NH GOP chair: Scott Walker told us he supported a path to legalization for illegals, not citizenship

So, to recap: The Wall Street Journal claimed yesterday that Walker told an audience of New Hampshire Republicans that he supported a path to citizenship, which was — supposedly — a flip-flop from what Walker’s been telling reporters lately about opposing “amnesty.” Except that it’s not a flip-flop, as I tried to explain. Walker’s supported a path to citizenship for nearly 15 years. As recently as this month, when asked by Chris Wallace if he can imagine a path to citizenship if illegals paid a penalty first, he replied, “I believe there’s a way you can do that.” No flip-flop!

This, however, is a flip-flop:

“Gov. Walker has been very clear that he does not support amnesty and believes that border security must be established and the rule of law must be followed,” [Walker spokesman Kirsten] Kukowski said. “His position has not changed, he does not support citizenship for illegal immigrants, and this story line is false.”

That’s the statement Walker’s team put out yesterday afternoon as buzz built among righties over the WSJ story. Walker told Wallace a few weeks ago that he’d changed his mind on the need for border security; now, under fire over immigration again, he’s changed his mind on the rest of the issue and abandoned a path to citizenship too. No amnesty of any sort for illegals!

But wait. Here’s New Hampshire Republican Party chair Jennifer Horn, who was at the event described by the Journal:

“I specifically asked a follow-up question on the immigration reform issue, where he very clearly identified he was advocating a path for legal status but not citizenship,” Horn said in an interview with The Associated Press…

In the half-hour discussion, Walker called for securing the border and allowing for more visas for high-skilled workers. He also said it was unreasonable to deport millions of immigrants in the country illegally, preferring a system that allowed them to pay back taxes and achieve legal status over time, according to Horn.

“The governor was very specific that he was not advocating for citizenship for illegal immigrants,” Horn said.

Aha! So the Journal was wrong — Walker supports giving illegals a path to legal status not not full-fledged citizenship. Or is Horn lying to cover for him? The WSJ says three different people at the event confirmed that Walker talked about citizenship, not just legalization. How did all three of them get it wrong? And if Horn’s telling the truth, where does that leave us in terms of Walker’s “evolution” on this issue? On March 1st, in his interview with Wallace, he was pro-citizenship; on March 13th, at the dinner in New Hampshire, he was pro-legalization but anti-citizenship; yesterday, in his spokesman’s response to the Journal story, he was anti-citizenship but silent on legalization. I hate to use foul language on a family blog but there’s only one word for this performance: Romneyesque.

And the punchline is, none of it matters. Sincere border hawks know that there’s no meaningful distinction between supporting legalization and supporting citizenship. If illegals win the right to stay in the U.S. and work, political pressure from Democrats and demographic pressure from Latino voters will build on Congress to grant them a path to citizenship eventually. In fact, for an aspiring GOP presidential nominee, it’s arguably dumber to support legalization without citizenship than to suck it up and call for citizenship too. By withholding citizenship from illegals, you leave yourself open to the charge that you want them stuck in perpetual second-class status. That won’t earn Walker the goodwill he’s seeking from Latino voters; meanwhile, his (alleged) support for legalization and his ridiculous slipperiness on this subject is costing him goodwill among conservatives. If you’re going to pander to a key voting bloc, choose one and pander your ass off. Don’t try this ridiculous straddle where you try to make amnesty fans and border hawks happy by splitting the baby and supporting legalization but not citizenship. Trying to please everyone usually means pleasing no one.

Actually, there’s another punchline here. Assuming Horn is right and that Walker’s new position is legalization without citizenship, that means he’s engaging in the same sort of amnesty pander as — ta da — his chief rival, Jeb Bush. Remember, Jeb also claims that he opposes citizenship for adult illegals (although not for DREAMers), which is his own crude attempt to blunt attacks on his immigration position from the right. No one believes that Bush 45 would hold the line on that once in office, though; Jeb saying he opposes citizenship is exactly as credible as Obama saying in 2008 that he opposes gay marriage. If in fact Scott Walker’s new position is what Horn says, i.e. pro-legalization but anti-citizenship, then I suspect he came to that position for no better reason than that it’s also Jeb’s position, which means the issue will be more or less neutralized if the race eventually turns into a “Bush versus Walker” one-on-one. And if instead Jeb flames out and Marco Rubio supplants him as the great establishment hope, Walker can then argue that Rubio’s more of an amnesty fan than he himself is. After all, Rubio’s Gang of Eight bill endorsed a path to citizenship. And Scott Walker very deeply opposes such things, don’tcha know.

Exit question I’d never thought I’d ask: Among Bush, Christie, Walker, and Rubio, the establishment’s fab four, is Rubio actually the most trustworthy on immigration? Good lord.

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