Forget evolution, immigration is Scott Walker’s real challenge

Andrew Johnson of NRO reports that in 2002, as executive of Milwaukee County, Scott Walker signed a resolution that expressed support for “comprehensive immigration reform” that will “provide greater opportunity for undocumented working immigrants to obtain legal residency.” The author of the resolution says that Walker definitely supported it. Having signed it, he should be presumed to have supported, in any case.

Will this news harm Walker’s chances of becoming the GOP presidential nominee? Standing alone, it shouldn’t.

It’s one thing to sign a non-bonding resolution passed by the legislature in favor of “greater opportunity” for legal residency. It’s quite another to work with Chuck Schumer, as Marco Rubio did, to propose and guide to passage a Senate bill that confers both legal residency and a path to citizenship.

The potential problem I see for Walker resides not in his 2002 executive action, but in much more recent statements the governor has made in which he appeared to support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. In a Republican primary, I could vote for a candidate who, years ago, signed a resolution like the one from Milwaukee. I doubt that I could vote for a candidate who backs a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally.

Let’s look, then, at the two statements I know about in which Walker is said to have backed a path to citizenship. One was made in mid-2013 at an editorial board meeting of a newspaper in Wassau, Wisconsin. Walker agreed that if the immigration system is fixed, he “can envision a world where the people who are here [illegally] can get citizenship” and he added that this “makes sense.” This statement doesn’t amount to advocating a path to citizenship under current conditions, but it’s not the “hell no” position many of us would have preferred.

The other statement was made to Politico in March 2013. Walker said that once people who are “waiting in line” have been processed for citizenship, “if there’s a way to set up a process to enable people to come in and have a legal pathway, that’s something we have to embrace.”

There is wiggle room in this comment, but not much. Again, Walker comes across as “squishy” at best about a path to citizenship.

I’ve characterized Scott Walker, as well as Marco Rubio, as a “bridge candidate” — i.e., as occupying the space between center-right “establishment” candidates like Jeb Bush and down-the-line conservative candidates like Ted Cruz. One potential virtue of bridge candidacy is the ability to win centrist votes in a general election without being as centrist as, say, Jeb Bush.

Walker’s squishy statements about illegal immigration are not inconsistent with being a bridge candidate. But they do raise doubts as to whether Walker truly is less centrist than Bush on one of the two issues that make people think of Bush as a centrist (the other is Common Core). Accordingly, Walker’s comments could cost him the ability to continue making major inroads with the conservative base in states like Iowa.

Walker is going to have to think hard about exactly where to position himself on amnesty and a path to citizenship and, if he moves towards a harder line, how to square his position with past actions and statements.

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