DANA POINT, Calif. — Scott Walker denied Saturday that he has moved to the right to win the Republican nomination for president, saying that his positions have been “fairly consistent” on every issue but immigration.
“My positions are the same positions I’ve had for the last two decades,” the Wisconsin governor told hundreds of mega donors at the Koch donor network retreat here.
Walker insisted that he has not quite flip-flopped on immigration so much as fleshed out his position.
“This is one where I acknowledge that I didn’t really have a position before because as a governor you’re not involved in that,” he said. “This is one where I actually listened to the American people, looked at the facts, and made a decision in that regard. But for others, I’ve been fairly consistent.”
Walker also defended his support for a deal that will put up $250 million in taxpayer money to finance a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks. Politico’s Mike Allen pressed him on the subsidy during a half-hour question-and-answer session underneath a stand of palm trees in view of the Pacific Ocean.
“What a number of your fellow small-government conservatives are saying to me is,” Allen said, “how in the hell could you support using taxpayer money for a stadium for an NBA team co-owned by a billionaire raising money for Hillary” Clinton?
Walker responded that Wisconsin gets $6.5 million in tax revenue from the team every year.
“If you’re a business owner and you’ve got a business and one of your biggest customers says you’ve got to upgrade your facility or I’m going to take my business somewhere else, anybody who is smart in business is going to make sure they keep that business,” he said.
Some social conservatives have complained about an advertisement Walker ran last fall during a tough reelection fight in his blue state. Responding to a commercial from the Democratic group EMILY’S List, Walker ran an ad defending a law he signed that mandates women get ultrasounds before they can get an abortion. In the ad, Walker said his bill “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.”
Allen asked how that squares with his opposition to abortion.
“Right, that’s not what I said my position on abortion is. I said it’s what the bill does,” Walker responded. “It’s not an extreme position.”
He noted that he was “ahead of the curve” and that the state defunded Planned Parenthood four years ago.
Walker said that Donald Trump is tapping into frustration among conservatives that Republicans won control of the Senate last year but have not passed big-ticket bills like repealing Obamacare to send to President Obama’s desk.
The governor, leading in early polls of Iowa caucus-goers, touted his record of conservative achievements in the Badger State, from taking on unions to teacher tenure reform, welfare reform, property tax cuts and voter ID law. He also touted the right-to-work bill he signed earlier this year.
“I’m about as anti-Washington as you can get,” he said.
Walker dressed casually, wearing khakis and an open-collared blue dress shirt. The Washington Post is one of nine news organizations allowed in to cover the traditionally private Koch network donor meeting, on the condition that the donors present not be named without their permission.
Allen, from Politico, moderating the Q&A discussion, asked Walker whether Jeb Bush’s super PAC raising more than $100 million intimidates him.
“No,” said Walker. “He’s done a good job with connections to the family. And that’s great.”
“In the end, money doesn’t win elections,” he added. “Ideas do.”
Asked whether Bush leans too much on family, Walker demurred.
“I like his brother,” he said. “I think he did a lot of good things, particularly to bring this country together after 9/11.”
Walker covered a range of other issues.
He said his sons’ support for gay marriage does not change his opposition to it.
The Eagle Scout said he opposed the Boy Scouts of America allowing openly gay leaders when he was involved. But, he added: “It is already done. That’s a decision left up to the Boy Scouts.”
He said that he does not care whether he would face Hillary Rodham Clinton or Vice President Biden, who reports suggest is considering a bid for the Democratic nomination.
“Either way, bring it on,” he said. “Biden ran the first time for president when I was still in college.”
Walker said he wears a FitBit bracelet to help himself stay in shape by tracking how much exercise get gets. He said he sleeps between six hours to seven hours per night on average. He set a goal of walking 10,000 steps a day. Allen asked him to check what he was at so far on Saturday. Walker looked, and it was 9,128.
Asked why Mitt Romney lost in 2012, Walker said it was because “he just ran a referendum on Barack Obama.”