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GOP candidates start a race to the bottom on immigration

Republican candidates are so eager to curry favor with the right on immigration, they're doing the impossible -- going much further than Mitt Romney ever did.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) raised a few eyebrows last week when he sat down with Glenn Beck and embraced a new, far-right position on legal immigration. The Republican governor, a former moderate on immigration, took such an extreme position that even some GOP lawmakers in the U.S. Senate thought he'd gone too far.
Maybe it was some kind of trial balloon? Perhaps Walker got ahead of himself and said something to Beck he didn't fully mean?
Apparently not. The unannounced Republican presidential hopeful sat down on Friday with the Quad City Times in Iowa, where he again expressed concerns about legal immigration to the U.S.

In an interview Friday with the Quad-City Times, Walker said it just makes sense to factor in economic conditions when deciding legal immigration levels. "A couple years ago, when the unemployment rate was at incredibly high levels and labor participation was low, why would we want to flood the market with more workers?" he asked. "So that would be a time when you would have arguably less." ... Walker did not answer directly whether he thinks immigrants are costing Americans jobs. Nor did he say, when asked, whether legal immigrants are pushing down wages in the U.S.

Walker adopted a similar line talking to a group of voters in Iowa the same day, and on Saturday, the governor used his concerns about legal immigration as an applause line
After saying he expects undocumented immigrants to return to their country of origin -- Walker didn't say how that would happen, exactly -- the Wisconsin Republican told a large evangelical audience, "When it comes to legal immigration, the economy should drive things. And the number one priority in that process going forward should be American workers and American wages. When times are rough, the last thing we want to do is flood the market, put more workers in at a time when workers are unemployed, wages are low. We need to make sure we put American workers first."
In other words, it wasn't a trial balloon -- Walker is evidently serious about this.
Jamelle Bouie had a good piece on the governor's new posture the other day, explaining that 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."
Indeed, while much of the Republican presidential field is in a race to the bottom on marriage equality, the trend is nearly identical on immigration, with the party going even further to the right on the issue than Mitt Romney did during the last cycle.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) last week told a conservative radio host that he would undo President Obama's policies protecting Dream Act kids and protecting millions from deportation. Bush, of course, is ostensibly the most moderate GOP candidate on immigration.
As for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), it's increasingly difficult to know what he thinks about one of his signature issues, in part because he appears to deliver entirely different messages to different audiences. McKay Coppins reported the other day:

Ever since a right-wing backlash blew up the bipartisan immigration bill that Sen. Marco Rubio helped champion in 2013, the ambitious Republican has struggled to find his political footing on the issue. For two years, he has hemmed and hawed; ducked and dodged; retracted, retreated from, and repeatedly revised his immigration rhetoric in a ploy to appease conservative activists without fully forsaking his position. These days, when the subject comes up in town hall meetings or TV interviews, the silver-tongued senator -- now officially running for the GOP presidential nomination -- is often reduced to reciting a few stilted talking points, and then angling to change the subject. But there is one setting where Rubio frequently and unabashedly touts his immigration record to great effect: closed-door meetings with the GOP's elite, high-dollar donors.

It seems when Rubio is talking to far-right grassroots activists, the Florida senator is eager to denounce the bipartisan bill he helped write. When Rubio is taking to business leaders and the party's elite contributors, he's equally eager to brag about his work on the bill he kinda sorta doesn't support anymore.