This was tucked into last night’s QOTD but there’s enough buzz about it on social media that it’s worth a separate post. The further we get into the weeds of Cruz’s procedural maneuverings in 2013, the more I think the basic question in all this is obscured. The question: Would Rubio and Cruz support legalization for illegals as president? Legalization is crucially important because once it’s in place, Democrats will start insisting on full citizenship for legalized immigrants lest they suffer under a “second-class” stigma. Once you give the left an inch with legalization, they’ll try to take a mile by making illegals citizens. And eventually they’ll succeed.

Rubio, as a co-author of the Gang of Eight bill, obviously supports legalization. He agreed to a framework that would have granted provisional legalization without insisting on security improvements first. To me, that’s the most important difference between him and Cruz: Whatever you think Cruz may or may not secretly believe about immigration, he’s never (as far as I know) so much as considered a deal as bad as the “legalization now, security later” scheme that Rubio actually supported. He’s obviously preferable to Rubio on immigration. Does that mean he’d rule out legalization categorically as president, though? I’m thinking the answer is no because he consistently refuses to say he would. Right? His campaign chair has been telling people lately that he’ll rule it out but Cruz keeps hedging with blather about how he doesn’t “intend” to legalize anyone and how we’ll have a “conversation” about it once the border is secure. I don’t know how much clearer he can be without uttering the words that he’s not ruling it out, which is a risky position in a primary where Trump’s rolling by insisting on mass deportation. The only possible explanation for Cruz continuing to hedge on legalization is that he wants some wiggle room in the general election campaign. Democrats will hit him with everything they’ve got in portraying him as anti-immigrant. To which Cruz will say: Not so. Remember when I pushed that amendment to the Gang of Eight bill that would have increased work permits for illegals?

That’s what Baier’s after him for here. Cruz insists that the amendment was a poison pill designed to sink the bill; because it eliminated the path to citizenship, Democrats would have walked away from the Gang of Eight deal if it had passed and the whole thing would have collapsed. That’s great, says Baier, but what about you? Would Ted Cruz have voted for the overall Gang of Eight bill if his amendment had passed? Was he really for legalization at the time? Byron York interviewed Cruz in 2013:

Further, in a phone interview with Cruz on May 28, 2013, I specifically asked whether, despite his opposition to a path to citizenship, and given the three-year delay he called for, “You do buy into this whole legalization idea?”

“Legalization is the predicate of the Gang of Eight bill,” Cruz responded. “And in introducing amendments, what I endeavored to do was improve that bill so that it actually fixes the problem.”

[T]he situation is more complicated than Cruz says. Yes, he knew Democrats would never accept his amendments, but he spoke with apparent feeling about including legalization, if delayed, in the final deal.

The same year, at Princeton, Cruz said, “I want to see common sense immigration reform pass… I believe that if my amendments were adopted, the bill would pass. My effort in introducing them was to find solution that reflected common ground and fixed the problem.” Erick Erickson, a Cruz fan, agrees with York’s read on Cruz: “[H]e too did favor a pathway for legalization of some illegal immigrants, though not necessarily citizenship. Cruz is arguing now about poison pills and procedural tricks, but it was not so back then.” Erica Grieder, a reporter for the Texas Tribune who covered him at the time, also claims that he really did support legalization. This is the best description I’ve seen yet of what I think Cruz had in mind in 2013 when he pushed his amendment:

If it were all a big piece of political theater [in 2013], you’d think Cruz might have made clear that he didn’t support the bill’s legalization component – citizenship or not – and just wanted to make a point. Instead, he kept emphasizing the alleged benefits that would come with his amendment and how important it was to pass it…

This gave Cruz a gigantic out depending on the political climate. It’s hard to remember today, but in 2013 it was possible to imagine a world in which some type of immigration reform became the GOP consensus and the bigger liability for Cruz was his opposition to legalization. In this scenario, he would have been able to cite his amendment as proof that he was fine with immigration reform in general; he just didn’t like the citizenship piece and a few other components that Democrats included…

Instead, the party moved to the right, and now Cruz is using the exact same amendment to argue that he was leading the charge to kill immigration reform. It’s “heads I win, tails you lose” logic.

Precisely. True to form, Cruz’s legalization amendment was a clever strategic move. It was a sort of doubled-edged pander: He could use it alternately to show border hawks that he opposed the Gang of Eight bill (poison pill!) and to show swing voters that he’s more moderate on immigration than he’s reputed to be (pro-legalization!). And like I said yesterday, I think that’s exactly what he’ll do in the general election if he’s the nominee. And all the Cruz fans right now who are shouting “it was a poison pill!” in his defense will clear their throats and quiet down when he does because, after all, there’s a presidential election to be won and he’s still better than Rubio on this issue. (Which is true.)

But look. We’re deep, deep in the weeds now, and I think Joel Pollak is a thousand percent right about that. No one except political junkies will care at all about this when it comes time to vote. The takeaway will be that Rubio pushed a horrible amnesty bill and Cruz opposed it, even if he’s been a bit shifty about just how adamant that opposition was. The reason Cruz is taking fire in parts of righty media since the debate is partly because we already know all about Rubio’s sellout and partly because Cruz’s reputation is as the pristine pure conservative, forever lambasting the RINO traitors in his midst. Someone as pristine as that had better be especially pristine on immigration, the ultimate litmus test nowadays for RINO status among grassroots righties. Is he?

One more thing. This is a flat lie:

“To this day, [Rubio] supports granting citizenship to 12 million people here illegally,” Mr. Cruz told reporters in Los Angeles on Wednesday. “Last night was the first time he admitted it, and admitted not only on Spanish-language television but on English-language television.”

If you’re going to take a hard shot at Rubio for telling Spanish-speaking audiences one thing and English-speaking languages another, you should at least have your facts straight. Rubio has admitted plenty of times publicly to supporting a path to citizenship, including at a forum in New Hampshire this summer. It’s frankly weird that Cruz would accuse him of lying about it instead of stressing the fact that Rubio is so pro-citizenship that he’ll brazenly cop to it even at Republican primary events.