A curator at the Reagan Library recently disputed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) breathless tale of being offered the chance to hold the same bible former President Ronald Reagan used to take the oath of office — at the behest of none other than Nancy Reagan.
But days later, that library curator has backtracked. She told the Associated Press that the governor did not make the request to hold the Bible himself and characterized the matter as a “simple misunderstanding.”
So what really happened?
The potential 2016 presidential contender has always been fond of comparing himself to Reagan. Recently, he likened his push to limit public sector employee’s collective bargaining rights to the late President’s contentious air traffic controller union-busting in the 1980s. But his penchant for all things Reagan can also border on the superstitious: Walker drew attention to the fact that his 2012 recall election victory coincided with the anniversary of the former President’s death, and that his own wedding anniversary falls on Reagan’s birthday.
The governor shared the story about holding the Bible at a 2013 Reagan Day Dinner in Milwaukee, according to the magazine The Progressive. He recalled visiting with Nancy Reagan at her Bel Air home before a speaking engagement at the Reagan Library in November 2012, months after the governor survived a recall election.
“One of the other great privileges I had — that was unbeknownst to me that they had set up — was we came around the corner on the tour, before I gave a speech in front of about a thousand people at the library,” Walker said. “The curator there had — I see him and he’s got white gloves and he’s got something in his hand.”
“They brought over a pair of white gloves to me and they said, ‘No one has touched this since President Reagan. It’s his mother’s Bible that he took the oath of office on. Mrs. Reagan would like you to hold it and take a picture with it,’” he continued to applause.
The Progressive got in touch with Jennifer Torres, an artifacts curator at the library, to fact-check Walker’s account for a story published last week.
Torres told the magazine by email that Walker had actually been the one who requested to hold the Bible when he visited the library for his speech. The wording of her response also suggested that Walker had made the request prior to traveling to California for the engagement.
“We decided to remove the Bible the day Gov. Walker was in town to comply with his request, took the Bible back to collections after the photo, and re-installed it on exhibit a few days later,” she wrote.
Torres also told the magazine that many members of the library’s staff had come in contact with the Bible, contradicting Walker’s statement that a curator had told him he was the first person to hold it since Reagan himself.
But Torres recanted some of those statements Monday, after the Associated Press picked up on the conflicting accounts of Walker’s visit.
While Torres said Walker’s advance team did inquire about an opportunity for the governor to view the Bible, the governor was genuinely surprised when he got to hold it himself, according to the report.
“It was the Reagan Foundation’s request to actually pull the Bible from the case and allow Gov. Walker to hold the Bible,” Torres told the AP. “It was not Gov. Walker nor his team’s idea to request that we remove it from the case or take a picture of the governor with it.”
Whether Nancy Reagan gave library staff a direct order to remove the Bible for Walker’s visit is a murkier matter, however.
The Reagan Foundation is a non-profit established by the late President, while the library is a branch of the National Archives. A Reagan Foundation spokeswoman told the AP that Walker probably thought the former first lady had pulled strings for him because her chief of staff had to give permission for the Bible to be removed from its display.
“She knew Mrs. Reagan would also like the idea and we shared that with him,” spokeswoman Melissa Giller told the AP in an email. “We aren’t sure how the other story got out (that it was his idea), and we feel badly about it because nothing about it was his idea.”
Torres had sent an email to Giller explaining that the whole dispute had been a “simple misunderstanding,” according to the AP.
Walker’s political organization, Our American Renewal, has refrained from getting into the particulars of Walker’s visit.
“Gov. Walker was honored to speak at the Reagan Library and to hold his mother’s Bible,” Walker spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski told the AP. “He was and continues to be one of his heroes, a president for the ages that accomplished great things for our country.”