(Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

If you want the perfect illustration of the overwhelming gravitational pull to the right that Trumpism is exerting on Republicans, watch this video of Bill O’Reilly interviewing Ted Cruz last night.

In it, O’Reilly repeatedly pressed Cruz hard on whether he, like Donald Trump, would “round up” and deport all undocumented immigrants in the United States:

This is being widely portrayed in the press and on Twitter as a flip flop, in which Cruz previously said he wouldn’t undertake mass deportations but now says he would. But this isn’t really accurate. In this interview, Cruz does not really embrace the Trump position. Rather, he reiterates his own previously held stance that all would be subject to deportation under the current enforcement regime, as opposed to calling for stepped up proactive efforts to round ’em all up.

At several points, Cruz agrees that enforcement agents should search out and deport undocumented immigrants. But all he means by this is that agents currently do this. Cruz never says here that he’d dramatically increase investments in proactive round-’em-up efforts, which is the Trump position (Trump also claims he’d accomplish this through “good management,” whatever that means).

But this is still very significant, because it once again reveals the extraordinary pressure that Trump has exerted on GOP politicians to continue lurching ever rightward on immigration. What Cruz confirms here is that he would cancel Obama’s enforcement priorities, i.e., the administration’s decision to de-prioritize the removals of longtime residents who are low-level offenders and have ties to communities. (This is distinct from Obama’s executive actions deferring their deportation, which all the GOP candidates also oppose and which are more formal than the 2011 statement of enforcement priorities that preceded them.) Cruz would end not just Obama’s executive actions; he would also do away with the underlying guidelines that Obama has instituted that de-prioritize the removals of longtime residents.

The real tell here, though, is that Cruz tries to get to Trump’s right, by saying: “The biggest difference between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio and myself is that both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio would allow those 12 million people to become U.S. citizens.” There is actually some truth to this. Trump has said he’d let the “good ones” back, though no one knows what this means. Rubio has indeed left the door open to citizenship later. But Cruz has flatly ruled out legalization of undocumented immigrants currently here forever.

Meanwhile, Rubio aides are having a grand old time accusing Cruz of a big change in position. That’s pretty rich, given that Rubio himself recently shifted rightward on the issue, confirming that he would end Obama’s executive deportation relief for DREAMers on Day One.

All this confirms once again that Trump firmly established the terms of the intra-GOP immigration argument when he came out for mass deportations over six months ago. The leading GOP candidates — with the exception of Jeb Bush, who mounted a sustained moral challenge to Trumpism and as a result has now disappeared without a trace — have essentially surrendered to the debate parameters that Trump laid down. And they continue to refrain from challenging them in any meaningful sense.

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* HILLARY LEADS BERNIE IN TEXAS: A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll finds that Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by 54-44 among likely Democratic voters in Texas, though this represents a considerable narrowing. Note this:

Clinton has a formidable base of black and Hispanic voters, while Sanders is doing better with Anglos. She leads 70 percent to 27 percent among black voters and 60 percent to 37 percent among Hispanic voters.

That lead among Hispanics is notable: the Sanders camp has cited the closeness of the battle for Latinos in Nevada as a sign that he’ll make Super Tuesday states with high Latino populations, such as Texas and Colorado, very competitive.

* HILLARY LEADS BERNIE IN OHIO: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Clinton leads Sanders by 55-40 among likely Dem voters in Ohio. Key nugget: Clinton is leading by 71-26 among black voters — another sign that Sanders may still be struggling to make inroads with this crucial Dem consistency.

* TRUMP LEADS KASICH IN OHIO: The new Quinnipiac poll also finds that Donald Trump is leading the pack in Ohio, even besting Governor John Kasich: Trump has 31 percent of likely GOP primary voters; Kasich has 26 percent; Ted Cruz has 21 percent; and Marco-Mentum has 13 percent.

One thing to watch is whether Kasich sees an incentive to stay in until Ohio votes in mid-March, which could complicate Rubio’s efforts to emerge as the lone standing alternative to Trump.

* BUT BERNIE IS FIGHTING HARD FOR LATINO VOTES: Despite the above Texas finding, the new NBC News/Survey Monkey Tracking Poll finds a very tight race for Latinos nationally: Clinton leads Sanders by a mere three points among them, 46-43.

In the short term, the question is whether this can help Sanders compete for delegates in Texas and Colorado, perhaps blunting the force of Clinton’s expected  Super Tuesday victory.

* BERNIE SHARPENS ATTACK ON HILLARY: Sanders is now debuting this criticism of Clinton on the campaign trail:

“I have to say that I am delighted that Secretary Clinton, month after month after month, seems to be adopting more and more of the positions that we have advocated,” Sanders said, adding that the former secretary of state “is beginning to use a lot of the language and phraseology that we have used.”

There’s little doubt that Sanders’s presence in the race has forced Clinton to take sharper and more ambitious positions than her instincts might have dictated. It’s another sign that a contested primary has been a good thing.

* McCONNELL UNLIKELY TO CAVE IN COURT FIGHT: Politico reports that Democrats are increasing the pressure on Senate Republicans to consider Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia, but Mitch McConnell is unlikely to give ground:

Republicans say the opposition is misreading McConnell. They don’t believe his efforts to defend his majority hinge on the Supreme Court vacancy, and, if anything, the hard-line stance will increase Republican turnout and enhance the leader’s standing on the right, which largely views him as the face of the accommodationist GOP establishment.

Also, if Republicans hold hearings for Obama’s nominee, the public might come to support that nominee, making it harder, not easier, for Republicans not to act. So, better to do nothing and hope Dems can’t extract too much pain for it.

* FLIP FLOPS ALL OVER THE PLACE IN COURT BATTLE: Glenn Kessler has the definitive guide to what leading politicians have said over the years about whether the Senate is obliged to vote on Obama’s nominee. Here’s George W. Bush in 2005:

“The Senate also has a duty — to promptly consider each of these nominations on the Senate floor, discuss and debate their qualifications and then give them the up or down vote they deserve.”

I don’t believe the Senate is obliged to act; this will be settled by a political fight. But Kessler’s rundown is a comprehensive one that’s worth your time.

* SEA LEVELS RISING, RISING, RISING: The lead scientist on a new study has this to say about rising sea levels: “We can say with 95 percent probability that the 20th-century rise was faster than any of the previous 27 centuries.”

Yeah, but what about the centuries that preceded that? Huh? Huh? Huh? You got nothin’.