Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been dinged by principled conservatives for reversing course on ethanol and letting go of social media guru Liz Mair under heat from Iowa Republicans. One might chalk up those actions to the inevitable small adjustments one makes given the exaggerated import of the caucuses. (Well, it’s Iowa, so what do you expect?) Unfortunately, Walker now has created concern that he is doing the same with regard to immigration, going to the extreme right in the GOP to warn against legal immigration.
The Post reports that Walker now says, “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, protecting American workers and American wages.” He went on to cite favorably Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on the subject. The notion that legal immigration hurts the economy and native workers has been rebutted repeatedly and is widely disparaged by a host of pro-growth conservatives and scholars. Mair, whose work on immigration reform is well known, took to Twitter to denounce “the full, Olympics-quality flip-flop.” Before this, Walker had spoken favorably about the benefits of legal immigration, in keeping with his free-market outlook. He has already acknowledged changing his mind on illegal immigration, citing the president’s failure to enforce laws. (It’s not clear why that would be an issue if he were elected.)
AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for Walker’s Our American Revival PAC, tells me: “Governor Walker supports American workers’ wages and the U.S. economy and thinks both should be considered when crafting a policy for legal immigration. 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.”
It is not clear whether Walker is doing a 180 on legal immigration because he has not yet come out with a complete plan of his own. It’s not clear whether he understands that immigration is one way to boost economic growth. (There is replete evidence that immigration boosts revenue, growth and does not take jobs away from native-born workers.) Political tea-readers are therefore forced to guess at his inclinations from each utterance, but mentioning only Sessions by name is a red flag to those who see a know-nothing aversion to immigration that defies reality.
It would be hard to understand why Walker might go the Sessions route. His standing in the polls remains solid. Other pro-immigration Republicans are not hobbled by sticking with their past position. He could certainly oppose comprehensive immigration plans that legalize the status of those here illegally without veering into labor protectionism. Mitt Romney, who was bashed for flip-flopping and championed an aggressive stance that drove his Hispanic support through the floor (his “self-deportation” phrase was thrown up in his face repeatedly), is not a model one would want to follow.
We have remarked that the temptation in the GOP primary is to play to the loudest voices and the staunchest segment of the party, even though they do not represent a majority of voters in the party, let alone in the general electorate. When the position also happens to be inconsistent with past statements and at odds with the rest of one’s message (in Walker’s case a “common- sense” conservative), it is especially problematic. And if the inconsistency is politically unnecessary to boot, one really has to wonder about the candidate’s motives.
It is a very long campaign, and no one issue or one interview is going to do in a candidate. However, if voters begin to detect a pattern or can’t figure out a candidate’s convictions, it becomes a problem. And if a candidate forgets that the ultimate objective is beating the Democratic nominee, then he does himself and his party no favors in zigzagging. Walker would be smart to get out his own plan, stick with it and put himself on the side of pro-growth immigration reform.