The Wisconsin governor’s new position against legal immigration could have huge implications for the GOP race.
On Monday, in an interview with Glenn Beck, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker staked a new position in the Republican Party argument over immigration. “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,” he said, “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.”
In the past, Republicans were merely opposed to illegal immigration. Mitt Romney touted “self-deportation” as a solution to unauthorized immigrants, while figures like Iowa Rep. Steve King channeled grassroots intensity to torpedo comprehensive reform and force a new course for Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and even Walker, who was for immigration reform before his move to the national stage. Legal immigration, by contrast, was uncontroversial. The same Romney who took a hard line on illegal immigration also promised foreign-born students that he would “staple a green card” to their college diplomas, and the same Sen. Ted Cruz who denounces “amnesty” at every opportunity has also argued for increasing the cap on H–1B visas—for skilled workers—by 500 percent.
In other words, Walker’s newfound skepticism of legal immigration is a real departure for the Republican mainstream. If he were a more factional candidate—like Ben Carson or even Sen. Rand Paul—it wouldn’t matter. Yes, the margins give you the freedom to say anything, but they also give your opponents the freedom to ignore you. Walker is far from marginal. He’s a conservative superstar with major backing and activist enthusiasm. And when he questions our regime of legal immigration, other candidates listen. To that point, think back to the 2012 primary, when Romney foreclosed a challenge from Texas Gov. Rick Perry by challenging him on immigration. After Perry declared that Republicans “don’t have a heart” if they oppose education subsidies for undocumented children during a September 2011 debate, Romney responded with incredulity over supporting any “illegals”: