Tom Tancredo’s Exit and the Immigration Legacy

Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo’s departure from the GOP race on Thursday didn’t cause a big ripple on the political scene. But, for a candidate who never polled above 5 percent in any state or national poll other than his home state of Colorado, Tancredo did help leave a footprint on the 2008 Republican presidential campaign.

Tancredo largely couched himself as a single issue candidate—fighting illegal immigration and securing our nation’s borders. Tancredo has waged this war for years—only no one really listened (especially the mainstream media)—until the failure of Bush’s “comprehensive immigration reform” in 2006, when it became apparent even to the media that about 70 to 80 percent of the nation was on one side of the issue (get tough), while Washington, D.C. was on the other side (do little or nothing).

Tancredo used this newfound platform to launch his candidacy, with Bay Buchanan (sister of staunch anti-illegal immigration advocate Pat Buchanan) serving as his chief adviser. Tancredo explained his decision to enter the race thusly:

“For the past ten years I have dedicated my public life to the critical issue of illegal immigration. I believed then – as I do now – that massive uncontrolled illegal immigration threatens our survival as a nation. I could not stand by and let open border politicians and corporate lobbyists sell our country out to the highest bidder. Then earlier this year when I feared that the issue would not be championed by any of the top candidates I threw my hat in the ring. It was the only way I could be certain that the candidates would be forced to take a stand.”

Though speaking with clarity on the immigration issue, Tancredo didn’t score many points during the debates—frequently appearing unprepared and searching for words on policy issues other than immigration.

But immigration has become the front-and-center issue that all Republican candidates must address, and Tancredo did certainly play his part in making this happen. Voters in Iowa, where Tancredo focused his campaign resources, have picked up on this to be sure. In the latest CNN poll conducted December 14-18, Tancredo polled at just 3 percent. But, when asked which candidate would best handle the issue of illegal immigration if they were elected president, Tancredo was named by 17 percent of likely GOP caucus voters—good for 2nd place behind Mitt Romney.

In explaining his departure from the race, Tancredo stated in a correspondence to his supporters:

“The presidential campaign has come down to less than a handful of viable candidates. Unfortunately several of them have abysmal records on immigration and can’t be trusted to do what is needed to preserve this country if they’re elected. My fear is that if I were to stay in this race my votes could be the factor in handing victory to a pro-amnesty politician. Friends, we have done too much, come too far and the stakes are too high to play that hand. And so I am ending my presidential campaign.”

Perhaps it is not too surprising then, that Tancredo endorsed none other than Mitt Romney on Thursday. The single-mindedness of Tancredo’s campaign thus comes full circle—endorsing a candidate who has a sketchy history on social conservative issues, but is vowing to get tough on illegal immigration. One candidate who, in Tancredo’s mind, has an ‘abysmal record’ on immigration is likely Mike Huckabee, who surprisingly received the endorsement from the leader of The Minutemen last week (Tancredo has been a big supporter of The Minutemen for the past few years). Huckabee’s record as Governor of Arkansas includes supporting in-state tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants.

Tancredo’s future plans have not yet been announced. He had previously said he would not run for another term in the House.

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