It appears that Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin believes he can shrug his way into being the Republican nominee for president. Journalists are quickly learning that if you ask Walker to comment on any of the issues that are riling up the fundamentalists, birthers or other right wingnuts these days, Walker will be respond with his impression of a popular emoticon: ¯(ツ)/¯.
On the question of where he stands on the theory of evolution, Walker replied, “That’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another. I am going to leave that up to you.”
On the question of how he plans to handle ISIS: “That’s certainly something I will answer in the United States in the future.”
When asked if he thinks President Obama is a Christian: “I don’t know,” and “I’ve never actually talked about it or I haven’t read about that.”
Or if he thinks Obama loves America, which is a “debate” going on in conservative circles right now: “I’ve never asked the President so I don’t really know what his opinions are on that one way or another.”
Someone should ask Walker if he agrees when liberals say the sky is blue, just to see him tap dance around that one, too.
This entire situation is so comical that it’s hard to imagine it’s doing anything but hurting Walker’s chances. Yet there is actually a method to his madness. While Democratic-leaning voters can be driven to distraction by politicians who refuse to take a side on contentious issues like this, the dodge-and-weave actually plays right into the hands of Republican voters, both of the Tea Party variety and the people who don’t care for all that culture war nonsense and just want lower taxes on rich people.
Both stripes of Republican voters will likely take Walker’s shruggie act as an indication that he secretly views things the way they do. For the rightwing ideologues, hearing Walker punt on issues like ISIS or whether or not Obama is a secret Muslim feeds right into their paranoid narratives about how the evil liberal media is suppressing rightwing truths. “He secretly agrees with us,” the narrative goes, “but he can’t say so out loud without being crucified by the liberal media.”
For those Republicans who don’t actually buy the birther narratives about Obama or who don’t reject the theory of evolution, however, the signal sent by Walker’s dunno posturing is a little different. To them, it’s: “He’s not an imbecile, but he has to play to the rubes in order to win Iowa.”
That’s why there’s an excellent chance that Walker’s little dance will work. Tea Party types get to have their victimization narrative flattered and elites get to have their sense that they’re bamboozling the rubes played to. Just as importantly, Walker’s refusal to take a stand on any of this makes it easier for him to appear sensible and moderate to the public at large if he does win the nomination. If he was foolish enough to actually go on the record agreeing with some of the more outlandish ideas that fringe right puts forward, those quotes could catch the public’s imagination in the way that Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” or Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments did.
But nothing is hard to quote. And though “I don’t know” may induce snickers, it doesn’t stir outrage. Perhaps we’re heading towards an era when Republican candidates communicate primarily through subtle nods designed to mean whatever you need to believe they mean.
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villain who can be followed @amandamarcotte.