Walker draws scrutiny from rivals for changing positions
WASHINGTON (AP) — Scott Walker’s rivals see him as a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination, so they are focusing on the Wisconsin governor’s changing positions on a number of issues.
The still-unofficial campaigns of several Republicans have assembled internal memos, research papers and detailed spreadsheets that highlight and track Walker’s shifts on positions from immigration to abortion.
They say Walker has a broad pattern of flip-flopping that will be his greatest vulnerability.
The rush of what’s known in the campaign trade as “opposition research” comes as Walker is in the midst of a swing through two states which hold early nominating contests. He travels next week to South Carolina after spending this weekend in New Hampshire.
Steve Duprey, a Republican national committeeman from New Hampshire who is not aligned with any candidate, said Walker is relatively unknown among voters in his state — meaning the governor is subject to being defined by his opponents.
“You have to be an authentic candidate,” Duprey said. “If people think you’re flipping left and right, that sticks with you.”
Walker has leapt into the top-tier of the possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates after earning strong reviews for early performances in Iowa and at several forums. That’s made him a target among his Republican competitors.
In the past week, aides working for other Republicans expected to run in 2016 have circulated materials that highlight Walker’s change in position on immigration, national education standards, abortion and anti-union legislation.
“The only major issue out there is immigration, and we listened to the people,” Walker told The Associated Press on Saturday during his New Hampshire tour when asked about his critics. “The other ones out there are just ridiculous.”
Veteran Republican operative John Feehery, who is not aligned with any of the potential candidates, said, “Voters still don’t know the real Scott Walker.”
“And if he thinks he can get them to like him merely by saying things that they want to hear, he is going to run into the same problem that plagued Mitt Romney: authenticity,” Feehery said.
AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for Walker’s campaign-in-waiting, said each issue needs to be examined in detail to better understand his positions.
“Gov. Walker has a proven record of championing big, bold reforms in Wisconsin to limit the government and empower people,” Strong said. “It’s lazy and inaccurate to simply lump all issues into one narrative instead of actually examining the facts.”
Walker has acknowledged changing some positions, most notably on immigration. As early as 2002, he publicly supported creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. In an interview with Fox News this month, Walker said he no longer supports what he termed “amnesty.”
He defended his shift in view, saying he had done so after talking to governors of border states and voters nationwide.
In the heat of his re-election campaign last year, Walker softened his position on abortion, saying in a television ad that the decision on whether to have an abortion is between “a woman and her doctor.”
This month, after drawing criticism from conservatives, Walker said he would sign a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Walker’s first budget as governor supported the Common Core academic standards in 2011, but he called for their repeal last summer. During his recent re-election campaign and in the months that followed, Walker said an effort to pass right-to-work legislation — which bans contracts that force all workers to pay union dues — in Wisconsin would be a distraction and he urged lawmakers not to address it.
Last week, after the Wisconsin Legislature did so, he signed the bill into law.
A former Republican National Committee chairman, Michael Steele, said he has heard from other Republicans about Walker’s shifts on policy positions. Steele said it is a matter that will play in the presidential primaries.
“If you’ve taken positions and done things, you’ve got to stay true to that. You cannot reframe it for a presidential race,” Steele said. “Everyone’s trying to find a way to carve these men and women up before they even get out of the gate.”
Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin. Associated Press writer Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minneapolis, contributed to this report.