The WSJ’s headline: “Scott Walker Shifts Stance on Immigration at Private Dinner.” Is that right? What position did he “shift” on? I find myself in the unusual position here of having to defend Walker on grounds that he’s … actually been a true blue amnesty shill of longstanding. How dare the Journal accuse him of flip-flopping to support citizenship for illegals when in fact our Scott’s pushed citizenship for illegals for years!

No, really, he has. And unless I missed something somewhere, he’s never reversed himself on that point, even once.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans this month that he backed the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and to eventually become eligible for citizenship, a position at odds with his previous public statements on the matter…

But during the March 13 New Hampshire dinner, organized by New Hampshire Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn at the Copper Door Restaurant in Bedford, Mr. Walker said undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be deported, and he mocked 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s suggestion that they would “self-deport,” according to people who were there…

“He said no to citizenship now, but later they could get it,” said Bill Greiner, an owner of the Copper Door restaurant. Ken Merrifield, mayor of Franklin, N.H., who also attended, said Mr. Walker proposed that illegal immigrants should “get to the back of the line for citizenship” but not be deported.

Follow the timeline. In 2002, as a county executive, he signed a resolution endorsing citizenship for illegals. In 2006, while holding the same office, he signed a similar resolution endorsing the McCain/Kennedy immigration bill, which — ta da — endorsed citizenship for illegals. As recently as 2013, when he was already a national conservative rock star and serious presidential contender, he endorsed citizenship for illegals. The guy supports citizenship for illegals, full stop. The flip-flopping that the Journal’s accusing him of comes from him telling reporters over the past six weeks that he’s learned some hard lessons about immigration from Obama’s incompetence and overreach and that his view on the subject has now changed. But did it change specifically on citizenship? Here’s what his spokesman said last month:

“President Obama’s lack of leadership has completely changed how our immigration system now needs to be approached and Governor Walker has seen his fellow governors have to deal with the collateral damage of Obama’s decisions and lack of leadership,” Kukowski said in an email to TPM.

Walker believes, according to Kukowski, “First, Obama’s executive action should be repealed” and that “we need absolute security at our borders and then we can address fixing our legal immigration system and deal with those here illegally but amnesty is not the answer.”

What changed is Walker’s insistence on better border security, not on “dealing with those here illegally,” i.e. creating a path to citizenship. He’s making the same move on immigration as Rubio’s made, demanding improvements to security as a prerequisite to legalization rather than as part of some comprehensive deal. The Journal, hearing Walker say that he’s against “amnesty,” is equating “amnesty” with a path to citizenship when in reality Walker’s defining it as a path to citizenship without preconditions. H’s insisting on preconditions now, namely, better security. That’s not amnesty, at least according to him.

In fact, so consistent has Walker been about a path to citizenship that he affirmed his support for it less than three weeks ago in an appearance on Fox News Sunday. That was his chance to address a right-wing audience; that’s also the interview where he claimed that his views on immigration had changed, an obvious pander to the many border hawks in the GOP base. But even at a moment when he was trying to impress conservatives with his new hardline position, he couldn’t resist backing citizenship for illegals when Chris Wallace pressed him on it. From the transcript:

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.

He’s not going to back off this point. He’ll throw you all the red meat you want on border security, but he’s running as a center-right candidate who can appeal to moderates in the general election in a way that a more dogmatic conservative like Ted Cruz can’t. Citizenship for illegals helps him do that, and it’ll help him play better with Latino voters in the general election than Romney did three years ago. (Note in the excerpt up top how Walker has Romney on his mind when he broaches this subject. It’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that he’s also privately begun talking up Marco Rubio, the GOP’s biggest Latino star, as a prospective VP.) It’s a safe bet that for the next nine months, when he’s in Iowa he’ll play up the border-security parts of his immigration plank and when he’s in New Hampshire, with its more centrist GOP electorate, he’ll talk up the citizenship part, as he did here. If the Journal’s story hurts him at all, it won’t be on the bogus flip-flop point, it’ll be by calling attention to the fact that Walker’s pro-citizenship even now, when he’s running as the Great Right Hope. Conservatives who read blogs regularly already knew that, but conservatives who don’t might not. My point is simply that if we’re going to beat on him for this, let’s beat on him for the right reason — not for a “flip-flop” that he’s not guilty of but for holding this position, for upwards of 15 years, in the first place.

Update: Welp, go ahead and scratch everything you just read. Now I’m confused.

That’s the first time I’ve ever heard Walker or one of his mouthpieces claim that he doesn’t support citizenship, which makes this bit of damage control in response to the WSJ’s flip-flop story itself a flip-flop. And an odd one too insofar as the Journal’s bound to go back and interview more of the attendees at that dinner in New Hampshire. Was Walker lying then or is he lying now? Why on earth doesn’t he just say, “Like everyone else in the GOP field, I support legalization for illegals if and only if we secure the border first”? Why dig himself a deeper hole here?

Update: I like this joke from a Ted Cruz fan: