Walker-ing Back a History of Sanity on Immigration

Now just because I argued Scott Walker’s context in Wisconsin made him seem more conservative (relatively speaking; no question he’s conservative, like everyone else running for president as a Republican) than he actually is doesn’t mean there aren’t some objective ideological standards he still has to meet. For one thing, it’s not real clear at this point whether his ferocity on, say, unions is matched by the requisite willingness to risk or even carry out wars against various foreigners. I’m guessing he’ll get there.

But he’s already showing movement on one subject where he does have a vulnerable past record of statements, though at the time they certainly seemed anodyne: immigration. TPM’s Daniel Strauss has the story:

In the past, Walker focused his arguments on fixing the nation’s broken immigration system and figuring out a way to properly incorporate the millions of immigrants living in the country illegally. Now, the Wisconsin governor’s comments are far more focused on his opposition to “amnesty” and the importance of border security.

As Walker has begun gearing up toward running for president in 2016, he’s been dogged by an interview he did in 2013 with The Wausau Daily Herald editorial board where he voiced support for a pathway to citizenship. Walker on Monday went on Fox News to say that he was misquoted by the Daily Herald and has always said “repeatedly I oppose amnesty.”

“I think we’re a nation of immigrants, but we’re also a nation of laws. We should have a legal way for people to come into this country either for work or for citizenship, just like we have for generations,” Walker told Fox News’ Bret Baier. “Part of that deal is we need to make sure we have a border that’s secure, not just for immigration reasons, but as I mentioned, for national security.”

He wasn’t misquoted, of course. And in fact, long before anyone outside of Milwaukee County had ever heard of him, Walker was following the then-“liberal” party line on immigration:

National Review and Politico have both reported in recent days that Walker signed resolutions in 2002 and 2006, respectively, in support of major immigration reform proposals. In 2002, National Review reported, as the Milwaukee County executive, Walker signed a resolution expressing support for “comprehensive immigration reform.” The resolution supported letting “undocumented working immigrants to obtain legal residency in the United States.”

In a sort of argument-in-the-alternative, Walker’s spox allows as how Walker’s “rhetoric” on immigration may have changed, but that’s because of the secular-socialist tyrant-scofflaw in the White House:

Kirsten Kukowski, the communications director for Walker’s 527 political committee, suggested to TPM on Thursday that President Barack Obama’s moves on immigration reform are what’s caused Walker’s shift in rhetoric.

“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.”

If you haven’t figured this out by now, Kukowski’s definition of Walker’s “position” is the classic formulation designed to put the most important question last, and then fail to answer it. How you “deal with those here illegally” is the rub, and in places like Iowa, a lot of conservative activists won’t accept opposition to “amnesty” as enough unless you are willing to make it clear that means police dogs and cattle cars and 11 million people being ejected across the borders. Walker’s not alone in being reluctant to put it that way, but his past record may make it necessary if he wants the Steve King endorsement.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.