Huckabee: I'll never back down from saying we need a path to citizenship for DREAMers

“If that bothers you to the point that you’d say, ‘I’d never vote for you,’” he told an audience in Virginia, “then you’re never going to vote for me.” Oh, now. There are plenty of reasons never to vote for Huck without dragging the poor DREAM kids into this.

Lefty Greg Sargent says this is a big deal. Is it? I think it’s a “big deal” in the sense that righties who don’t like Huckabee now have another reason not to like him, but realistically, how many candidates in the nascent GOP field will be coming out hard against DREAM this year? C’mon.

“I don’t believe that it is a just thing to punish someone who had nothing to do with the breaking of the law,” Huckabee told a crowd hosted by the Family Foundation, a Christian advocacy group that lobbies the Virginia legislature. “What I want to do is see, what can we do to put that person in a position where they do abide by the law and become a citizen? I would like that person to become a very generous tax-paying citizen rather than somebody who is going to take taxes away from the rest of us.”…

As an example, Huckabee related the true story of one son of illegal immigrants who started in Arkansas schools as a child and went on to graduate from the state’s largest high school as the valedictorian.

“Does he get the scholarship and go on to college so that he can become perhaps a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, a teacher?” Huckabee said. “Or do we say, ‘No son, you’re as far as you can go. You need to pick tomatoes.’ ”

“I don’t know how in the world that we’re going to punish that kid for something he had no control over,” Huckabee added.

Reality check: Scott Walker, the buzziest GOP contender in America right now, supports a path to citizenship not just for DREAMers but for adult illegals too. Marco Rubio, the next buzziest guy, led the charge for a Senate bill which would have added a path to citizenship for adult illegals to federal law. Jeb Bush, the establishment frontrunner, preposterously pretends to oppose citizenship for adult illegals but does support citizenship for DREAMers. Even Mitt Romney, who famously proposed self-deportation as a remedy to illegal immigration in 2012, said at the time that he’d support DREAM for kids who enlisted in the military. (He also said that, rather than simply rescind Obama’s 2012 DACA amnesty for DREAMers, he’d replace it with his own solution.) I’m guessing that the new and improved “softer” Romney will extend his support to making all DREAMers eligible for citizenship soon enough. Rather than ask whether Huckabee can survive supporting citizenship for DREAMers, then, ask this question instead: How many of the 20-30 Republican alternatives running for president actually disagree with him? Maybe Ted Cruz will, but I wouldn’t even bet on that. Everyone running, even the stalwart tea partiers, will want to make some concession on immigration to hopefully blunt the Democrats’ edge with Latino voters in 2016. Cruz can come out strong against amnesty for adults; he might even come out against citizenship for DREAMers. (He’ll certainly come out against chain migration for DREAM families, as will most everyone else.) But is he willing to oppose any form of legalization for DREAMers, knowing full well that once legalization is granted, citizenship will eventually follow? As of last year, more than 60 percent of white evangelicals, a group for whom Huckabee and Cruz will be competing, supported allowing adult illegals to stay in the U.S. What happens to those numbers when you ask specifically about the more sympathetic class of DREAMers, kids who came here through no fault of their own? Again, c’mon.

Explain to me, then, how Huckabee ends up taking a beating for his position when it’ll be, at worst, the overwhelming consensus view of the field and, at best, a comparatively restrained approach when people like Walker and Rubio are up there making the case for citizenship for everyone. One of two things will happen with the citizenship issue in the primaries. Either it’ll blow up as a litmus test for the base, in which case it’ll consume Walker and Rubio before it reaches Huckabee, or the fact that strong candidates like Walker and Rubio are endorsing the idea will move the Overton window for the party as a whole and make citizenship for a smaller class of illegals, like DREAMers, a viable compromise position for 2016. My hunch is that the second reaction is more likely than the first. Whenever I half-jokingly suggest prospective GOP tickets on Twitter (Romney/Bush? Bolton/Carson?), one of the strongest responses I get is for a Walker/Rubio or Rubio/Walker ticket. A lot of people want at least one of those guys on the ballot, but both support citizenship for illegals; the cognitive dissonance involved in being an anti-amnesty conservative but liking one or both of them will be resolved, I’d bet, in favor of “well, I guess citizenship for DREAMers is okay so long as it’s just for DREAMers.” It won’t be just for DREAMers in the end, but that little lie we’ll tell ourselves will be good enough to keep Walker and Rubio viable.

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