So here’s what Rubio’s new top oppo guy, Joe Pounder, tweeted out a few hours ago in response to Cruz’s broadside on immigration this morning. If you’ve already read this post and the update, you know what’s going on. If not, here’s the quick version. Cruz floated an amendment to Rubio’s Gang of Eight bill in 2013 that would have preserved work permits and green cards for illegals but would have eliminated the path to citizenship. His campaign will tell you (and actually did tell me) that he did that not because he’s gung ho for legalization but because he wanted to set a trap for Democrats. Cruz wanted to prove that Dems don’t give a wet fart about letting illegals stay here to work and “come out of the shadows” or whatever; what they care about is turning illegals into citizens, because citizens vote and Latino citizens (especially if they’re recent immigrants) overwhelmingly vote Democratic. So Cruz called their bluff. I’ll trade you work permits and green cards for citizenship, he said. Democrats refused and rejected his amendment with help from Republicans like Rubio. That was really stupid strategically, since this sort of threshold legalization is exactly what illegals need to prepare the battlespace politically for eventual citizenship. But the amnesty activists on the left aren’t willing to play the long game so Schumer wasn’t either. They want a path to citizenship now. Cruz’s amendment went up in smoke and he got to tell everyone that he’d proved his point.
Long story short, according to Cruz’s campaign, the amendment does not prove that he’s pro-legalization. What it proves is that he’s pro-exposing Democrats and their Republican enablers for the lousy amnesty shills that they are. Sounds good. So … does that mean Cruz is anti-legalization? Did he not support his own amendment on the merits? For a guy who presents himself as a straight-shootin’ populist, he’s been curiously slippery on that point. I put the question directly to his campaign spokesman on Twitter after he’d tweeted at me this afternoon and he clammed up. How come? Back in 2013, the NYT put a similar question to him and got another oblique answer:
Asked about what to do with the people here illegally, however, he stressed that he had never tried to undo the goal of allowing them to stay.
“The amendment that I introduced removed the path to citizenship, but it did not change the underlying work permit from the Gang of Eight,” he said during a recent visit to El Paso. Mr. Cruz also noted that he had not called for deportation or, as Mitt Romney famously advocated, self-deportation…
Mr. Cruz said recent polling indicated that people outside Washington support some reform, including legal status without citizenship. He said he was against naturalization because it rewarded lawbreakers and was unfair to legal immigrants. It also perpetuates illegal crossings, he added…
Mr. Cruz has said the stalemate is denying help to farmers and ranchers who “have a real need for labor resources.”
The Times asked him what we should do about the 11 million and he referred them to his amendment about work permits and green cards. Huh. Doesn’t sound like a guy who supports Trump-style mass deportation to me. But it’s hard to say because, somehow, in 2015, three years into Ted Cruz’s Senate career and many months into his presidential campaign, we still don’t have a clear idea of what he wants to do about illegal immigrants. That’s odd, no? For a guy who loves to talk and is constantly patting himself on the back for taking bold stands, he’s been strangely quiet on that topic. Go figure.
Team Cruz’s spin about his amendment is part of a little game they’re playing, I think. During the primaries, they’re going to tell conservatives that the amendment was nothing more than a ploy designed to show that Democrats care about a path to citizenship. Don’t read anything into it. Once he becomes the nominee, though, they’re going to turn around and tell undecided centrists, who will be inundated with Democratic attack ads that Cruz hates illegals, that Cruz was actually behind the amendment 100 percent. Big fan of work permits and green cards, that Sen. Cruz. And God help the border-hawk RINO like me who dares to point out next year that he talked out of both sides of his mouths on the subject, as that’ll be deemed high treason in the midst of a brutal election battle for the future of America.
Exit question via Harry Enten: Did Cruz move too soon in attacking Rubio on immigration? Rubio’s going to spend weeks now arguing that Cruz isn’t much different than he is on immigration, which would be fine except that Trump’s still at 30 percent in the polls and is seen overwhelmingly by Republicans as the candidate who’d handle immigration best. If Rubio succeeds in framing Cruz as squishy on immigration (if not quite as squishy as he himself is), it’s a golden opportunity for Trump to jump in and attack both of them as pro-amnesty RINOs. Maybe Cruz should have waited until Trump had faded to launch this war. Assuming that Trump ever does fade, that is.