You could forgive Scott Walker for being a little bit cocky these days.
After all, the Wisconsin governor has won three elections in the past four years -- bringing his unbeaten streak to 11 straight (out of 11). And, he has suddenly -- seemingly because of one strong Iowa speech -- become a top-tier candidate for president in 2016.
It was that Walker who sat down with my colleagues Dan Balz and Bob Costa over the weekend. When asked whether he thinks President Obama is a Christian, Walker responded this way:
“I don’t know. . . . I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that. 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. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian? To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press. The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.”
Okay, so here's what happened. Walker had spent the past several days receiving negative press for his refusal to disavow comments about Obama made by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. He was clearly fed up with doing so. And when Dan and Bob asked about the idea of Obama as a Christian, he let fly with a 10,000 foot condemnation of the media when a short-and-sweet "I do" would have more than sufficed.
(Before I go any further, let me address the critics who say that Dan and Bob asking about Obama's faith was somehow out of bounds. Context matters. Giuliani's speech about Obama's lack of love for America -- and his subsequent comments about the president's upbringing -- made a very clear appeal to the "Obama as other" argument that has been around since the president became a national figure. In that context, asking about Obama's faith -- a point of contention in some conservative circles -- is entirely defensible. I would add that Dan Balz may be the furthest thing from a "gotcha" reporter who has ever walked the face of the Earth.)
Walker didn't answer that way because he feels totally emboldened to do so after his experiences of the past few years. He has faced down national labor unions -- and won. He has faced down national Democrats -- and won. He is facing down a deep and talented 2016 field -- and is winning. So, when he was asked a question that he a) thought was stupid and b) played into a broader narrative (Washington not understanding what real people care about), Walker refused to play ball. Rather than say something along the lines of, "Look, I don't know the president personally, so I can't speak to his faith but I take him at his word that he's a Christian," Walker couldn't resist turning the question into a philosophical riff on religion and the media.
Which is his right. But here's the thing: If you are going to take a stand on principle against questions from members of the media you don't like, then stand on principle. That's not what Walker did. As Dan and Bob write:
After the interview was completed, Walker spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster telephoned The Washington Post to say the governor was trying to make a point of principle by not answering such kinds of questions, not trying to cast doubt on Obama’s faith.
“Of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian,” she said. “He thinks these kinds of gotcha questions distract from what he’s doing as governor of Wisconsin to make the state better and make life better for people in his state.”
So, Walker took a "principled" stand. Then, realizing that said principled stand was going to create a bunch of unnecessary controversy, the Walker campaign-in-waiting moved in to clean up the spill. Why, you might be tempted to ask, did Walker not simply say what his campaign eventually did? The answer to that goes back to the first line of this item. He is riding a wave of confidence and didn't want to.
The one thing the process of running for president will do to you -- no matter who you are -- is humble you, at least if you are doing it right. The question is whether Walker gets that.