The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Walker dodged a question on evolution. That was dumb. But not for the reason you think.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, seen in January, "punted" when asked Wednesday whether he believed in evolution. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

On Wednesday, Scott Walker was asked by a British journalist -- the Wisconsin governor was on a presidential campaign trip trade mission to London -- whether he believed in evolution.

Pretty standard question, right? Well, Walker botched it. "I’m going to punt on that one as well,” Walker said. (He had previously "punted" on lots of other questions, too.) “That’s a question that a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.”

Er, no.

Look, I get what Walker was trying to do. Evolution is a tremendously fraught topic because of its entanglement with religious beliefs. Many evangelicals, the vast majority of whom are Republicans, ascribe to the idea that God created the world in its current form and that if evolution exists, it is a process guided by God. Less-religious people tend to be stronger believers in the role of evolution unguided by an all-knowing being.

The polling on where people come down on the question of evolution suggests not only the variant viewpoints on the issue but also the consistency with which those beliefs have been held over time. Here's Gallup's data on it:

But that's not my issue with how Walker answered (or didn't) the question. For me, the dumbness of Walker's response is that it was so cravenly and transparently political -- an attempt to have it both ways that simply never, ever works at the presidential level.

It seems to be that the sine qua non of being someone who can (and does) win the presidency is to be as close as a candidate to who you are in real life. Be comfortable in your own skin. Say what you think on most things. Accept the fact that you will never please all or even most of the people in the country when you are running for president. And accept that to win the nomination -- and the presidency -- you need to get people to vote for you who aren't going to agree with you on every single issue.

Walker, realizing his mistake, tweeted out the response he should have given on evolution the first time around.

That puts him somewhere between the "God created humans in present form" and "Humans evolved, with God guiding" camps -- views that are shared by roughly three in every four Americans. The people who roll their eyes at Walker's view as expressed in that tweet aren't likely to have voted for him anyway -- and likely aren't even Republicans.

But, again, what Walker's position on evolution actually looks like is, largely, beside the point. The timidity displayed in his refusal to just say what he thought -- on evolution and a bunch of other topics -- isn't the best of traits for someone running for president.

Walker isn't the only 2016er not answering questions, of course. Chris Christie did the same thing -- albeit for different reasons -- while on his own foreign trip. And Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has almost nothing to lose given her lack of an obvious Democratic primary challenge, continues to avoid any setting in which she has to answer unplanned media questions -- preferring instead the comfortable sinecure of Twitter to issue statements.

I'm not suggesting that everyone running for president in 2016 adopt John McCain's ask-me-anything strategy of the 2000 campaign. McCain had a long-standing rapport with the press and, frankly, needed the attention given how heavy a favorite George W. Bush was for the nomination. But, presidential politics tends to favor the bold. Or at least those willing to say what they think, even if they know not everyone will like it.

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