Can Tancredo Make Immigration A Litmus Test For GOP?
January 16, 2007, 04:00 AM
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On Tuesday morning, January 16, Tom Tancredo announced he is setting up an exploratory committee to seek the GOP nomination for the president. [Tancredo Forms Presidential Exploratory Committee, By Marie Horrigan,  New York Times, January 16, 2007]

This makes him the first presidential candidate since Pat Buchanan to place immigration at the center of his campaign. Tancredo's campaign may be even more important to the immigration reform movement—Buchanan always preferred to talk about trade, whereas Tancredo is making it clear that he is running a one issue campaign. And immigration, particularly illegal immigration, is more of a hot button issue now than it was in the 1990s. VDARE.COM does not endorse candidates for elected office. But we can take a look at their prospects and how they would affect patriotic immigration reform.

If done properly, a Tancredo run could shock the Establishment candidates and force the immigration issue to the front of the primaries. David Yepsen, one of the top election analysts, noted this morning that Tancredo "has the potential to pull the Republican field of candidates to the right…on his signature issue of curbing illegal immigration." [Immigration critic could pull caucus field to right], Des Moines Register, January 16, 2007] Of the three announced establishment candidates, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are solidly in the open borders camp, while Mitt Romney has a mixed record. A candidate who can push an anti-amnesty and anti-guest worker agenda could get a sizable vote.

However, while the major candidates do not have a good deal of credibility on immigration, Tancredo is not the only congressman seeking the Presidency who has a good reputation on immigration reform.

  • Ron Paul of Texas: Paul has received notoriety for his maverick stances against foreign intervention, the U.N., the income tax, the Federal Reserve, and pretty much anything the government has done in the last 150 years. Although he is a libertarian, Paul has a solid though imperfect record on immigration, but he is not strongly identified with the issue.

  • Duncan Hunter of California: Hunter is the ranking Republican in the House Armed Services Committee. Hunter has been making it clear to many Republican donors and insiders that he plans on making protectionism and immigration control a centerpiece of his campaign. He has managed to amass a good immigration voting record while still being on good terms with the Republican establishment. He has done that in large part by being Bush's point man on Iraq—and now possibly Iran—and also by not making much noise, when it came to the point, over his opposition to the Bush immigration plan.

Neither of these men will make as big an impact as Tancredo, but they will certainly cut into his support. Ron Paul has a very loyal following among libertarians and constitutionalists, but it is hard to see him appeal to anyone beyond that fringe. Nonetheless, much of that fringe would otherwise donate and volunteer for Tancredo. Conversely, Hunter has no grassroots following, but he has already managed to snag up a number of the major protectionist and restrictionist donors and party officials in what is left of the hard right in the GOP.

In order for Tancredo, or at this point any, serious national immigration reform candidate to succeed, he must no longer work within the confines of the dying "conservative movement". The traditional constituency of a right wing Republican has been:


  • Single issue candidates: Like the movement conservatives, these are people who generally are upset that the GOP is not strongly supportive of their pet issue, particularly Gun Control and abortion.

  • The "Far" Right. While these may not make up a huge number of voters, groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens, and John Birch Society can give hundreds, if not thousands of dedicated volunteers.

Pat Buchanan got a huge amount of support from all these groups, but it is not going to be as easy for Tancredo. Although he is solidly pro-life, another pro-Life candidate like Sam Brownback will likely appear to take those votes.  The gun rights voters and many of the John Birch Society types will likely gravitate towards Ron Paul. Although Tancredo has stellar conservative movement record—almost always receiving 100% voting record from the American Conservative Union—these people will not be inclined to support him, because they are not passionate about immigration and they will be upset that he doesn't spend enough time on whatever else they want him to.  The American Spectator has already run a hit piece [Tancredo's Dubious Allies, January 16, 2007 based on an earlier WSJ attack by Jason Riley.] questioning Tancredo's conservative and pro-life credentials because he receives support from population control groups. (Of course, this is actually an example of Tancredo's ability to build a new coalition.)

Politically incorrect groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens could be a strong source of support—they held the largest anti-Amnesty rally in the country with well over 1,000 people in the key primary state of South Carolina—and a successful Tancredo campaign would have to know how to utilize this constituency without being intimidated by left-wing enforcer groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center.

This is a difficult wire to walk, and Tancredo has already slipped before. Last fall, Tancredo spoke in Columbia, SC and the SPLC falsely reported that the event was sponsored by the League of the South. Rather than say this was not true, and leave it at that, Tancredo's spokesman Carlos Espinoza also added that the League is a "very racist and a horrible group." [Tancredo camp denies 'hate group' claim |Anti-racism center berates S.C. event, By M.E. Sprengelmeyer, Rocky Mountain News, September 13, 2006] This will inevitably put many of these potential supporters in the Ron Paul camp, without scoring any points with the SPLC.

Nevertheless, Tancredo could build his own anti-immigration constituency. There are millions of people who are not hung up on the traditional causes of the GOP, but are completely fed up with the open borders policies of both parties. One of the big buzz words of the 2006 election was "Lou Dobbs Democrats". There is no reason why they should not be known as "Tancredo Republicans".  If a Tancredo candidacy can successfully organize a campaign that appeals to these people, he could literally change the face of American politics.

Tancredo says he is running for third place. That's a prudent goal, given the hundreds of millions of dollars that Romney and McCain expect to be spending. However, a strong Tancredo showing could very well make patriotic immigration reform akin to pro-life or Second Amendment support—a key litmus test for any future Republican who wants the GOP nomination for president.

Ellison Lodge (email him) works inside the Beltway on immigration issues.