Walker refuses to admit that he made a mistake.
Before I get around to writing about what happened at Gov. Scott Walker's press conference this evening, let me pay him a compliment: Whereas the press approach of his predecessor, Jim Doyle, was summed up recently by a veteran state Capitol reporter in three words -- "fear, paranoia and retribution" -- Walker knows the tough questions are coming and he stands up there and takes them.
You'd think that, after being duped by a transparently fraudulent caller pretending to be oil and chemical magnate David Koch made Walker a national laughing stock, he'd want to lay low for a while. But he's done two press conferences in as many days in which this phone call emerged as a focal point of the media interest he predicted to "Koch" would soon be petering out.
But at yesterday's news conference, one question I thought would surely be asked wasn't. Today, when the press corps was smaller -- maybe 50 people as opposed to 80 yesterday, with the most notable reduction being the national press -- I had a chance to ask it, when the governor called on me.
The question was this: "Governor, do you think you were wrong to have agreed with a caller who labeled David Axelrod a 'son-of-a-bitch' and to take no issue with him when he urged you to 'crush the bastards'"?
"No," was Walker's reply. "When he talked about inciting and things of that nature, that was something that I get all the time, all across the state. And the bottom line is, for us, we want to continue to have a civil debate about this, we want a good discussion about this. And the fact that he suggested something otherwise, we didn't think that was a good idea."
Let's break this down. First of all, Walker didn't answer the question I asked. He answered the question he was asked yesterday, about when he said "we thought about" planting troublemakers in the crowd to stir things up. (It's true, as Walker says, that he rejected this option, but only because he felt it wasn't necessary.)
My question wasn't about the planting of troublemakers. It was about how, when the reporter pretending to be Koch called Axelrod, the senior advisor to the president of the United States, "that son of a bitch," Walker replied: "No kidding, huh?"
And when "Koch" said, "Well, I'll tell you what, Scott, once you crush these bastards, I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time," the governor replied, "All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks for all the support in helping us to move the cause forward."
Moreover, consider what it says about Walker that he refuses to concede that his responses in this conversation, or the conversation itself, was a mistake. A normal person would acknowledge that this was a situation that could and should have been handled differently. A normal person would maybe take a little responsibility for his or her behavior, and apologize -- to Axelrod, to the unions, to the people of Wisconsin.
That would, among other things, be the politically smart thing to do.
Yet how alike Walker's behavior here is with how he's handled the crisis he's caused in Wisconsin: Admit nothing, avoid fact-based reality, operate as if you can get away with anything.
The rest of the press conference could be analyzed through the same lens. Walker praised Assembly Democrats for coming back and "debating the bill," ignoring that what has really been happening is that they are talking to themselves, offering amendment after amendment that the Republican majority shoots down, without even bothering to argue against it.
Walker has tweaked his message slightly. He now says he wants to give local governments "the tools they need" to deal with state budget cuts, which he indicated would be more than $1 billion. Previously, he called these 'the tools they've been asking for, not just for years but for decades," which Isthmus helped expose as a lie.
Walker also took a step back from a claim he made on Monday, that the state had only until "the end of this week" to approve a refinancing of state debt that will save the state $165 million. Walker now admits that the state has longer than that, at least until early next week. Here's how he framed it: "We're not setting an arbitrary deadline. If we can squeeze another day in, I'm happy to do that."
It was his own firm deadline that he now pegs as arbitrary! Does Walker really think no one is going to find that a little disingenuous? Or does he really not care if they do?