that he was not aware of the president’s religion.

“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said, his voice calm and firm. “I’ve never asked him that,” he added. “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?”

Walker said such questions from reporters are reflective of a broader problem in the nation’s political-media culture, which he described as fixated on issues that are not relevant to most Americans.

 “To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press,” he said. “The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.”

CNN Quiz Show

CNN Quiz Show

 

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank followed Monday with a piece, Scott Walker’s Insidious Agnosticism:

“I don’t know.”

Thus proclaimed Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential hopeful, when asked by The Post’s Dan Balz and Robert Costa on Saturday whether President Obama is a Christian.

This is not a matter of conjecture. The correct answer is yes: Obama is Christian, and he frequently speaks about it in public. Balz and Costa presented Walker with this information to give him a second chance to answer.

But even when prompted with the facts, Walker — in Washington for the National Governors Association meeting — persisted, saying, “I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” and, “I’ve never asked him that,” and, “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that.”

This is an intriguing standard. I’ve never had a conversation with Walker about whether he’s a cannibal, a eunuch, a sleeper cell for the Islamic State, a sufferer of irritable bowel syndrome or a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. By Walker’s logic, it would be fair for me to let stand the possibility that he just might be any of those — simply because I have no personal and direct refutation from him.

 Walker justifies his agnosticism on grounds that he is avoiding gotcha questions. He caused a furor when he used the same logic last week to avoid saying whether Obama loves his country after Rudy Giuliani, at a dinner with Walker, volunteered his view that Obama does not. “To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington acepted by 17 percent of Americans at the end of Obama’s first term) that Obama is a Muslim.

Beyond that, Walker’s technique shuts down all debate, because there’s no way to have a constructive argument once you’ve disqualified your opponent as unpatriotic, un-Christian and anti-American. On the Internet, Godwin’s Law indicates that any reasonable discussion ceases when the Nazi accusations come out; Walker is essentially dond, increasingly, they dislike the press,” he told my colleagues Balz and Costa, two of the best in the business.

This is insidious, and goes beyond last week’s questioning of Obama’s patriotism, because it allows Walker to wink and nod at the far-right fringe where people really believe that Obama is a Muslim from Kenya who hates America. The governor is flirting with a significant segment of the Republican primary electorate: those who have peddled the notion (acing the same by refusing to grant his opponent legitimacy as an American and a Christian.

whowasdeepthroat3

Meanwhile, also Monday, Husna Haq, with the Christian Science Monitor, wrote under the headline, Gov. Scott Walker on Obama’s love for America: Did Walker stumble? 

Did Scott Walker just stumble on his way to the 2016 Republican presidential primary?

The Wisconsin governor and GOP presidential candidate found himself in the hot seat after comments Rudy Giuliani made last Wednesday in which the former New York mayor said he doesn’t believe Obama “loves America.”

When asked by the media about the former mayor’s comments, not only did Walker refuse to affirm the president’s love for his country (“I’ve never asked the President, so I don’t really know what his opinions are on that one way or another.”), he also punted when asked if he believed Obama is a Christian.

“I don’t know,” the Republican governor replied when asked about the President’s faith in an interview with The Washington Post. “I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that. I’ve never asked him that,” Walker said.

A Walker spokesperson later called the Washington Post 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.

Was this Walker’s “oops” moment?

The CNN Quiz Show

The CNN Quiz Show

But wait, whoa, wrote, Charles C. W. Cooke Monday in National Review , under the headline, The Media’s Embarrassing Scott Walker Spectacle:

For a question to be posed in good faith, it must be possible both for the respondent to deliver an honest answer, and for his inquisitor to accept that answer at face value. Evidently, Balz and Costa did not ask in good faith. Rather, they wanted a specific response, and they were determined to crucify their man if he didn’t give it to them. That, I’m afraid, is not journalism; it’s entertainment. Their goal wasn’t “asking questions”; it was enforcing a catechism. The intention here wasn’t to ascertain facts; it was to begin a call-and-response. For a brief moment in the lobby, the Washington Post was the high priest and Walker was the congregant. The inquisition did not end well. (Walker’s press team seemed to recognize this, and undercut him at the first opportunity.) Politically speaking, Ross Douthat has a kernel of a point when he proposes that Walker could have answered the “bad question” more adroitly. Certainly, it would be nice if conservatives were not always so tongue-tied. But, in a case such as this, one really cannot extricate the question from the answer. Because the Post’s inquiry could only provoke one correct response — “yes” — and because the questioners knew that Walker was unlikely to repeat the words upon which they had conditioned his salvation, any longer meditation on how he should have addressed the ambush seems rather pointless.

xxxxx

Such suspicions are routinely expressed on the left. At various points during Obama’s tenure, public figures such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Maher have openly suggested that President Obama is either an atheist or an agnostic, and that he is merely pretending to be a Christian to placate the rubes in the middle of the country. “You know who’s a liar about [his faith],” Maher suggested last year, “is Obama. He’s a drop-dead atheist, absolutely.” “Our new president,” Christopher Hitchens told France 24 in 2009, “I’m practically sure he is not a believer.” Richard Dawkins, meanwhile, has noted correctly that this theory is popular among progressives. “Like many people,” he averred in 2014, “I’m sure that Obama is an atheist.” These statements lacked the modesty of Scott Walker’s effective “dunno.” In fact, they were far, far harsher. And yet they were met with relative indifference. Are we to conclude that the bien pensant class considers it to be more honorable for a person to suggest that the president of the United States is lying than to say that he does not know and does not care?

In remarks before the National Religious Broadcasters on Monday, Walker sought to use the media contretemps to his advantage. From Reid J. Epstein in the Wall Street Journal.

