Xenophobe Tom Tancredo Quits GOP Race, But There's Little Reason to Cheer

When I first met Tom Tancredo in 2004, he was a toupee'd David battling immigration policies backed by better groomed GOP Goliaths Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Bush. We were in New York, at the Republican Convention as the room we were in rattled with a great gnashing of his teeth after he read his party's draft platform on immigration. The draft declared that "The Republican Party supports reforming the immigration system to make it more legal, safe, orderly and humane". "They (Bush and Schwarzenegger) are using Clintonesque doublespeak" shrieked the then-little-know Tancredo, whose geniality, Old Glory tie and toupee combined with his acidic immigration rhetoric to give him that larger-than-life bizarro glow one finds in a Coen brothers movie.

His odd demeanor, his histrionic tone and the titanic correlation of elite corporate and political forces lined up against him made it hard to take him seriously that late August day when he defiantly declared, "They are ignoring the will of the American people. I will prevail because I don't."

While yesterday's announcement of his decision to quit the presidential race has given some of my fellow bloggers and immigrant rights activists reason to declare Tancredo wrong about the appeal of the anti-immigrant politic, I, for one, do not share their glee.

Viewed from the vantage point of recent political history, Tancredo's wild and often wacky political journey has taken him from being a relatively unknown young David to become a more seasoned leader, a King David of immigration politics who will continue to exercise power far beyond the humbler days when he was a lone voice crying in the anti-immigrant wilderness of the GOP.

We will undoubtedly be dealing with the effects of Tancredo's brand of immigration politics in the alpha of the short term as well as in the long term.

The short term effects of Tancredo's trajectory will be most apparent in the Presidential primaries he rightly takes credit for helping shape. A more stately and serious (as opposed to the angry loon that traveled to small border towns to keynote once obscure meetings of formerly unknown hate groups like the Minutemen), Tancredo looked stunningly presidential as he affirmed in yesterday's farewell speech that credited his campaign with bringing "... the issue of immigration to the forefront of the national debate and, more importantly, with forcing nearly every Republican presidential candidate to commit themselves to an immigration plan that calls for securing our borders, enforcing our immigration laws."

While Republican candidates in Iowa, New Hampshire and other primary states will no longer find themselves in a campaign in which they "try to out-Tancredo Tancredo," political ads and debate sound bites chock full of "get-tough on immigrants" rhetoric may well prevail beyond the primaries. That Tancredo has helped turn mainstream what was formerly right-wing fringe is clear from how, for example, rather than denouncing the Minutemen as a hate group, GOP front-runner Mike Huckabee proudly announced the recent endorsement of Minuteman co-founder Jim Gilchrist. And Tancredo's much buzzed-about support of Mitt Romney, who like Tancredo, has hired undocumented workers to work on his home all the while erecting Presidential campaign strategies savaging them, reflects the opportunity and danger inherent in the mainstreaming of the Tancredo immigration politic.

Like the short-term economic logic that brought us the sub-prime mortgage morass, the short-term electoral greed of those GOP -- and Democratic -- pols who buy Tancredo's immigration tonic, may well turn their political futures toxic. While Tancredo prevailed against Bush and Schwarzenegger between 2004 and today, the lame duck pols may yet have their "I-told-you-so" moment when the angry white voter politic loses its appeal in coming years.

Though hardly alone, Tancredo, more than most politicos has helped shape a future Latino politic that equates Republicano with "racista". While hardly any immigrants know who Lou Dobbs is (Spanish language media does not report on or translate him), many can easily identify the man who they feel refused to appear at the recent Univision GOP debate "por pena" (for shame) at facing fellow human beings who happen to be immigrant, a debate where his former fellow candidates were uncharacteristically demure about immigration and immigrants. That the 10 year-old citizen children that marched with their undocumented parents in L.A.'s pro-immigrant march of thousands in 1994 were among the 22 year-old leaders of marches of more than two million last year is another testament to the success of Tancredo and his supporters in shaping a powerful, anti-racist political culture resembling that of the African American community.

The once reliably Republicano evangelical Latinos who played pivotal roles in electing Bush in 2004 are turning away from the GOP thanks to the Tancredo train. Just days after a Pew Hispanic poll concluded that even right-leaning Latinos find themselves negatively impacted by the tone of immigration debate, a large group of prominent Latino evangelical leaders held a press conference to declare that they "reject hateful speech" heard in that same debate. Once on their way to following the right wing politics of many white evangelical denominations, Latino evangelicos find themselves adopting the activist tradition of many black churches thanks to politicos like Tom Tancredo.

So, in the long term, Tancredo may not prevail after all. His geniality, Old Glory tie and toupee and acidic immigration politics may end up looking very bizarro after all.


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