First Walker was asked if he agreed with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani that Obama didn’t love America. "You should ask the president what he thinks about America,” Walker told the Associated Press. "I've never asked him, so I don't know." Contrast that response with this adroit if obvious statement released by aides to Jeb Bush: “Gov. Bush doesn't question President Obama's motives. He does question President Obama's disastrous policies."
Then, in what Walker’s defenders argued was a "gotcha" question, the Wisconsin governor was asked if he thought Obama was a Christian.
“I don’t know,” Walker said in an interview quoted in the Washington Post. He added: “I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that. I’ve never asked him that.”
Citing Walker’s complaint that reporters were asking him to “make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with,” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote:
“I’ve never had a conversation with Walker about whether he’s a cannibal, a eunuch, a sleeper cell for the Islamic State, a sufferer of irritable bowel syndrome or a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. By Walker’s logic, it would be fair for me to let stand the possibility that he just might be any of those — simply because I have no personal and direct refutation from him.”
Milbank suggested that Walker’s evasiveness was best understood as “a wink and nod at the far-right fringe where people really believe that Obama is a Muslim from Kenya who hates America.” Those people are certainly out there, as are creationists who probably were pleased when Walker refused to say whether he believed in evolution.
In Walker's defense, Tim Graham of the Media Research Center (“Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias”) offers this exegesis: “Walker, the son of a Protestant minister, hears the question very differently: asking if someone is a Christian is a very personal question, asking whether someone has committed themselves to Jesus in their heart. It’s like asking if he knows how often Obama prays. His reluctance to answer for someone he doesn’t know is not a ‘No.’ "
Nice try, but the political context of the question was clear and it’s the one Milbank mentioned: the conviction that “Obama is a Muslim from Kenya.”
Graham also suggests, as an alternative defense, that Walker simply wanted to make a point of principle of not answering "gotcha" questions. He notes that the governor's spokeswoman made that point in a call to the Post in which she also said: “Of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian."
But wait: How could she say that if her boss hadn't had that all-important a tête-à-tête with the president in which he examined Obama's prayer practices? Either Walker requires that sort of deep dive to pronounce a fellow politician a Christian or he doesn't.
Based on the public record, Walker should have been able to affirm personally what his spokeswoman did: that Obama identifies as a Christian -- and not just a "social justice" liberal Christian. In an interview with Christianity Today in 2008, Obama said that “accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals.”
A lot of perfectly relevant questions posed to political candidates are "gotcha" questions in the sense that they seek to put the candidates on record about subjects they'd rather avoid. The way to avoid being "got" is to answer straightforwardly.
Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3