His comments about his treatment in the press are the latest indication he plans to make tensions with the media a central part of his appeal as he moves toward a presidential campaign. Earlier Monday his Wisconsin campaign apparatus released a fundraising appeal seeking donations to help Mr. Walker “stand up against the publicity hounds and the journalistic pack” and “show the clueless and mindless journalistic herd that you know what matters most and that it is not the pointless minutiae that they are pushing.”

“Enough with the media’s gotcha game,” Mr. Walker wrote Sunday on Twitter.

Mr. Walker’s speech here comes as he finds himself engaged in the most substantial scrutiny of the campaign to date. In the last month he has come under fire for avoiding an answer on whether he believes in the science of evolution, whether he agreed with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s since-recanted assessment that Mr. Obama doesn’t love the U.S. and, in a Saturday interview with the Post, saying he doesn’t know if Mr. Obama is a Christian.

Mr. Walker’s office eventually walked back his initial statements on evolution and the president’s religion, releasing statements saying “faith and science are compatible” and suggesting to the Post that the governor was making a rhetorical point in declining to answer the question about the president’s faith.

To the religious broadcasters, Mr. Walker pledged to mount a positive campaign if he seeks the presidency. He won’t, he said, delve into “what’s wrong with our primary opponents or what’s wrong with our general election opponent.”

Who was Deep Throat?

Who was Deep Throat?

Also in the Washington Post, Paul Waldman writes

The reason for Scott Walker’s recent rise in the early stages of the 2016 Republican primary contest isn’t his stunning personal charisma, his inspiring life story, or his extraordinary rhetorical gifts. He’s getting more attention because unlike most of the contenders, he seems like a candidate who can unite establishment Republicans and grassroots Republicans, appealing equally to both. You can see it in a pair of articles out on him today: this one in the Post on how he crushed labor unions in Wisconsin, and this one in the New York Times on how he has been emphasizing the divisive social issues like abortion that he played played down in his races in the state.

But most of the attention Walker has been getting in the last few days has been about his relationship to the Republican fever swamp, the place where Barack Obama is a Muslim foreigner on a mission to destroy America, the country he despises.

Walker has been rather inelegantly dancing around questions about the president, and the Democrats calling attention to each clunky step may be hoping that this will be a liability should Walker become the GOP nominee. But they might not want to get their hopes up too high. Republican candidates seldom lose the presidency because they’re too ideologically or temperamentally right-wing.

Mark Felt was Deep Throat

Mark Felt was Deep Throat

 

Writing at The Federalist, Robert Tracinski says that what really irks the left about Walker is that he left college his senior year without graduating. He is running for president and he is not a college graduate. The headline: Scott Walker Is a Threat to the Existing Social Order

After all, he has won three straight elections in a swing state, while challenging the public employees’ unions head-on and significantly reducing their government privileges. (This is precisely what makes him interesting to those of us on the right.) The mainstream media feel that they need to disqualify him now, so they’re looking for anything they can use against him.

But behind that, there is a more visceral reaction. The real purpose of higher education is to learn the knowledge and skills required for success later in life. So if someone has already become a success, whether or not he went to college is irrelevant. If he has achieved the end, what does it matter that he didn’t do it by way of that specific means? But for the mainstream elites, particularly those at the top level in the media, a college education is not simply a means to an end. It is itself a key attainment that confers a special social status.

There are no real class divisions in America except one: the college-educated versus the non-college educated. It helps to think of this in terms borrowed from the world of a Jane Austen novel: graduating from college is what makes you a “gentleman.” (A degree from an Ivy League school makes you part of the aristocracy.) It qualifies you to marry the right people and hold the right kind of positions. It makes you respectable. And even if you don’t achieve much in the world of work and business, even if you’re still working as a barista ten years later, you still retain that special status. It’s a modern form of “genteel poverty,” which is considered superior to the regular kind of poverty.

If you don’t have a college degree, by contrast, you are looked down upon as a vulgar commoner who is presumptuously attempting to rise above his station. Which is pretty much what they’re saying about Scott Walker. This prejudice is particularly strong when applied to anyone from the right, whose retrograde views are easily attributed to his lack of attendance at the gentleman’s finishing school that is the university.

At the Washington Post, Jeffrey J. Selingo, placed Walker’s lack of a degree in useful context:

Much attention has been given in recent weeks to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to drop out of Marquette University in the spring of his senior year. The Republican presidential hopeful was just 34 credits short of earning a bachelor’s degree in 1990. He never went back.

Various media reports have analyzed how the lack of a college degree makes Walker unusual presidential material, at least in recent history, though the distinction makes him like most Americans, 70 percent of whom don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

But that figure includes people who never even stepped foot on a college campus. What’s more significant about Walker dropping out of college is that he’s like an increasing number of Americans who have some college credits, but no degree to show for their work.

There are nearly 45 million Americans over the age of 24 who have some college and no degree. That’s more than one in five U.S. adults. In many ways, those people are no better off financially than high-school graduates who never attempted college at all. College dropouts don’t earn much more, on average, than those with only a high-school diploma.

The salary premium for a college degree only comes if you actually earn a degree.

Of course, as president, Walker would presumably earn the same as Barack Obama (Columbia and Harvard Law) and George W. Bush (Yale and Harvard Business), etc.

p.s.

If CNN Quiz Show turns out to be success, how about MSNBC revives To Tell the Truth hosted by suspended anchor Brian Williams?

And, here is a more vintage clip, the way I remember the show, featuring one of Cruz’s favorite authors, Dr. Seuss, who, like Harper Lee, has a new book coming out.