Did Scott Walker just stumble on his way to the 2016 Republican presidential primary?
The Wisconsin governor and GOP presidential candidate found himself in the hot seat after comments Rudy Giuliani made last Wednesday in which the former New York mayor said he doesn't believe Obama "loves America."
When asked by the media about the former mayor's comments, not only did Walker refuse to affirm the president's love for his country ("I've never asked the President, so I don't really know what his opinions are on that one way or another."), he also punted when asked if he believed Obama is a Christian.
"I don't know," the Republican governor replied when asked about the President's faith in an interview with The Washington Post. "I've actually never talked about it or I haven't read about that. I've never asked him that," Walker said.
A Walker spokesperson later called the Washington Post to say "of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian," but his initial response reflected a disapproval of "gotcha questions" that "distract" from his record.
Was this Walker's "oops" moment?
While some conservatives say that Walker was simply refusing to engage in "gotcha" questions from a press fishing for controversy, others in the Republican Party appear concerned that, in a field in which handling tough questions with aplomb is part of the job description, Walker flat out failed.
Walker has branded himself as a man with "big, bold ideas and the courage to act on it."
Problem is, a refusal to engage on questions about the President might cast doubt on the "big," the "bold," and the "courage."
Of course, Mr. Giuliani appeared to be deliberately setting up 2016 hopefuls in his pointed comments about the President.
"He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me," Giuliani said at a dinner that Walker attended last week. "He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."
As the Monitor's Peter Grier recently wrote, "It walks up to the line of calling the president a 'Muslim Kenyan socialist,' without saying so – and thus posed a challenge to 2016 hopefuls."
Walker's rivals handled the challenge deftly.
“Governor Bush doesn’t question President Obama’s motives. He does question President Obama’s disastrous policies," former Florida governor and 2016 GOP hopeful Jeb Bush said late Friday in a statement.
"I believe the president loves America. His ideas are bad," Rubio said.
Writing about controversial questions, conservative columnist Matt Lewis of the Daily Beast said Saturday, "Good politicians can answer them effectively. Conservatives should be worried that Walker hasn't proven capable of navigating these land mines."
"Republicans who question President Obama's patriotism and his Christian faith, or who leave question marks around it, are in my judgment acting in ways that are wrong and unwise," said Pete Wehner, who a top policy adviser in George W. Bush's administration and a senior adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign. "Wrong because it's inappropriate and pulls our politics down and unwise because it's easy to underestimate how much this kind of stuff and all the debate surrounding it, hurts the Republican Party."
Veteran GOP strategist John Brabender, who advised former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign, told CNN that Walker's comments were damaging.
"Because there are so many qualified candidates, one mistake can be too many in a race like this," Brabender said. "You don't get multiple opportunities to introduce yourself."
But Walker, who developed a reputation as a fighter when he won one of the toughest recall elections in recent history, knows that it's all about the recovery.
Which is why he tried to move the conversation forward on Twitter Saturday.
Is it enough?
Nobody knows at this point. But lost in his comments about Obama's personal beliefs, Walker suggested he knows a thing or two about weathering political gaffes and media brouhahas.
"We know it's like riding a roller coaster, there's going to be ups and downs. We don't get too high when things are exciting, we don't get too low when things are bumpy along the way," he said. "We're going to be steady."
Buckle your safety belt, the 2016 campaign is already looking like the Six Flags Bizarro roller coaster.