Tancredo’s Successful Presidential Campaign

Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo has made no secret that even he believes he has no chance of actually becoming the Republican nominee for president. Instead, he says, his goal is to promote his hard-line anti-immigrant position, and by that measure, he can argue that he’s winning. From an interview with the Washington Monthly (via Kevin Drum):

What happens is, you provide people with some space to get into where they can say, “That guy is a racist xenophobe. That guy is just so crazy that we can take a more moderate stance.” To tell you the truth, that’s okay with me. It is not the worst thing in the world to have changed the debate so significantly, at least among Republicans running for office, that they are willing to say things like “We will secure the border” and “We will go after employers.” That’s the moderate position now. …

I have to set the bar as high as I can. I’m being completely candid with you. If I had actually set out to become president, then of course it would be ludicrous for me to do it in the way I’m doing it. I don’t have that as my goal; I never have. The only way I can get on that plane and go to Iowa or New Hampshire and spend night after night in hotels in places you’ve never even heard of is by saying, “Think about why you’re doing this, Tom. It is because the issue is important. You are the person that is advancing it.” I have the luxury of saying, “I will set the goalposts as far as I can down the field because then I will have a better chance of getting the game played on my side.” In one recent debate, we spent the first thirty-five minutes on immigration. That has never happened before. It’s wonderful—I’ve got the two top guys attacking each other. Romney can spend a great deal of money, and he is enormously articulate, and the fact that he will take on Giuliani on this issue—I have to tell you, I don’t get many questions, I stand there like a bookend for most of the debates, but it’s still enormously gratifying.

Indeed, an applause-line about taking a tough stand on immigration is now de rigueur in GOP stump speeches, alongside cutting spending and appointing Supreme Court justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas, and Tancredo can claim a big part of the credit for that. Even Mike Huckabee—who likes to say he’s just as far-right as anybody but not “angry” about it—caught himself comparing himself to the angriest candidate out there:

I think I am as clear on immigration as anybody. But because I also say, “Look, let’s not just be angry at these people. Let’s recognize that if we were them, we’d want to come here too.” That’s not amnesty. I’m not for amnesty. I’m not for sanctuary cities. I’m no liberal when it comes to that. I think I am almost as hard-line as, well I was going to say [Tom] Tancredo, but … I think I am pretty adamant that we ought to obey the law. But my frustration with the immigration issue is not directed so much at desperate people as it is at a dysfunctional government.

Adopting Tancredoism may be an okay tactic for collecting fragments of a divided right-wing base, it seems counterproductive for candidates hoping to prove their general-election electability. Virginia’s GOP hoped anti-immigrant sentiment would carry the day in Tuesday’s legislative elections, but the results proved otherwise, as Democrats took control of the state Senate. A similar pattern was evident in the 2006 national congressional elections.

UPDATE: Tancredo’s new Iowa ad, a dramatization of a fictitious terrorist attack supposedly the result of failure to take the Tancredo position on immigration (via Matt Yglesias):