The 2006 midterm elections haven't even been held yet, and already the jockeying is beginning for the 2008 presidential race, particularly among Republicans. One name that deserves close watching is Tom Tancredo, the Colorado congressman who is trying to ride a wave of resurgent nativism regarding Latino immigrants all the way to the White House.
In addition to the anti-immigrant legislation he's spearheaded, he's been appearing regularly on national news shows as the voice of the extreme right on immigration, including his recent ABC appearance in which he attacked Hillary Clinton for citing Scripture. Tancredo also is frequently a runner-up in online polls for the Republican nomination, which mostly means that he's developing a devoted following. Already, there's an unofficial Tancredo for President site, and he's a favorite presidential contender among the Free Republic set.
The reason that Tancredo is worrisome is that he is a classic right-wing transmitter, someone who straddles both the extremist and mainstream realms and injects far-right ideas into the mainstream while pursuing a similar agenda.
The Nation's Katrina Vanden Heuvel remarked on this the other day in a fashion that sent NewsMax atwitter:
- "Tancredo, on your show today -- he looked pleasant. But I will say that what's happened in our country is that some of the white supremacist thinking that used to be represented by David Duke has been absorbed by people like Tancredo."
Tancredo has been Latino-bashing for years, including his remarks claiming that some illegal immigrants are "coming here to kill you and to kill me and our families." He consistently characterizes the current wave of immigrants as "an invasion," including at his appearance at the Minuteman Project kickoff last April in Arizona.
More recently, an NPR report carried these remarks from Tancredo:
- "We have a war! We are facing a military on the other side of the border -- an armed military -- who periodically come into the United States of America... armed, threatening our people, threatening the border patrol."
As Across the Great Divide observes:
- He's referring apparently to a border incident in which a county sheriff chasing drug dealers watched an olive colored Humvee come from the Mexican side bearing men wearing military-style uniforms who evacuated one of drug runners' SUVs when it got stuck in the river. (One more strike against SUVs!) The U.S. State Dept. says these were not members of the military, but known members of a narco-trafficking ring that employs military-style uniforms, equipment and tactics.
Despite being grounded largely in right-wing nativist hooey, even supposedly mainstream conservative publications like Human Events take him seriously:
- One of the big issues facing voters in this year's midterm congressional elections will be border security. The federal government has not done a good job in protecting the U.S. border with Mexico and to paraphrase a famous line in the movie "Network," Americans living along that Mexican border are "mad as hell and they aren't going to take it anymore."
We have seen some Americans taking action. The "Minutemen" group comes to mind. The U.S. Border Patrol can't be everywhere and the "Minutemen" are a good group of citizens who have decided to do something about it instead of just sitting around talking about it.
It seems that the only member of Congress who has had the guts to fight this illegal immigration has been Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, and his district isn't even on the Mexican border.
Just recently, Tancredo announced he wants to push for provisions that would expand and strengthen House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner's immigration reform bill. In particular, Tancredo wants a series of border security provisions get an up or down floor vote by House members.
Notably, Bush' proposal for a "guest worker" program goes over like a lead balloon with this crowd:
- What really puzzles me is why President Bush is being so touchy-feely on this. I think I know the reason why. Bush, like many other Republicans, does not want to be perceived as a racist. The GOP wants those Hispanic voters voting Republican, and I would imagine if the President said something tough about border security, the Hispanics would vote Democratic. Something they normally do anyway.
Also, the President probably does not want to alienate Mexico and his friend President Vicente Fox. Mexico hasn't lifted a finger in trying to stop illegal immigrants. NAFTA, CAFTA and all these other trade agreements hasn't shifted the Mexican government stance on stopping illegal immigration. Trade agreements do nothing but cost Americans their jobs.
Of course, this is a publication that hawks J.D. Hayworth's anti-immigrant tome, Whatever It Takes, with headlines like "Invasion Overwhelming Southwest Border". So perhaps this isn't so surprising.
Nor, for that matter, is Tancredo's loose-cannon schtick. It isn't reserved simply to domestic policy. Last year, he suggested we nuke Muslim shrines in retaliation for Islamist terror attacks -- a suggestion that no doubt was a hit with our Saudi, Turkish and Pakistani allies.
It certainly isn't a surprise that corporate donors are staying away in droves, which normally might doom a candidate:
- Big Business, it seems, is running away from Congressman Tom Tancredo. And Tancredo doesn't care.
As the fourth-term Republican representative has become a national figurehead in an increasingly vocal anti-immigration movement, an army of individuals from across the country is pouring cash into his campaign chest -- making up for dwindling contributions from business interests, who, according to Tancredo, "are not served by my attempt to restrict the flow of cheap labor."
Most of these individual donors don't live in his congressional district, which covers the southern Denver metro area. Many don't live in Colorado, for that matter.
"Ninety-nine percent are giving on the basis of the immigration issue," Tancredo tells the Independent.
That's not so surprising, really, since Big Business is a Big Fan of Bush's guest-worker proposal. And for good cause, since it would be the realization of their wet dream: a labor force that cannot vote.
Perhaps more telling is that churches are openly condemning him:
- Various religious groups have lined up against the House-passed bill, which calls for building a fence along portions of the U.S.-Mexico border, plus tougher enforcement against illegal immigrants and those who employ them.
The Washington, D.C., office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued an alert to members saying, "This enforcement-only bill is anti- immigrant, unfair, and unjust."
Elenora Giddings Ivory, of the denomination's Stewardship of Public Life advocacy program, said the church's position on immigration is based on the scripture passage Matthew 25, verses 31-46, which talks about nations being judged, in part, by how they treat strangers.
"We have a position that supports compassionate immigration policy. So any bill that comes forward and does not fit with a compassionate understanding of immigration policy would be held up to that," Giddings Ivory said.
To which Tancredo replied:
- "The faith community must step forward and tell leftist activists that undermining border security is not a religious imperative," Tancredo said.
"I call on the conservative majority of churchgoers to contact the activists who are misrepresenting their beliefs."
Tancredo's anti-immigrant campaign, in truth, runs directly counter to the spirit of Christianity, as the later spat with Hillary suggests. It's not hard, after all, to find passages telling Christians to help the poor and feed the hungry. It's much harder to find passages demanding border security.
But don't expect such considerations to even cross the field of vision of a demagogue who has his eye trained on winning the presidency. It's a divide-and-conquer stragegy. Tancredo is not likely at all to win, but he's likely to inflict a lot of damage along the way -- particularly when it comes to finding ways to tear us apart.