A neat scoop by Andrew Johnson, although I’m more interested in grassroots reaction to it than I am in the story itself.

“Governor Walker does not support amnesty,” the governor’s spokesman, Tom Evenson, tells National Review Online. Evenson says the 2002 resolution was “stripped of references to amnesty before passage” and, in fact, reinforces the governor’s view that illegal immigrants should face penalties before they are granted citizenship. The resolution, viewable here, did not mention or spell out such penalties, and expressed support for “comprehensive immigration reform” that would have provided “greater opportunity for undocumented working immigrants to obtain legal residency in the United States.” 

After nearly a decade in the statehouse, Walker became the executive of liberal-leaning Milwaukee County after winning a special election in April 2002. The county board had been working on the immigration-reform resolution for two years and it came before Walker in May 2002, shortly after he came to office. According to an official record of the proceedings, it explained the reasons for the board’s support, including the contributions of immigrants to the county’s economy, their vulnerability to exploitation, and the fact that Milwaukee had played host to the National Council of La Raza’s 2001 convention, where the plight of illegal immigrants had been discussed…

Former county supervisor Dan Diliberti, who authored the resolution, says it was a symbolic statement of support for a policy of amnesty and comprehensive immigration reform. He recalls meeting with Walker to discuss the matter. “He was definitely for it,” Diliberti tells National Review Online in a phone interview.

Click here to view a scan of the resolution. So Walker does support comprehensive immigration reform — although we already knew that, given that he was willing to endorse a path to citizenship for illegals on camera as recently as two years ago, when he was already surely thinking of running in 2016. Curiously for a guy who’s running as a conservative hero, he really makes no bones about being an immigration squish. The most he and his team have done so far to push back on that perception is to trot out the talking point that he’s not for “amnesty,” by which they mean he wants illegals to meet certain qualifications before they qualify for legalization and citizenship, not that he means to bar them from that altogether. What’s useful about NRO’s scoop isn’t that it reveals some secretly held position, it’s that it reveals how long he’s held that position. Some Republicans came around on amnesty only after Romney got shellacked among Latino voters in 2012. Not this guy. And chances are, if he’s been consistent on this through the sturm and drang of the GOP civil war over immigration the last 10 years or so, he’ll be consistent about it if elected president. That’s one of Walker’s big selling points, right? When he tells you he’s going to do something, he does it. That logic applies to amnesty too.

Like I say, though, I’m more interested in conservative reaction. There are lots of ways one could go with this. You could applaud NRO’s piece as valuable research on a top-flight contender, guaranteeing that the right’s primary deliberations will be better informed. You could mostly shrug it off, as I’m inclined to do, on grounds that Walker’s really no worse than anyone else in the GOP field on this, as bad as he may be. If you believe the developing conventional wisdom, our three most “electable” candidates, hands down, are Bush, Walker, and Marco Rubio; Rubio tried to make amnesty federal law, Walker signed a county resolution hoping that amnesty would become federal law, and Jeb — well, the less said, the better. For border hawks, that’s some choice. Yet another way to react is to denounce NRO for publishing a (slightly) damaging hit piece on the GOP’s hero of the hour in the first place. Why try to weaken a strong candidate, even if it means revealing his deviation from a core plank of conservative orthodoxy? If and when Ted Cruz starts hammering Walker for this, then we can worry about whether Walker’s position was truly “conservative.” And of course there’s a fourth way to handle this: 2002 was a long time ago. Granted, Walker seems to hold basically the same position now as he held then, but he hasn’t spoken about it at length. We forgave Mitt Romney for once being pro-choice; we forgave John McCain for, er, once supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Why wouldn’t we forgive Walker if this is his only major blemish?

Your move, Team Cruz!