Scott Walker conveniently redefines "flip-flop" to excuse himself from all flip-flopping accusations

The Wisconsin governor argues that he hasn't flip-flopped on "amnesty" because he's never voted on it

Published May 21, 2015 9:59AM (EDT)

Scott Walker                        (AP/Charlie Neibergall)
Scott Walker (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Scott Walker's strategy on immigration reform is to say a bunch of different things all the time in order to confuse everyone. It's not a bad strategy on immigration or any other issue, so long as you don't care about anything. And who does?

Let's run through his mishmash of positions.

When he was Milwaukee county executive in 2006, he signed a resolution calling on Congress to pass a Kennedy-McCain immigration reform bill that served as the model for the comprehensive immigration reform battle of 2007. That one, much like the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform proposal, went down largely because of conservative opposition to "amnesty."

More relevantly, Walker in 2013 said on multiple occasions that he supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as part of a broader comprehensive immigration reform package.

In early March of this year, Walker disavowed his support for a path for citizenship -- aka. "amnesty" -- telling Fox News' Chris Wallace that "my view has changed. I'm flat out saying it."

I look at the problems we've experienced for the last few years. I've talked to governors on the border and others out there. I've talked to people all across America. And the concerns I have is that we need to secure the border. We ultimately need to put in place a system that works. A legal immigration system that works.

And part of doing this is put the onus on employers, getting them E-Verify and tools to do that. But I don't think you do it through amnesty.

Then in late March: Did he go back to supporting a path to citizenship in a private meeting with New Hampshire Republican bigwigs? That's what was reported at first. His spokesperson denied this and then some other attendees suggested that Walker voiced his support for a path to legalization, but not full citizenship -- right where most of the viable candidates are landing.

In April Walker suggested cracking down on legal immigration, too. He wasn't being quite as crazy as people made him out to be -- there are caps on the number of immigrants we allow in legally and reform is about getting those numbers right. But it's a far cry from from his tone on immigration in 2013: "If people want to come here and work hard in this country, I don't care if you come from Mexico or Canada or Ireland or Germany or South Africa or anywhere else. I want them here."

Walker should have just stuck with the explanation he made to Chris Wallace in March: that he changed his mind. He'd have said his piece, and then it would be up to the pundits and the voters to determine whether this counted as a flip-flop, and whether that matters.

Is it a flip-flop? It does bear the major characteristic of one: that it conveniently tracks Republican opinion on the matter ahead of a Republican presidential primary. And "flip-flop" is how Fox News' Bret Baier referred to it in an interview with Walker yesterday. Walker contested the characterization with an incredible piece of spin:

"A flip would be someone who voted on something and did something different," Walker said, "and these are not votes, I don’t have any impact on immigration as a governor, I don’t have any impact as a former county official. I would if I were to run and ultimately be elected as president."

Here Scott Walker is redefining "flip-flop" in a way that totally excludes the possibility of Scott Walker ever flip-flopping on an issue related to the federal government. He can say anything and then flip his position, and it will not count as a flip-flop because he did not vote on it. What if Scott Walker said "ISIS is good" in 2014 and then in 2015 said "no, ISIS is bad"? (This is just a hypothetical question. Jeb Bush says we're not allowed to ask hypothetical questions because it's offensive to the troops, so our apologies to both Jeb Bush and the troops.) That would not count as a flip-flop because Scott Walker never voted on any congressional resolutions about where ISIS lands on the Manichaean divide.

Per his definition, Scott Walker is incapable of ever committing a flip-flop since he has never before voted on a federal issue, like immigration reform. Even more conveniently, some of his competitors have! One of his chief rivals for the nomination, Sen. Marco Rubio, has voted for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that featured a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. One that he co-authored, at that. Before disavowing it. That's a flip-flop for sure. Scott Walker's change in position? Nothing to see there. He was just in Wisconsin doing humble little Wisconsin things, ignoring all this Washington claptrap from the clowns in Congress.

I buy it. Wait: no I don't. That's not a flip-flop, though; I never voted on anything.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell