What began as a banner day for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in his quest to secure his party’s presidential nomination on Monday ended as a unique disaster.
According to Nicholas Confessore’s reporting in the New York Times on Monday, the libertarian billionaire David Koch told a crowd at a Manhattan fundraiser that Walker had all but secured his endorsement and the support of his and his brother’s donor network. “When the primaries are over and Scott Walker gets the nomination,” Koch is reported to have told the crowd.
“We will support whoever the candidate is,” Koch supposedly added in a quote now scrubbed from The Times story. “But it should be Scott Walker.”
But just a few hours later, Walker spoke with The Blaze host Glenn Beck where he adopted a position on legal immigration squarely at odds with the Kochs’ libertarian sympathies.
“In terms of legal immigration, how we need to approach that going forward is saying — the next president and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, on protecting American workers and American wages. Because the more I’ve talked to folks, I’ve talked to [Alabama Sen. Jeff] Sessions and others out there — but it is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today — is what is this doing for American workers looking for jobs, what is this doing to wages. And we need to have that be at the forefront of our discussion going forward.”
“Walker’s comments struck a strongly protectionist tone,” The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted. In late March, Walker frustrated his conservative supporters when he appeared to walk back his opposition to providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Though they backed his stance on the issue, Walker’s supporters grew concerned that the positions he adopts are calculated for maximum political benefit and not founded in conviction or principle. Some charged that Walker’s reversal on the value of legal immigration was also a politically-motivated evolution.
Though former Walker consultant Liz Mair surely has an ax to grind, her insights on this affair are compelling:
Internal polling must be looking dubious, showing attrition to more grassroots-conservative-preferred candidates for him to try this one.
— Liz Mair (@LizMair) April 20, 2015
Interesting that it's being reported that Walker got the Koch nod today, bc I'm hearing that Koch folks really pissed re: imm flip-flop.
— Liz Mair (@LizMair) April 21, 2015
Wondering if, with all Charles & David's spending on pro-immigration causes, they're thinking they picked wrong.
— Liz Mair (@LizMair) April 21, 2015
Minutes after Mair fired off these tweets, David Koch’s office issued a statement in which he insisted that neither he nor his brother had made an endorsement. “While I think Governor Walker is terrific, let me be clear, I am not endorsing or supporting any candidate for President at this point in time,” Koch’s statement read.
“By aligning himself with an immigration hawk like Sessions, Walker may be hoping to placate conservatives wary over his previous support for a pathway to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants,” The Huffington Post’s Igor Bobic opined. “Walker’s strategy is somewhat reminiscent of then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who, faced with similar questions over his devotion to the conservative cause in 2011, memorably tacked far right of his GOP rivals by endorsing ‘self-deportation.’ Yet not even Romney, who lost the Latino vote to Obama by more than 40 percentage points in November 2012, supported curbing legal immigration, a concept at the core of what it means to be American.”
Even most hardline anti-amnesty conservatives do not reject the principle of legal immigration. Nor do most oppose the streamlining of the visa process for skilled professionals in the technology and agricultural sectors. A 2013 Gallup survey found 71 percent of those polled favored increasing the number of visas available to aspiring immigrants with skills in STEM-related fields. They are joined by influential members of the business community. 80 percent of CFOs polled by a Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey in that year backed making it easier for immigrants with STEM degrees to access an H1B work visa. While almost every aspiring GOP 2016 hopeful opposes amnesty, they also note that the American immigration system, which currently serves as a family reunification service, needs to be restructured so as to attract and retain qualified immigrants.
There is a distinction between opposing illegal immigration and rewarding the illegal immigrants who do make it to the United States with legal status. While polls regularly indicate that Republicans strongly oppose illegal immigration, reforming the immigration system so that it provides skilled immigrants with access to expedited immigration and naturalization processes is another matter. Walker’s team seems to recognize that fact:
“Governor Walker supports American workers’ wages and the U.S. economy and thinks both should be considered when crafting a policy for legal immigration,” read a statement from Walker’s office. “He strongly supports legal immigration, and like many Americans, believes that our economic situation should be considered instead of arbitrary caps on the amount of immigrants that can enter.”
What’s more, the governor has said what he told Beck on prior occassions. “Once you do that, then we can talk about enforcing the laws by using an effective e-verify system for all employers, one that works for small businesses, farmers, and ranchers, and making sure that any legal immigration, no amnesty, any legal immigration system we go forward which is one that ultimately has to protect American workers and make sure American wages are going up,” Walker told Sean Hannity earlier this month.
So, this flap may be much ado about nothing, or it could have been the straw that broke the Kochs’ backs. Regardless, the impression that Walker’s stances on immigration policy are fluid is beginning to become conventional wisdom. He will have to address that liability soon.