Evangelicals and Scott Walker: Will He Walk Away from the Failed Truce Strategy?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Last year about this time Gov. Scott Walker was touring the country promoting his book by urging Republicans to downplay the social issues, a move the American Principles Project analysts dubbed “the failed Truce strategy.”

But now, according to a Sunday article in the NY Times, a Walker pivot is afoot.

Just a few months ago, in his reelection campaign Walker ran a very personal 30-second political ad, calling himself pro-life but also calling abortion an “agonizing” decision, and pointing out the legislation he signed leaves “the final decision to a woman and her doctor.”

But now, reports The New York Times:

[T]he governor is also making an aggressive effort to win the hearts of the party’s Christian conservatives. In doing so, he is stressing a much harder line on social issues than he did just a few months ago. . . . A few weeks before the November election, in an interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the governor sidestepped questions about his earlier opposition to abortion, and declined four times to answer directly when asked if abortion should be prohibited after 20 weeks — a position he had previously embraced. He also declined to restate his earlier opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest. But in a breakout speech in Iowa on Jan. 24, he drew loud applause from the crowd of conservative activists when he declared that he had passed “pro-life legislation” in Wisconsin and “defunded Planned Parenthood.”

The New York Times notes a key distinction from the classic flip-flop executed by say, Romney, when he ran for president:

Mr. Walker does not appear to be rewriting his positions on specific issues; instead he is trying to redraw his political image from a fiscally minded governor who warned his party not to be distracted by divisive social issues to a conservative presidential candidate who will fight hard for these issues.

Asked by The New York Times about the shift, the Walker campaign released a statement describing him “as a full-spectrum conservative who has focused on big, bold reforms . . . He is a pro-life, traditional-marriage Republican who has taken on the special interests.”

Oh what a difference a presidential campaign makes! Conservatives, long weary of being romanced on the way to the dance only to be jilted after the ball, are wary. Is this merely a pivot for political convenience (uh-oh), or has the real Scott Walker merely been hiding in plain sight?

On the plus side, Walker has a long pro-life record, though his behavior at times indicates that he’s embarrassed by it. The son of a Baptist preacher, he can speak church with the best of them, but can just as easily slip into secular dismissiveness about social issues in general and his stated positions on life and natural marriage in specific. And he’s promoted and signed meaningful pro-life legislation even if there were no trumpets accompanying his signature on the bills.

No, the drift’s the thing. If he’ll pivot once, will he pivot back?  There’s the rub for conservatives and pro-life leaders alike who have just handed any Republican president the largest pro-life Congress in history. If the pivot is political, it’s a good guess “The Truce” is still in his hip pocket. But if it’s permanent maybe, just maybe, Scott Walker’s gotten the message.

Evangelicals and other pro-lifers have every reason to be skeptical.  Will Walker champion and pass the 20-week abortion ban now before the Wisconsin legislature?  Evangelicals and other social conservatives will be watching.

Clint Cline is the president of Design4, a messaging and media firm with offices in Florida and Washington, D.C.