By Ruth Conniff
Just how bad is it getting for embattled Governor Scott Walker? Bad enough that he spent Sunday morning refusing to answer softball questions from Fox News and making excuses for why he's ducking the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
The media has been hounding Walker since last week's release of 28,000 pages of emails written by his associates from the governor's time as Milwaukee County Executive. The emails show Walker and his aides communicating on a private network during regular work hours and mixing campaign and county tasks. Six of Walker's associates were ultimately convicted in the first John Doe investigation, and while no charges were leveled against Walker, a second secret investigation is underway.
Walker dodged reporters all week, leaving the state after the document dump on Wednesday and heading for Washington, D.C., for the National Governors Association's winter meeting. There, he gladhandled GOP elites in an effort to dispel the growing suspicion that he's another governor dogged by scandals like New Jersey's Chris Christie.
Finally, on Sunday, Walker did what embattled Republicans usually do: He turned to the rightwing Fox News Channel for a little PR boost. That, however, appears to have been a big mistake.
"If county workers were doing nothing wrong, why should they be using a private email account?" Fox News host Chris Wallace asked after displaying text from some of the secret emails.
Instead of playing the question like a straight shooter, Walker balked. "Well, but that's exactly to my point," he said. "You had a Democratic district attorney spend almost three years looking at every single one of those communications, interviewing people, talking to people, and closed the case last March."
"Did you know about the private email accounts?" Wallace asked again.
"No," Walker said. "Again, it's one of those where I point out the district attorney has reviewed every single one of these issues and..."
Wallace clearly wasn't buying it. "But sir, you're not answering my question," he said.
Walker appeared flummoxed by the pushback.
"No, because, I, I," he stammered. "I'm not going to get into 27,000 different pieces of information. The bottom line is, a Democrat who led the district attorney's office, who looked at all this, decided not to charge anything other than the individuals you mentioned, who were people who worked for the county in the past but don't work for me today. I think that's pretty straightforward."
The bumpy exchange was quite appropriately summarized Sunday night by a viral image on Twitter featuring just two sentences from the interview:
-- The Progressive (@theprogressive) February 24, 2014
Walker was confronted by a CNN reporter who asked a similar question later in the day. He refused to answer yet again, repeating his line about the district attorney. Walker added that if he did answer the questions, his response "would distract from my ability to be an effective governor in the state."
The governor did comment that he would not be attending this year's CPAC in March, an annual meet-and-green often seen as a launching pad for presidential aspirants that featured a keynote speech from Walker in 2013. He blamed "scheduling" conflicts for his decision to stay out of the national lens.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin newspapers spent the weekend blasting Walker for being even less up front than Christie, and a steady drip-drip-drip of emails from the trove of newly released documents showed Walker's aides making crass, racist jokes and speaking about matters of life and death in Milwaukee County in callous political terms.
It wasn't long ago that Walker was a darling of the rightwing media, willing to grant interviews to conservative cheerleaders in outlets large and small. Walker sat down with the rightwing blog American Thinker as recently as January 14, where his Q&A was introduced by flowery prose extolling his virtue as a "pragmatic, honest" governor who keeps his promises.
Walker then proceeded to hang himself with his own words.
"Governors should be defined not just by what they do and say, but who they surround themselves with, making sure to have the smartest person for a particular task or to head a specific agency," he said. "They should be judged on that basis and who they take advice from."
That may be the truest thing this governor has ever said.