This explains a lot:

There’s a funny thing about [Scott Walker]: The governor has a curious verbal tic—well known among some Walker watchers but largely ignored by everyone else—where, well, he says yes to everything.

Ask him a question at a press conference or in a gaggle, and he’ll bob his head up and down while saying something like “Yeah” or “Yeah, absolutely.” He says that the way other people might say “Um,” or “Listen,” or “Hmm.” It’s a filler word.

But here’s the thing: Not everyone knows that.

I had sort of picked up on it. Which is to say there were two back-to-back cases where everyone looked at what he said and drew a completely different conclusion than I did. The first instance was the Birthright Citizenship question, where the “Yeah” was followed by what looked to me like an evasion of the question and a desire to speak in generalities rather than answer the question asked. But everyone reported it as “Scott Walker wants to repeal the 14th Amendment.” And I couldn’t say otherwise[1], because as much as a lot of people want to pretend otherwise a desire to repeal birthright citizenship is, by any reading of popular opinion, a political mainstream opinion. It’s one I disagree with and more than that it’s a position that would make me less likely to vote for a person who supports it, but it wouldn’t have surprised me that it was Walker’s position. He later said it wasn’t.

But however non-surprising I might have found that position to be, the notion that Walker would even rhetorically support a Canadian Wall was not credible to me and a quick reading of what was said demonstrated it as much. Really, Walker’s argument didn’t even make sense on his critics’ own terms. He hates Mexicans so much he wants to build a wall to keep out Canadians? That’s a weird pander. If he had stuck by it, I would have guessed it would have had more to do with not wanting to seem racist by shrugging and saying “Sure, let’s keep out white people, too, because border and I’m not racist.” But he didn’t stick by the comment and it once again seemed to me there was some midwestern agreeableness going on along with saying “Yeah” at the top. From the Daily Beast article:

“[P]art of this may be due to Walker’s unfortunate verbal tic where he answers questions with what appears to be an affirmative before giving his intended answer,” Sykes wrote on Right Wisconsin. “If a reporter approached him at the Paducah County Fair and asked Walker if he supported a federal plan to beat baby whales to death with the bodies of baby whales, Walker might reply, ‘Yeah…. But what we should focus on is returning power to the states and the …’”

Sykes should know. He’s one of the single most powerful conservative voices in the Badger State, and estimates he’s interviewed Walker hundreds of times since his early days in the State Assembly.

“We joke about it all the time,” he told The Daily Beast. “It’s almost like a parlor game: What did you get him to say yes to, initially? Anything!”

And perhaps this is why I ended up coming a bit to Walker’s defense. It wasn’t because I liked the candidate. If I an open to his getting the nomination it’s basically by figuring he will lose and it would be better for the party for him to lose than Jeb to lose. It wasn’t even because of my belief that contrary to the assumptions of everyone the GOP isn’t all trying to out-Trump Trump[2], because I wouldn’t have been surprised if Walker had made a lunge for Trump supporters. But I actually find myself coming to his defense because… well, I have a similar verbal tic.

I, too, say “Yeah” or “Yes” or even “sure” before saying what I intend to say which can completely contradict what I just said “Yeah” to. It’s less a verbal stall – though it may be that a little – and more an acknowledgement of polite “I gotcha.” I have actually been known to say “Yeah, no I don’t agree with that at all.” Some people want to build a wall to block off Canadians? “Yeah, [let me tell you what I think about that].” Now, in my case, I might say something to the effect of “Yeah, I understand that some people are really considered about border security to the north, but while I don’t even believe a wall blocking off Mexico is an especially good idea I believe it’s a really bad one to try to block off Canada.”

That’s not what Walker did, of course. Walker avoided answering the question, which added undue importance to the verbal tic. Of course, Walker is a politician and he has to be careful in what he says and so it’s understandable that he would fall into a trap I’d be at least modestly more likely to clear. But… he’s a politician, and this is definitely exposing a weakness of his. Journalists may be aching to get him to agree to just about anything to get a good story (rather than accurately assess his views), but at some point Walker himself needs to account for that. He’s not. And while I think he’s getting too much criticism for holding views that it seems apparent he doesn’t affirmatively hold, that itself should give any waffling Republican primary voter pause. Because it’s not going to magically go away if he secures the nomination.

[1] Except to say that “Terminating birthright citizenship” is not the same thing as “Repealing the 14th Amendment.” That this was the accepted framing is, like the notion that ending birthright citizenship is an outrageous position, an indication of a disconnect between popular opinion and people with a license to actually be heard.

[2] If anything, Trump’s audaciousness has had a bit of a calming effect. Because almost everybody realizes that they’re not willing enough to go far enough out there to meet Trump in hard core anti-immigration land. Instead, while Ted Cruz has made the calculated decision to try to reap a post-Trump windfall, most of the rest really haven’t. Instead, relatively casual comments have been assumed to be what they don’t actually seem to be.

Category: Statehouse

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