Tom Tancredo's decision to withdraw from the Republican presidential primary is no doubt a disappointment to many patriotic immigration reformers. Tancredo is indisputably the most vocal and consistent proponent of secure borders in the US Congress and he made it clear that stopping mass immigration would be the centerpiece of his campaign. All of the "top tier" candidates had terrible records on illegal immigration. Many reformers hoped that a Tancredo candidacy could catch fire and shock the establishment.
This did not happen, and he consistently polled towards the bottom of the pack. There are a few reasons for this, most of which were not the fault of Tancredo or his campaign.
This last reason demonstrates that despite some disappointments, Tancredo's campaign was still a success. Tancredo's presence in the debate set the tone for the other candidates. While they no doubt were willing to flip flop, so long as Tancredo could respond, they did not have an the opportunity.
Both Sam Brownback and John McCain have admitted that their campaigns were destroyed and nearly destroyed respectively due to their support of amnesty. After Brownback dropped out, the only candidate who openly supported any sort of amnesty has been John McCain.
After seeing the formerly pro-amnesty candidates each try to outflank each other on immigration in the November 28 Youtube debate, Tancredo quipped he was flattered that they were trying "out Tancredo Tancredo."
After the debate, John Nichols wrote in The Nation's blog that,
"Tom Tancredo, the immigration-crazed congressman from Colorado, is never going to be the Republican nominee for president. But Wednesday's night's CNN/YouTube debate confirmed that he has prevailed in the contest of ideas — if raw xenophobia can be called an idea."
In a cover piece in the latest New Yorker, entitled Return of the Nativist, Ryan Lizza wrote,
"The emergence of Tancredoism as an ideological touchstone for two Republican front-runners is a stunning development, another indication of the Party's rejection of nearly everything associated with the approach taken by George W. Bush."
Newsweek's Conventional Wisdom wrote that the "Anti-immigrant zealot had already won. Now even Dems dance to his no mas salsa tune."
As the language of the articles show, none of these journalists are at all sympathetic to Tancredo or any attempts to control immigration, but they are willing to concede his influence on the debate.
While Tancredo has influenced the debates, it is yet to be seen how much he will actually influence the candidates' actual positions. With his low poll numbers and relatively small on-the-ground support, it is difficult to say whether there is now a serious Tancredo Wing of the GOP.
Tancredo has endorsed Mitt Romney. But it is not clear if Romney made any promises to strengthen his position in exchange, or whether he will follow through.
We are now left with a number of candidates who have taken up Tancredo's rhetoric. Despite the cries from the Left that the GOP is becoming the new Know-Nothing party, Tancredo was the only candidate who boycotted the disgraceful Spanish Language debate on Univision. While the other candidates pandered in Spanish, Tancredo released one of the most hard-hitting immigration control ads [YouTube] that tackled immigrant crime head on.
While Tancredo called for a moratorium on immigration, no other candidate—even Duncan Hunter—has called for lowering legal immigration in their platform. Some, such as Huckabee and Thompson, advocate making some reforms to the process, though none actually discuss —except that Huckabee and Romney actually appear to support vague increases in legal immigration.
Tancredo said he will not run for reelection to his congressional seat. While it is sad to see him go, his impact will live on. Tancredo was the sole Republican in Congress to stand up to Bush's amnesty when the president had high approval ratings. His principled determination in both Congress and on the campaign trail has encouraged many others to take his up his mantle with varying degrees of sincerity and opportunism.
Regardless of who gets the Republican nomination and how serious they are about real immigration reform, Tancredo has forced them to at least give serious lip-service to our cause.
It is now up to Americans to make sure they put their money where their mouths are.
Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own. Team America PAC has no legal connection to either Tom Tancredo or his campaign.