A reversal so predictable that even a dummy like me saw it coming.
But is it a reversal? Per Jamie Weinstein, maybe the headline should be “Scott Walker still stands by path to citizenship for illegals.” Here’s the key bit, which comes at exactly a minute in.
WALLACE: The question [in 2013] was, ‘Can you envision a world where if these people paid a penalty that they would have a path to citizenship?’ and you said, ‘Sure, that makes sense.’
WALKER: I believe there’s a way you can do that. First and foremost, you have to secure that border, or none of these plans make any sense.
Essentially, says Weinstein, he’s playing semantic games with the definition of “amnesty,” which isn’t the first time Walker’s done that. In November 2013, after the Wisconsin interview on immigration excerpted here by Chris Wallace started raising eyebrows on righty blogs, Walker told Breitbart News that he most certainly was not for “amnesty.” If you watch that Wisconsin interview, though, you’ll see that his idea for solving illegal immigration had less to do with tightening the border than with loosening it. “You hear some people talk about border security and a wall and all that,” he said at the time, but “to me, I don’t know that you need any of that if you had a better, saner way to let people into the country in the first place.” Not even John McCain and Lindsey Graham go so far as to define “border security” as easier admittance.
Depending upon how narrowly you define “amnesty,” though, even a guy as pro-open-borders as Walker 2013 could kinda sorta argue that he’s against it. In the strictest sense, “amnesty” means legalization for illegals who are already here with no prerequisites. Theoretically, if you support giving full citizenship to all 11 million but insist on, say, basic English fluency first, you’re not in favor of “amnesty” because you’re imposing a condition on their eligibility for citizenship. I think Walker’s going further than that in his chat with Wallace: He’s talking up actual border security now (I think), something he didn’t do at all in that 2013 interview, which is more than just a semantic change and will go a long way in getting conservatives who otherwise love him to forgive him for this obviously calculated flip-flop. But you can understand why Weinstein thinks Walker’s opposition to “amnesty” is shallow, especially in light of the boldfaced line above. If you define “amnesty” as any policy measure designed to let illegals stay, regardless of the conditions and irrespective of how much new border security precedes it, then yeah, Walker’s most definitely still for amnesty. Just skip to 1:00 of the clip and see for yourself.
An irony of his slipperiness on this issue is that he’s getting a benefit of the doubt that another young, appealing, checks-most-of-the-boxes Republican 2016 candidate doesn’t get. Marco Rubio’s stuck in the mid-single digits because no matter how much crap he eats publicly for pushing the Gang of Eight bill, many conservatives can’t forgive him — even though his current position on immigration is more or less identical to Walker’s current position. Every time he speaks somewhere, the reviews are glowing; he’s able to address national policy, especially foreign policy, with a degree of specificity that’ll probably take Walker months to reach, if he reaches it at all. If not for the Gang of Eight bill, I think the primaries would start largely as a two-man race between Walker and Rubio. As it is, the latter’s nearly an asterisk, with Walker and Jeb Bush sucking up most of the oxygen on the right and center that Rubio needs to get going. I’ve said before that I think Rubio needs some big endorsements, starting with Mitt Romney’s, plus some polling showing him performing unusually well with Latinos to gain traction with establishmentarians. There may be nothing he can do to gain traction with righties — but after reading this Byron York piece, I wonder.
[I]n our conversation Saturday, I asked Walker what Republicans in Washington should do in the standoff over funding the Department of Homeland Security. “Not just Republicans, I think the Congress as a whole needs to find a way to fund homeland security going forward,” Walker answered. He explained that he recognized the concerns lawmakers have about giving up their ability “to push back on the president’s questionable, if not illegal, actions.” Walker noted that he was part of the states’ lawsuit against Obama’s action. “I think they’re right that the president is wrong,” Walker told me, “but I also think we’ve got to make sure that homeland security isn’t compromised.”
After a little more along those lines, I said I was still a little unclear on where Walker stood. Should Republicans stand firm on not funding Obama’s unilateral action on immigration, or should they go ahead and fund the Department of Homeland Security without regard to what Obama has done? Here is what Walker said:
“I think they have to figure out some way to have the bridge to continue to fund homeland security but in a way that doesn’t remove their ability to come back sometime in the not too distant future if the court rules or if the administration changes how they do this action in a way that could be upheld in court. They need to have the power of the purse string to offer a counter to that.”
What does that mean, exactly? It’s not entirely clear.
Yeah, Walker’s not entirely clear on immigration here either. And so far, on foreign policy, he’s had little to say beyond some hawkish throat-clearing and claiming that facing down Wisconsin’s labor fanatics has helped prepare him for tough challenges abroad like ISIS. It’s way too early in the race to care about any of that; Walker will still be golden in the polls by the time the Republican debates begin. But if he continues to come off as platitudinous onstage while Rubio comes off as detailed and thoughtful, it might lead some center-righties partial to Walker right now to give Rubio a second look. That’s Rubio’s strategy — he’s not going to sink a candidate as well-funded as Bush or a candidate as accomplished as Walker, but maybe he can cannibalize parts of each man’s base and pull even with them. And then, at some point in February or March 2016, conservatives will have a tough choice to make: Whom to rally around as the one true Bush-killer in the race? Walker or Rubio?