NBC's David Gregory interviewed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Sunday's Meet the Press, pressing him on the union-curbing budget bill that has caused mass demonstrations at the Capitol. Walker deftly handled Gregory's aggressive questions by insisting on the reasonableness of his position. The host seemed intent on finding the flaws in the governor's arguments, but he lacked the skill -- or the intimate knowledge of the issues -- to counter the well-practiced talking points.
Walker has been unflappable amid the uproar that greeted his budget-repair bill beginning on Feb. 11, and he remained so on Meet the Press. Gregory asked him to account for his position against most collective bargaining for public employees, and against negotiating an agreement with the unions. Walker framed his answers in terms of the unions' intransigence and the budget's dire state, and Gregory offered no effective counterarguments.
Similarly, Gregory made no headway in a line of questioning about Walker's decision to exempt police and firefighters from his proposed changes. "It's all about public safety," Walker said. A more informed interviewer might have taken the question a step further, asking about police and firefighter endorsements of Walker during the 2010 election, or about the potential of a Republican divide-and-conquer strategy toward labor. But Gregory was flummoxed.
You'd think Gregory might have better luck with last week's embarrassing prank call, during which the governor thought he was talking to billionaire backer David Koch. But Walker ran circles around him even on this topic, justifying his remarks about having "thought about" planting troublemakers among the Madison protesters. He congratulated himself for "rejecting" such a strategy, and Gregory failed to press him on the fact that, according the recorded phone call, he'd apparently rejected the strategy only as being ineffective.
"I'm an eternal optimist," Walker said at the end of the interview. With rhetorical skills this formidable, he has good reason to be.