1%, 62% and the failure of Tancredoism

There are all sorts of news reports this morning that Tom Tancredo, who has based his entire campaign on an anti-immigrant platform, is ending his bid for the Presidency. As all of us trying to make sense of the current immigration debate and how Tancredo's total rejection by Republican primary voters fits in let's consider these two figures: 1% and 62%. 1% is the share of the Republican vote Tancredo has been receiving. 62% is the share of Republicans who support an earned path to citizenship, according to a new LA Times poll taken two weeks ago. Taken together it appears that Tancredo's approach to immigration, "Deport Those Who Don't Belong, Make Sure They Never Come Back" has been overwhelmingly rejected by even Republican voters, and is just one more example of how the GOP's investment in the immigration issue has failed time and again to produce the results they had hoped for.

Later today Tancredo will probably try to argue that the reason he never got traction is that the rest of the Republican field has adopted his position. But that really isn't true. Mitt Romney, who has made intense anti-immigration rhetoric a centerpiece of his campaign, is dropping across the board. Mike Huckabee, who seems to rise for every new anti-immigrant ad Romney runs against him in Iowa, has adopted at least rhetorically a much more compassionate path (see here for his new, wacky immigration position). Fred Thompson who has also taken a very hard line on immigration isn't getting any traction, despite his recent endorsement by Iowa Rep. Steve King, a Tancredo ally. John McCain, the Republican most associated with Comprehensive Immigration Reform, is rising in mosts polls and is now very much back in the race. And Rudy, who leads in most national GOP polls has embraced a version of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and is now running an ad that openly talks about citizenship. Rather than triumphing inside the GOP field, it seems much more plausible to conclude that the Tancredo vision is in the process of being rejected by a Republican Party unwilling to embrace his racist and nativistic approach while acknowledging the importance of the issue itself.

The immigration issue is crying out for strong and forceful leadership. As I argued recently, I see immigration reform as one of the Democratic Party's greatest opportunities to contrast their pragmatic, common-sense approach to tackling the tough problems of the 21st century with the failed conservative approach which, all too often in recent years, has chosen politics over progress. The Comprehensive approach to fixing our broken immigration system has a deep and broad bi-partisan coalition supporting it that includes many important business, labor, religious and immigrant leaders and elected officials of both parties; is one of the few issues embraced by both Bush and Clinton; has a history of bi-partisanship, as it is one of the few important bills to actually pass the Senate in recent years; is supported by all the Democratic candidates running for President, most of the Democrats in the Senate, and many other critical Democrats like Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and DNC Chairman Howard Dean; and in poll after poll is supported by a majority of the American people.

As I wrote: "Democrats should be viewing this ongoing GOP obsession with immigration not as something to fear but as a powerful sign of the collapse of the modern Republican Party. In 2008 the GOP cannot run on its governing accomplishments. Cannot run on its health car plan. Cannot run on its vision for our security. Cannot run on its strategy to help a struggling middle class. Cannot run on their high moral and ethical standards. Cannot run on fiscal responsibility. So what is left? An issue that nostalgically evokes the racism of their now anachronistic Southern Strategy, that doesn't even have majority support in their own Party, is reinforcing that their Party has become more interested in scoring political points than solving vexing national problems, and that is managing to anger the fastest growing part of the American electorate, Hispanics."

Our immigration system is broken. That is something we all know. We also know the American people are rightfully unhappy about it and that it has risen to be one of their top 5 or 6 issues of 2008. The real question, then, is what we are going to do about it? As Rudy argues in his new ad, leaders will bring people together, step up and fix it. Other politicians, including some in the Democratic Party, will continue do what Tancredo has done which is to confuse toughness with strong leadership. This approach has been rejected again and again, as the American people desperately seach for a politics that is not safe but bold; that is not just tough but smart and effective; that is not calculating but courageous; that is not divisive and angry but that brings us together; that once again puts the interests of Americans and their families above all else.

Immigration is one of the great early political tests of the 21st century. To date the Republicans have failed their test of whether they have what it takes to solve the emerging problems of the new century. For the good of the nation I hope the Democrats do not fail theirs.