The XX Factor

Could Scott Walker Steal Female Voters From Hillary Clinton? 

Scott Walker in Des Moines, Iowa, last month.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

While Donald Trump continues to delight the conservative base with his downward spiral into racist idiocy, someone who is a genuine threat to Hillary Clinton has stepped into the presidential race: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Right now, the narrative in much of the political press is that Walker has a gaffe problem that might hurt him. Walker may seem kind of doofy, but if he goes up against Clinton in the general election, he could give her a real run for her money. That’s because Walker does a much better job than most of the Republican field at lulling low-information voters into thinking he’s a moderate.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the issue of reproductive choice. Walker is a hardline anti-choice ideologue with a zero percent rating from NARAL and a 100 percent rating from Wisconsin Right to Life. Walker made restricting abortion access a major priority of his administration, signing a law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital—a standard ruse that exploits fears about women’s safety as a front to eliminate legal abortion. Walker is on record supporting a total ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest. He also takes a dim view on contraception, and has undermined access to birth control by defunding Planned Parenthood and refusing to enforce a state law requiring insurance companies to cover contraception. 

Despite his radical views, Walker ran a 2014 campaign ad which implied he’s pro-choice, arguing that his attempt to legislate legal abortion out of existence “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” But the decision isn’t left to you and your doctor if the doctor is not allowed to work with you. When asked by a reporter about his attacks on birth control, Walker dodged: “It all depends on what you define as birth control.” He added, “We’ve got a limited amount of time, and I would think people would want to hear about the issues that matter most to them.” Virtually all women use birth control at some point in their lives, and 62 percent of women of reproductive age are currently using birth control. But women aren’t people, and people do indeed want to hear about the issues that matter most to them.

Walker is also good at acting like a swell guy who’s just trying to help out. When asked by a conservative pundit about his support for mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, he acted like he is just trying to do the ladies a favor. “”I think about—my sons are 19 and 20, you know, we still have their first ultrasound picture,” he said. “It’s just a cool thing out there.” What’s especially cool about it is that doctors under his law are required to drag out the uncomfortable procedure as long as possible and lecture the patient about the embryo’s development.

Walker’s ability to shrug and pretend that he’s barely interested in this issue at all could work to make him seem like less of a threat to reproductive rights—and that could make him a formidable threat to Clinton. For Clinton to win, she has to get female and young voters fired up to vote, and such voters definitely get fired up by the war on women. If they don’t realize that Walker is a scary woman-basher, they might not mobilize in the numbers Clinton needs. That’s something Walker will be counting on.