Rick Perry today employed a new argument for his slightly squishy immigration positions: The federal government’s failure to secure the borders forced his state to take up the issue of in-state tuition for illegal immigrant children in the first place.

“A lot of the problems that we face as governors would go away if they would secure the border,” Perry said on CNBC. “There has clearly been a failure of our federal government. That’s the reason that we’re having to deal with issues like in-state tuition.”

Perry’s three pillars for a secure border: Strategic fencing in metropolitan areas, more boots on the ground and aviation assets to assist border patrol agents.

“We need to have an immigration policy that’s thoughtful,” Perry said. “We’re a rule of law country. We’ve got to have a secure border so that we know who’s coming in and we’re making the right decisions about who should come in and when they should come in and how long they should stay.”

Then, in a subject-concluding statement that sounded anything but weak, Perry promised to secure the border and “end illegal immigration” if elected president.

Perry’s points today make sense. States like Arizona and Alabama, after all, have used the same federal failure argument to justify their stringent anti-illegal immigration state laws. And in making his argument against the federal government, Perry didn’t completely abandon his earlier arguments that (a) in-state tuition for illegals is a state-level issue and (b) it primarily pertains to education policy. He just more effectively parlayed questions about his debatable in-state tuition policy into an opportunity to gin up support for his strong border security stance and his general understanding of the broader immigration issue.

Taken in tandem with yesterday’s walk-back of his earlier accusation that anyone who opposes in-state tuition for illegal immigrants is heartless, Perry’s comments today suggest he is buffing his positions in a hurry. No doubt he’ll perform better in the next debate.