Right-wing populists have bedeviled American political parties in presidential elections for more than 30 years. These include George Wallace in the 1960s and 70s, Patrick Buchanan in the 90s, and may include another such spoiler in 2008: Republican Tom Tancredo.
A U.S. representative from Colorado, Tancredo is the most vocal opponent in Congress of President George W. Bush’s proposal to overhaul immigration policy with a guest worker program and has earned the enmity of Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove. Tancredo also has criticized the growth of federal spending under Bush and the lack of spending controls on the more than $62 billion appropriated to the Hurricane Katrina recovery.
Tancredo said he hopes one of the more establishment candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 will adopt his anti-immigration stance. He recently met with Republican Virginia Senator George Allen, a possible presidential aspirant, to discuss immigration and said he came away mildly encouraged.
If none of the candidates make immigration a prominent part of the presidential debate in 2008, Tancredo said he would enter the race to draw attention to the issue.
“I will enter primaries, and I will try my best to make all the folks out there have to deal with it,” he said.
Since May, Tancredo traveled to the presidential primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire four times to talk about immigration issues.
Tancredo hasn’t been invited to meetings at the White House with Rove, with whom he said he has a “horrible” relationship. They haven’t spoken since a 2002 argument that was triggered when Tancredo told the Washington Times that Congress and Bush would be responsible for a new terrorist attack because of insufficient border security.
A Call From Rove
Tancredo said he got a call from Rove on his cell phone the next morning, and during the 30-minute drive from Tancredo’s home in Alexandria, Virginia, to his Capitol Hill office Rove called him a “traitor” and told him never again to “darken the doorstep of the White House.”
“I said ‘I don’t remember the welcome mat ever being out for me,”’ Tancredo recalled. “Karl is not a pleasant person to deal with.”
Tancredo said that while he has attended White House Christmas parties—because his wife “loves to do that”—he has otherwise been all but cut off from the White House since the argument with Rove.
A presidential campaign by Tancredo would be a populist challenge to his party’s dominant candidates in the mold of Wallace and Buchanan, who pushed their parties to address states rights and trade issues, respectively.
Wallace, after first competing as a Democrat, ran as an independent in 1968 and won five southern states when Richard M. Nixon captured the White House. Wallace was also a thorn in the Democrats’ side in 1972, when he won several primaries before being shot. Buchanan, running in 1992, embarrassed then—President George H. W. Bush with a strong showing in the initial primary. Bush lost in the general election to Democrat Bill Clinton.
If Tancredo were to run for president, “it would make a lot of Republicans uncomfortable,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report a nonpartisan newsletter in Washington. “His presence in a campaign might elevate an issue that would otherwise get less attention.”