In the space of a week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has, at various points in time, managed to occupy the entire spectrum of available positions on the question of whether the U.S. should seek to end the Constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship.
The issue was thrust into the public eye by real estate billionaire and current Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, whose campaign is built largely on a foundation of animus toward undocumented immigrants.
Trump and others concerned about illegal immigration believe that many immigrants purposefully try to give birth to children in the U.S. in hopes that having a child who is a citizen will lessen the chance that they will be deported. Trump has blithely asserted that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which says in part, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside,” won’t stand up in court.
Set aside, for a moment, the idea that the Constitution might be unconstitutional. That way lies madness.
Trump’s extraordinary rise to the top of the Republican primary heap has forced the other candidates to take positions on issues, like birthright citizenship, that they would likely have preferred to avoid. Walker in particular has suffered from the Trump wave, and has been struggling to regain his place as one of the top few candidates in the GOP race.
By all indications, the Walker campaign thought he had made a good start on it last week at the Iowa State Fair. Known for busting public employee unions in his home state, Walker was confronted by angry union members during an appearance at the fair, and shouted them down, telling them that he would not be intimidated.
The showdown with union members was political gold to the Walker team, as it could be used to remind Republican voters of what brought the Wisconsin governor to the national stage in the first place.
However, not long after that confrontation, Walker was moving through the fair while speaking with an MSNBC reporter who asked him what he felt about Trump’s call to end birthright citizenship.
Did he support it?
“Yeah, absolutely, going forward,” he said. “To me it's about enforcing the laws in this country.”
Walker was promptly assailed from the left, and accused of attempting to align himself with Trump in order to shore up fading poll numbers. By Friday, when he spoke with John Harwood of CNBC, he was claiming that his remarks in Iowa had been misunderstood. He wasn’t in favor of ending birthright citizenship, he said. In fact, he had no position on the question at all.
“I’m not taking a position on it one way or the other,” he said. “I’m saying that until you secure the border and enforce the laws, any discussion of about anything else is really looking past the very things we have to do.”
Walker’s position had evolved even further by Sunday, when he appeared on ABC’s This Week. Host George Stephanopolous pressed him on the issue. Does he support doing away with the guarantee of birthright citizenship that is, unambiguously, asserted in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution?
“The problem here, we need to address the root problem of the issue, which is we need a president who’s going to secure the borders, not just give lip service to it like we’ve seen over the past couple decades -- secure the border and enforce the laws,” Walker began. “My point all week has been and continues to be, as it was last month, until we address those core problems, we’re going to -- we’re not addressing the real issue and Americans are right to be upset with that.
Stephanopolous pressed again. “I understand that’s what you feel we have to address, but this is simply a yes or no question. Do you support that line of the Fourteenth Amendment?”
“Well, I said the law is there. And we need to enforce the laws including those that are in the Constitution,” he said, going on to argue that virtually all discussion of immigration reform is moot until the border has been made impenetrable.
“So you’re not seeking to repeal or alter the Fourteenth Amendment,” Stephanopolous prodded.
“No,” said Walker. “My point is any discussion that goes beyond securing the border and enforcing the laws are things that should be a red flag to voters out there, who for years have heard lip service from politicians and are understandably angry because those politicians haven’t been committed to following through on those promises.”
Up to now, Walker’s stock in trade as a politician on the national stage has been the image of a stolid Midwesterner who says what he means, means what he says, and whether you agree with him or not, can be trusted to stick to his position once he takes it.
The campaign’s current focus on the birthright citizenship question will probably shift to some other hot-button issue in the near future. But for Walker, the effects of his rapidly shifting positions on the issue could linger for an uncomfortably long time.