Politico says that Scott Walker is having a “crisis of faith” because social conservatives are questioning his bona fides. Showing their ignorance of what “social conservatism” actually is, they quoted a lot of evangelicals and mentioned over and over how it was surprising he would have this problem given that he mentions God a lot. You know, because that’s the criteria. Hold your hand up, say God led you, and the social conservatives will stop drooling on the floor long enough to scream “UNDER GOD!” defiantly when reciting the pledge of allegiance.
That Walker is under pressure to prove his social conservative bona fides is perhaps surprising. He’s worn his faith proudly as he crisscrosses the country, even suggesting that his ultimate decision on whether to seek the presidency is in God’s hands. “We want to discern that this is God’s calling,” Walker recently told World Magazine, a Christian publication. “Not just man’s calling.”
They did give some attention to the fact that there are perhaps aspects of social conservatism beyond singing “Jesus Loves Me”, noting some of Walker’s social conservative positions that have been highlighted on the trail.
The governor has also been highlighting what he calls his steadfast opposition to abortion and gay marriage, positions that he outlined in a Feb. 23 appearance before the National Religious Broadcasters convention. “We must stand up for marriage and the family,” he told those gathered, adding: “I believe in the family. And I believe in life.”
Not surprisingly, the parts of his social conservative record that they mention – abortion and gay marriage – are the ones most likely to make readers of Politico enraged at the mouth-breathers. Left out are the numerous other positions that social conservatives, yes, even non-Christian ones, cling to.
But what is perhaps more concerning is that the naiveté on display from Politico regarding the motivations and beliefs of social conservatives appears to be quite in line with Scott Walker’s own understanding of the group. A group that is arguably the largest and most influential portion of the conservative base.
Walker’s confusion is dumbfounding considering he’s been out hiring some of the smartest consultants in the business. You’d think someone would have told him that constantly appearing to be afraid of talking about social issues tends to make a less than convincing case that you’re the type that will fight for them. Especially when there are other candidates who aren’t as guarded with their beliefs.
So if there is a crisis of faith and one can’t attribute it to his lack of Christian credentials, then what’s the problem?
Well before I get into that, it’s important to remember something: running on social issues is not a bad election strategy.
In fact, running on social issues is exactly how some landmark elections, like President Obama’s, were won.
What people began to believe (including me) during the height of the tea party era from 2009 to 2011, was that no one cared about social issues. That social issues should be left to the “culture” to work out. We were led to believe, by no one in particular, that economic issues, devoid of any naughty words like “values” was the key to winning.
In 2010, our efforts were proven right, we thought. We won without really talking about conservative social values. In fact, many went out of their way to quash any attempt to talk about such a thing.
The media and the left decided to throw a wrench in the works in 2012. They started asking questions, mostly about abortion & gay marriage, designed to enflame. And it worked to some degree. Todd Akin being the obvious example.
And again we took the lesson. “See?” we said. “Social issues lose elections!”
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The proof that it’s wrong was happening right in front of us. While we were freaking out and putting tape over social conservatives’ mouths, Barack Obama and the Democrats were running on gay marriage, legalized abortion, the imaginary “war on women,” and of course, social justice.
While we were hiding from our prolife shadows, they were winning hearts and minds by appealing to the same issues on the opposite side of the spectrum. Of course, the media runs cover for them so it’s a little easier to get away with (after all, when Democrats run on social issues, they don’t call them social issues).
“Ok, so what then” my hypothetical republican construct asks. “They win because people gravitate more to their side of the social spectrum?”
Of course not. Poll after poll and state election after state election shows that the electorate at large sides more with social conservatism than social liberalism.
Our problem is simple and simply solved. We lose on social issues when our candidates treat them like they’re toxic instead of embracing them.
Unfortunately, if there’s one thing that we do not see Scott Walker doing, it’s embracing social conservative views.
On Meet the Press in 2013, when asked about how to reach young conservatives who might be more likely to support gay marriage, Walker said “when I talk about things, I talk about the economic and fiscal crisis in our state and in our country. That’s what people want to resonate about. They don’t want to get focused on those issues.” To be clear, “those issues” being social issues.
But don’t worry! If people start trying to burn down pizzerias when the owners answer hypothetical questions about gay marriage, Governor Walker will bravely say he has no responsibilities here whatsoever.
Buzzfeed quoted him as saying on the question of laws pertaining to gay marriage:
On the marriage issue, he can probably best be described as ‘evolving.’ Pointing to a 2006 state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Walker was quick to note — much to his apparent relief — that he was effectively powerless in the debate. ‘From my standpoint, as governor I won’t ever have any say in that because if you’re going to change the constitution, all it requires is the legislature and then a vote of the people,’ he said.”
What a fighter! (Just kidding, we already knew he wasn’t a fighter)
To make sure that everyone understands that he totally doesn’t have a dog in the fight, Walker said in June of 2014 that his view on gay marriage “really doesn’t matter.” I would venture to say he’s correct, though whether that lack of consequence is his choice or not is another question.
Back again in 2013, Walker assured reporters that the GOP was in no danger of losing elections because of conservative social views. As Walker put it with regard to abortion “I don’t focus on that, I don’t obsess with it.”
On behalf of the pro-life movement, I would like to apologize for “obsessing” about all that baby murder. Glad to hear it doesn’t interfere with GOP prospects.
It’s not comforting that all of this fence straddling and “non-focusing” is coming from a guy that doesn’t know whether the “fading influence” of religious conservatives is good or bad.
But again, and as I mentioned earlier, these are two of the most divisive issues in the social value landscape. Unlike a lot of fiscal & economic issues, these are intensely personal. The battle between government and the church on whether Jesus was instructing Christians to openly defy God’s will when rendering unto Caesar (spoiler: He wasn’t). The fight to save the lives of millions of unborn children who are at the mercy of parents that believe murder is a question of autonomy.
Important issues that Scott Walker has made clear over and over he’s unwilling to pick a side on with any passion or purpose.
But hey… he said he’s a Christian. So what am I complaining about?