The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The unsettling reason Scott Walker punted on Obama’s faith

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Post’s Dan Balz and Robert Costa asked Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) a simple question: Did he believe President Obama is a Christian? “I don’t know,” was Walker’s face-palm-worthy response. “I’ve never asked him that…You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that.” Dana Milbank effectively eviscerated Walker for this. But as Alex Theodoridis argues at Monkey Cage, Walker is a moderate within the Republican Party on the question of the president’s religion.

In a poll Theodoridis conducted late last year, 54 percent of Republicans said “Muslim” when asked which faith among a list of four “most likely describes what Obama believes deep down.” Another 29 percent echoed Walker’s “I don’t know.” So that’s a whopping 83 percent of the GOP that doesn’t know or doesn’t believe the president is Christian despite long-running evidence to support it.

Here’s the thing. Republicans have never believed Obama is a Christian. A 2010 poll from the Pew Research Center showed 31 percent of them believed Obama was Muslim, up 14 points from March 2009. And 39 percent of them said they didn’t know his religion, up 11 points over the previous poll. That’s a combined 70 percent of Republicans. This explains why Walker can say “I don’t know” and suffer nothing politically. And lest Democrats become smug, they should know that the surveys by Theodoridis and by Gallup show plenty of other Democrats and Independents are murky on the president’s religion. This suggests that Walker or anyone else who might get the 2016 Republican presidential nomination won’t suffer in the general election for feigning knowledge of the truth or espousing an outright lie.

But there is no question that those harboring what they believe to be dark thoughts about Obama on this question are Republicans or conservatives willing to think the worst about him. Remember what FreedomWatch founder and chief executive Larry Klayman said at the Million Vets March in October 2013?

We are now ruled, quote unquote, by a president who bows down to Allah….I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.

This religious “othering” of the president goes hand-in-hand with that other pernicious brand espoused by Rudy Giuliani last week. The sentiment that Obama doesn’t “love America.”  How deep this affliction runs was displayed by David Jackson of North Carolina during an interview I did for MSNBC in September 2013. The irrational fear of the president was jaw-dropping.

Capehart: … you don’t think President Obama loves this country?
Jackson: Not at all. Not one bit, not one breath that comes out of his body.
Capehart: So why would he run for president of a country that he doesn’t love?
Jackson: Because he wanted to change it.
Capehart: And change into what?
Jackson: Look at what our country has become. You can’t go to church without somebody persecuting you. You can’t say anything about the Muslim religion without somebody persecuting you for it. He makes it very well known what his intentions are and how he wants to change the country. And it goes completely against everything this country was founded on. He’s a smart guy, he’s brilliant. But I think he’s the most dangerous person that’s ever walked in these United States. I fear from him, and I’m not afraid of anyone. I’m afraid of him.

And I’m afraid of a party that would profit politically from such fear. Continuing to question the president’s faith as well as his patriotism despite evidence that prove both is corrosive for the GOP and the nation in the long run.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter:@Capehartj