Go figure: Centrist Chris Christie now has (almost) the same position on immigration as Ted Cruz

Via Breitbart, skip to 3:00 for the immigration bit. If he had said this three days ago, he’d have exactly the same position as Mr. Conservative: We don’t even talk about legalization until the border is secured, and then, once it is, we’ll have a “conversation” about legalizing illegals — but under no circumstances do they get a path to citizenship. That’s the Cruz position right down to the use of the word “conversation” as a hedge on amnesty, or at least it was until Cruz suddenly declared this weekend that he’ll oppose legalization “today, tomorrow, forever.” No more “conversations” for him, apparently, but it’s striking that a guy to the left of Jeb Bush is now practically identical on the hottest issue of the campaign to the tea-party’s favorite candidate. How’d that happen?

You know how. It’s the same dynamic that drove Cruz to his new “no legalization” stance, namely, having to navigate between Rubio and Trump. Cruz and Christie both fear Rubio as a potential consensus center-right candidate (especially Christie since New Hampshire is must-win for him) and we all know what Rubio’s big liability is. Meanwhile, Trump’s hogging votes that Cruz and Christie both think should go to them, with Cruz aiming at Washington-hating right-leaning populists and Christie aiming at centrists who want a blunt-spoken tough guy who likes to brawl. Trump outmaneuvered them both by taking a hard, un-PC line with mass deportation. Neither Cruz nor Christie will go quite that far since it’ll be too tough to defend in a general election but both have now basically taken Mitt Romney’s self-deportation approach from 2012, the same anti-amnesty line that the GOP has convinced itself led to Romney losing the Latino vote to Obama by 44 points. Makes sense for Christie, who’s going to use this as a contrast in NH with Gang of Eight member Marco Rubio. I’m less sure that it makes sense for Cruz, who was doing A-OK in this race despite leaving the door open a crack to support legalization as president. Rubio’s attack on him at the debate for his legalization amendment in 2013 really spooked him, I think, and led him to take a more hardline position. Which was silly. Cruz’s record on amnesty is obviously better than Rubio’s, with or without that amendment. He should have, and could have, stood his ground about having a “conversation” after the border is secured. And if Trump eventually attacked him for that wiggle room, Cruz could have turned around and said, quite correctly, that Trump’s plan to deport everyone and then let “the good ones” back in is really, really dumb.

Incidentally, Christie’s adamant opposition to a path to citizenship — no one who breaks our laws should be rewarded with an American passport, he intones — is, as far as I can tell, brand new. Back in 2010, when his star was rising on the right, he called for a “common sense path to citizenship.” CNN asked him about that this past July and, amid some hedging about how illegals don’t come here to vote, he stood by those earlier comments. Over the last few months in New Hampshire, he’s been reiterating that people cross the border to work, not to become citizens, which I guess he was hoping would distract voters from pestering him about where he stands on citizenship. Finally, with Trump way out in front in New Hampshire and Rubio blocking his path, he’s given in. “Never” will I agree to a path to citizenship, he says now. Score one for Trumpmania.

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