Tom Tancredo would be the first to tell you he didn’t get into the 2008 presidential race with any real hopes of getting elected. His primary (no pun intended) intent was to focus attention on immigration. And, damn, he sure has succeeded.

This week’s New Yorker has a smart piece on the dismaying impact that the suburban Denver congressman has had on his Republican rivals.

 The emergence of Trancredoism as an ideological touchstone for two Republican front-runners is a stunning development, another indication of the Party’s rejection of nearly everything associated with the approach taken by George W. Bush. As a border-state governor, Bush boasted of his relationship with Vicente Fox, who became the President of Mexico, and he and his political adviser Karl Rove later argued that Republicans needed a pro-Latino vision for immigration reform. His strategy of cultivating immigrants as integral to the future of the Party seemed to work, and Bush did surprisingly well with Latino voters: in 2004, he won some forty per cent of their vote–double what Bob Dole achieved just eight years earlier.

All that has changed, however.

The rise of Tancredoism has been aided and abetted by a number of factors, including an absence of strong leadership in the Republican Party and the greatly diminished power and popularity of the President, whose approval ratings fell as the war in Iraq went wrong and the government failed to act effectively after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

Now, Tancredo’s rivals say they have no choice but to address Tancredo’s pet issue (witness the recent CNN/YouTube debate, where immigration took up the bulk of the airtime).

Mike Huckabee is the latest victim of the Republican shift on the immigration issue. We talked on what should have been a happy day for Huckabee. According to at least one poll, he had taken the lead from Romney in Iowa, and was enjoying a sustained burst of positive media coverage. “Oh, man, it’s been unbelievable,” he said in his winning, Gomer Pyle-like voice. “We’re up in New Hampshire and I’ve got more press coming to the events than I’ve got people. I’m not kidding. It’s unbelievable. We have so many people coming we can’t fit them in the places.” But Huckabee’s excitement was tempered by Romney’s persistent attacks on his immigration record as governor of Arkansas, and he seemed to be grappling with the intensity of the question among Republicans. “It does appear to be the issue out here wherever we are,” he told me. “Nobody’s asked about Iraq–doesn’t ever come up. The first question out of the box, everywhere I go–Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, it doesn’t matter–is immigration. It’s just red hot, and I don’t fully understand it.”

The entire article is well worth your time.

Daniel Brogan
Daniel Brogan
Daniel Brogan is the founder, CEO, and Editor-in-Chief of 5280 Publishing, Inc.