Last Wednesday, Stephen Moore, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation who is an outspoken supporter of an immigration overhaul, described a recent telephone call with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, in which he said Mr. Walker had assured him he had not completely renounced his earlier support for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. "'I'm not going nativist, I'm pro-immigration,'" Mr. Walker said, according to Mr. Moore's account of the call to a reporter for The New York Times. On Sunday, after three days of pressure from Mr. Walker's aides, Mr. Moore said that he had "misspoken" when recounting his call with Mr. Walker -- and that the call had never actually taken place.
The chief economist at the Heritage Foundation is itself an awkward title -- the Republican think tank has moved away from its pretense of rigorous policy analysis -- but the job belongs to Stephen Moore. Earlier this year, after Moore published a bizarre piece criticizing the Affordable Care Act, Paul Krugman described the conservative as "a guy who has a troubled relationship with facts."
Krugman added at the time, "I don't mean that he's a slick dissembler; I mean that [Moore] seems more or less unable to publish an article without filling it with howlers ... in a way that ends up doing his cause a disservice."
This assessment came to mind last night, reading this New York Times report on a bizarre incident involving Moore and a leading Republican presidential candidate.
This one's a doozy, so let's back up for a moment and consider how we got to this point.
Scott Walker's position on immigration has been a garbled mess for months. The Republican governor used to be quite moderate on the issue, but as he moved closer to a national campaign, he quickly shifted to the far-right, even going so far as to attack legal immigration.
In private, however, Walker has hedged on his new-found posture, and in March, the Wisconsin governor reportedly told a New Hampshire audience -- behind closed doors -- that he supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
Walker and his team denied the reports, but added little clarity to his actual position.
With this in mind, Moore, a reform proponent, told the New York Times last week that he had a recent phone conversation with Walker, and heard directly from the unannounced candidate that he was "not going nativist" and does not oppose immigration.
This, of course, raised questions anew within the GOP -- is Walker saying one thing in private and something else in public? Is the governor simply pandering, offering half-hearted promises to the right on a key issue? Moore's on-the-record comments naturally reinforced fears within the party.
Which led to yesterday, when Moore reversed course entirely. It's not that he misunderstood Walker's comments, the Heritage Foundation economist said, it's that Moore now says he never even spoke to the governor about immigration at all.
Which version of the story is true is now anyone's guess. It's possible Team Walker pressured Moore to take this new line; it's possible Moore didn't have the conversation he claimed to have.
The GOP governor could help clear things up, at least a little, by taking a firm position and sticking to it, but for now, that's apparently asking too much. From last night's New York Times report: "So, what exactly is Mr. Walker's current position on immigration? Asked if he supported any path to citizenship or legal status for illegal immigrants, Mr. Walker's spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, did not directly respond."