Tancredo for President?

(John Andrews in the Denver Post, Aug. 20) It’s a long way from the Stockyards Amphitheater in Chicago, summer 1960, to the Cool River Café in Greenwood Village, summer 2006. But Congressman Tom Tancredo’s post-primary Republican breakfast speech the other day reminded me of watching Senator Barry Goldwater tell conservatives at the GOP convention back then to keep faith, his time would come, moments before the delegates nominated Richard Nixon to face John F. Kennedy. It’s clear to me that Tancredo today, like Goldwater back then, envisions a serious run for President of the United States, but wants to remain above the battle at present because it’s still a long shot. The Arizona senator’s moment did come, four years later. Will the Colorado congressman’s moment come two years from now? Stranger things have happened.

I know, Tancredo says his exploration of entering the 2008 presidential primaries is on hold. He’s now supposedly considering a Senate race. But several things make me doubtful: the fiery Republican’s themes in that August 9 speech, his new book developing those themes, and the uneasy flux in GOP leadership ranks just 500 days before the Iowa caucuses.

Addressing the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club, the four-term representative from Littleton said nothing about the previous day’s contest between would-be successors to his departing colleagues, Bob Beauprez and Joel Hefley. He hardly mentioned his party’s struggle to hold Congress amid weak polls, or his reelection bid against Democrat Bill Winter. What Tom Tancredo dwelt on was the kind of leadership Americans need right now from our chief executive.

With his trademark passion, candor, and humor, but also with a discipline that shows new depth in my friend of 25 years, he skipped the rhetoric and hammered intensely on three concerns – the immigration mess, the multiculturalist assault on American identity, and the clash of civilizations pitting Islamic fascism against Western civilization.

Tancredo’s bottom line on each issue was: How will the next president measure up? Passing laws to secure the borders and deal with millions of illegal aliens won’t help, he said, unless we have an executive determined to enforce them. Rescuing our national unity and pride from a dispiriting “cult of multiculturalism” will take unflinching presidential leadership as well. So will the existential challenge of knowing our global enemy and defeating him at all costs, the congressman warned. His whole focus was on 2008, not 2006.

Having given and written many a candidate speech, let me stress that technically this wasn’t one. Tancredo mentioned none of the presidential contenders. He never hinted of joining them, let alone winning the great prize and shouldering the great burden. But he didn’t have to; it was all there between the lines, an invitation to a draft, Goldwater 1960 all over again. People were shouting “Tancredo for President” in the ovation afterward.

In Mortal Danger: The Battle for America’s Border and Security, the congressman’s latest book, tackles the same three issues in vivid detail and uncompromising bluntness. It’s much more than a campaign tract for a suburban Denver lawmaker, make no doubt. If Tancredo’s chapters from the Mexican border are expected, the ones from Beirut and Beslan are less so. The guy has range. And if you’re not aroused by his account of only four hands going up when he asked 44 of East High’s brightest kids, “Who believes we live in the greatest country in the world?”, you’re hopeless.

How far will the author-politician go? Barry Goldwater’s book, The Conscience of a Conservative, helped him to the GOP nomination, and though his candidacy lost in 1964, his ideas have won in the decades since. Goldwater supporters said he offered “a choice, not an echo,” in contrast to the bland, cautious alternatives in a party lost and adrift. And it worked.

Heading into 2007, if McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Allen, and Gingrich all seem like echoes of each other, the clear choice Tancredo offers could start to catch on. Michigan Republicans made him No. 1 in a recent straw poll. Might the enthusiasm be contagious?