Scott Walker and the Gaffe That Never Was

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 11 2014 9:37 AM

Scott Walker and the Gaffe That Never Was

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When he was 17, it was a very good year.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

I spent most of yesterday in an auditorium, working under spotty Internet conditions, so I missed the full-court press from progressive groups that wanted reporters to know about an apparent Scott Walker lie. He was 17 years old in 1984, but seemed to have boasted about his vote for Ronald Reagan. Here was how it looked coming from American Bridge, the Dem oppo-research PAC:

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Notice that the quote, given to Right Wing News, was three weeks old. Since January, Democratic groups have calmed their nerves about a Chris Christie 2016 campaign and started paying more attention to GOP donor faves like Walker. So somebody stumbled across this interview on a popular site that isn't much read by the left or the mainstream media.

Somebody found fool's good. John Hawkins, who conducted the interview with Walker, realized yesterday that the quote had been poorly transcribed. Walker didn't say "I had just become a teenager and voted for Ronald Reagan." He said, "I had just become a teenager, and a vote for Ronald Reagan mean limited government," etc. That's boilerplate, and not surprising given how often Walker cites Reagan. (He mentioned him 11 times in his memoir last year, usually in the context of how Reagan would have behaved boldly in this or that situation.)

So, what have we learned? Not much, but this is a useful hook for reminding the pundit class of how many people weren't influenced by the Reagan presidency. To have cast a vote for Reagan, in any of his races, you had to be born before November 1966. You'd be turning 48 this year. Fifty-four percent of the electorate is your age or older, but only about 40 percent of the overall population. Come 2016, there'll be as many voters who weren't old enough to vote for Reagan as voters who were. Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz—all of them fit in that category. And yet our pundits still talk about a successful Republican, one who cuts into the liberal and independent white vote, as one who wins "Reagan Democrats." It's weird. It's like saying, when the Democrats won back Congress in 2006, that they had won back "Nixon Democrats."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.