In Iowa, Walker Dodges Immigration Specifics
DES MOINES — Scott Walker memorably confronted protesters but ducked specifics on his immigration reform stance during a dizzying stop at the Iowa State Fair on Monday.
Back in the Hawkeye State for the first time since ceding to Donald Trump his status as the Republican frontrunner there, Walker was met with questions about Trump’s newly released immigration reform plan and how it stacks up with his own views.
But the Wisconsin governor was not eager to answer in any detail.
As Walker took questions from the Des Moines Register soapbox, a traditional stop at the fair for presidential candidates of both parties, one member of the audience, Jenny Turner, asked what he thought of Trump’s assessment that millions of illegal immigrants already in the U.S. “need to go.” Trump made the remark during an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“I do not believe in amnesty,” Walker responded, also hitting familiar notes about increased security at the U.S.-Mexico border, including building a wall.
In an interview earlier Monday with Fox News, Walker said Trump’s immigration reform plan, from what he had heard, is “very similar” to his own. Among other things, Trump has proposed demanding that Mexico pay to build a wall along its border with the U.S.
But, as members of the media swarmed Walker after his remarks at the fair, pressing for details on his stance, he would not reveal more.
Would he support, as Trump does, ending birthright citizenship?
“I think in terms of changing it, even [Senate Minority Leader] Harry Reid said it’s not right for a country to recognize a birthright for people whose families have not come in legally,” Walker said, without stating what he personally believes.
Would Walker deport the parents of children who are natural-born citizens?
“In terms of deporting, the best thing we can do is enforce the law,” he replied.
And when asked by RealClearPolitics what he meant by saying he does “not believe in amnesty,” Walker said: “That means you don’t — that means you don’t support amnesty.”
But did that mean Walker would deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.?
“No, it means I’d enforce the law. ... It means enforcing the law. E-verify, making sure every employer in this country upholds the law.”
“It’s pretty simple,” Walker added with finality. “I’ve said it. You can ask a million ways, but I’ve answered your question.”
The strained back-and-forth was illustrative of the two-term governor’s strategy as his polling numbers have recently declined in Iowa and nationally: extreme caution and message discipline.
If discussing immigration reform was not part of Walker’s message Monday, however, a confrontation with protesters played right into the overarching theme he has stressed in his campaign of having uncompromisingly taken on unions in Wisconsin and won.
During Walker’s speech, a group of protesters -- some of whom were from Wisconsin -- began to boo, holding bright yellow signs that read: “Don’t let Scott Walker do to America what he did to Wisconsin.”
“You failed your state!" one protester yelled out.
Typically unfazed by such protests, Walker actively engaged this one, growing visibly more riled up as the counterprogramming continued.
“I will not be intimidated, and I am not intimidated by you, sir,” Walker said to one protester, to loud cheers from the candidate’s supporters in the crowd.
“This is why I love coming to Iowa,” he added. “There’s no filter, there’s no hiding behind the national media; it’s happening right here and right now. And if that’s what you want out of your next president, someone who will not back down, then I ask for your vote.”
The performance might provide a jolt of energy to Walker’s Iowa campaign, which showed early promise but has recently flagged, a worrisome development to many of Walker’s allies. He has gone in a matter of weeks from the dominant frontrunner in Iowa to, after the first Republican debate, the third-ranking candidate, trailing Trump and Ben Carson. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Walker now at 11 percent support in the state, compared to nearly 21 percent at the beginning of August.
Trump made his own whirlwind visit to the state fair over the weekend, drawing crowds and headlines as he whisked Iowa children up in his branded helicopter for a brief joy ride, wearing his signature “Make America Great Again” cap all the while.
And with Jenny Turner’s question from the crowd Monday regarding Trump’s plan to confront illegal immigration, the businessman stole a bit of Walker’s spotlight even in absentia.
After Walker’s speech, Turner was not fully sold on the governor’s response.
“We’re all worried that [Walker] is not going to build the wall, because nobody has for 30 years,” said Turner, 35. “But I think he would enforce the laws that are on the books.”
But that was the extent of her analysis. She was too busy jostling to snap a photo with Walker as he moved on through the fairgrounds.