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As Controversy Swirls, Scott Walker Plays With Fire

Attacks on the president could turn off swing voters and minorities that the Republican Party is trying to court.
Image: Wisconisn Governor Scott Walker gestures as he addresses the second session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa
Wisconisn Governor Scott Walker gestures as he addresses the second session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 28, 2012 REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) Reuters

Few issues fire up a good chunk of conservatives more than personal attacks against President Obama. At the same time, these attacks also turn off swing voters and minorities that the Republican Party is trying to court. And this is the situation that Scott Walker now finds himself in, after refusing 1) to comment on Rudy Giuliani’s assertion that Barack Obama doesn’t love his country, and 2) declining to weigh in on whether Obama is a Christian. Notable conservatives have cheered Walker’s rhetoric (see Erick Erickson here) and blasted the media for asking these types of questions. (What was the point of asking Walker about Obama and Christianity? That’s what many conservatives and Walker defenders are asking. It only feeds their skepticism of the MSM press.) Yet other conservative writers, like Matt Lewis, argue that this rhetoric is only going to alienate other voters. “In their minds, Walker is some sort of folk hero for providing that inept answer. But I can assure you, that’s not how the majority of Americans (who aren’t conservative activists on Twitter) will see it,” Lewis contends. (After all, just look at the career trajectories of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann). What’s more, as Democrat Robert Gibbs said on “Meet the Press” yesterday, if you’re stirring up controversies on the EASY questions, think what happens when they become HARDER as a presidential candidate. Here’s the thing about playing with fire: Sometimes you frighten your opposition by doing something they couldn’t do -- or ever dream to do. Other times, you get burned.

How the other GOP 2016ers responded to Giuliani’s comments

By the way, here is how the different Republican 2016ers responded to Giuliani’s comments:

Bush: "Governor Bush doesn't question President Obama's motives. He does question President Obama's disastrous policies." – per Bush’s spokeswoman

Graham: “I have no doubt that he loves his country. I have no doubt that he's a patriot. But his primary job as president of the United States is to defend this country and he's failing miserably.” – to ABC

Jindal: "The gist of what Mayor Giuliani said — that the President has shown himself to be completely unable to speak the truth about the nature of the threats from these terrorists – is true," Jindal said in a statement. "If you are looking for someone to condemn the mayor, look elsewhere."

Paul: “I think it’s a mistake to question people’s motives. It’s one thing to disagree on policy.”

Rubio: “Democrats aren’t asked to answer every time Joe Biden says something embarrassing. So I don’t know why I should answer every time a Republican does. I will suffice it to say that I believe the president loves America. I just think his ideas are bad

Walker: “Yeah, I mean, the mayor can speak for himself. I'm not going to comment on whether -- what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself as well. I'll tell you, I love America.” – to CNBC.

Giuliani walks it back

Meanwhile, Giuliani wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed that walks back his personal criticism of the president -- to a point. “My blunt language suggesting that the president doesn’t love America notwithstanding, I didn’t intend to question President Obama’s motives or the content of his heart. My intended focus really was the effect his words and his actions have on the morale of the country, and how that effect may damage his performance.” More Giuliani: “Obviously, I cannot read President Obama’s mind or heart, and to the extent that my words suggested otherwise, it was not my intention. When asked last week whether I thought the president was a patriot, I said I did, and would repeat that. I bear him no ill will, and in fact think that his personal journey is inspiring and a testament to much of what makes this country great.”

The real problem with foreign governments giving money to the Clinton Foundation

On the Democratic side of the 2016 equation, observers are continuing to ask questions why the Clinton Foundation is accepting donations from foreign governments. As we asked last week, if these donations stopped when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state (due to an apparent conflict of interest), shouldn’t they stop as she looks likely to pursue another White House run? The problem isn’t how the Clinton Foundation is using this money -- no doubt it benefitting poor nations and furthering humanitarian efforts. The apparent problem here is WHY foreign governments might want to give this money to the Clinton Foundation.

It’s going to be a busy week in the 2016 race

Finally on the 2016 front, it’s worth noting that this week will be a BUSY week in the still-developing presidential contest. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton is giving a speech at a Silicon Valley conference for women. Also on Tuesday, Marco Rubio is heading to New Hampshire to speak at the Politics and Eggs breakfast. And on Thursday through Saturday, there’s the annual CPAC conference in the DC area. Speakers will include Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker. So the speed of the 2016 contest will pick up this week in a big way.

More Senate Republicans urge GOP not to pick fight over DHS funding

The other big political story we’re watching this week is the fight over spending for the Department of Homeland Security, which expires on Friday. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker was the latest Republican to suggest that the GOP not pick a fight over this spending (by including riders rolling back the president’s immigration actions). “I was gratified by the judge's ruling [on immigration],” Corker said. “The president 22 times had said he couldn't do this, he didn't have the authority. So, I was very gratified by what the judge ruled. At the same time, I do believe in this time where we have the kind of threats that we have from all over the world, we certainly need to make sure that Homeland Security is fully funded. And my guess is we'll figure out a way to make sure that happens this week.” On ABC, Sen. Lindsey Graham was blunter: “I hope my House colleagues will understand that our best bet is to challenge this in court, that if we don't fund the Department of Homeland Security, we'll get blamed as a party.” As we’ve said before, the party that is divided rarely wins these kinds of shutdown showdowns.

Does the Al Shabaab threat make a showdown over DHS funding even riskier?

You also have to wonder if the terror threat by Al Shabaab on the Mall of America makes a showdown over the Department of Homeland Security even riskier. Here was the dispatch from NBC’s Kristen Welker on “Today”: “Heightened security this morning as the iconic Mall of America in the wake of a video released by the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab, calling for attacks against western shopping malls – specifically naming this one.” More Welker: “The group has claimed responsibility for the 2013 terrorist attack against the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, where more than 60 people were killed.

The impacts of a DHS shutdown

Meanwhile, Democrats have begun to list what could happen if the Department of Homeland Security isn’t funded after Feb. 27. Here was DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson on “Meet the Press”: “If we go into government shutdown, some 30,000 employees at my department will be furloughed, including a lot of headquarters personnel who I count on daily to stay one step ahead of groups like ISIL. A large part of the workforce will be required to come to work. But they'll come to work without pay.” The office of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe -- who represents a sizable number of DHS employees -- tells First Read that a DHS shutdown could hinder communication when it comes to port operations, and it would stop the state from receiving some grant funds. "Should we have a great debate on immigration? Sure we should, but you should not use it as a partisan ploy to shut down an agency that is vital to the security of our nation and not only vital to the security of the nation, it's a huge employment driver for all 50 states, but really for this region. It's a big deal," McAuliffe told NBC’s Perry Bacon.

Three points on the DNC’s post-election “autopsy” report

Finally, on Saturday, the Democratic National Committee issued it’s “autopsy” after the party’s 2014 midterm losses. Three points here. One, the chief shortcoming the DNC highlighted was message. “In order to consistently win on every level, we have to reconnect with the reason we want to win—and that reason is the people.” Two, this nine-page “preliminary” report PALES IN COMPARISON to the big report the RNC did after its losses in 2012. And three, the DNC omitted what is perhaps the organization’s biggest shortcoming in the Obama Era: Obama’s OFA (in many ways) has become a separate party organization that has diverted resources and attention away from the DNC. That’s a real problem as the party moves away from the Obama years.

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