An exclusive interview with former presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, who dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination on December 20, conducted on the eve of the Iowa Caucuses.
The New Republic: What do you miss about being out here, in the mix?
Representative Tom Tancredo: I don’t miss it. There’s absolutely nothing appealing about it from the standpoint of the effort that goes into it, especially while [Congress was] in session. I was so jealous when Democrats did a debate and the moderator asked them which of them flew their own planes out here. Six of them said yes, and I was just so jealous, because the only time I actually got to have a private plane on the whole campaign was on the last day.
When did you really start thinking about ending it?
The day that Giuliani started running a commercial about building a fence, I said to my staff, “That’s it, that’s the last domino to fall.”
Why support Romney? A lot of your staff went with Thompson.
I went through the thought process, “Do you support anybody in this process?” and came up with, “Yes, you do.” Then I came up with Romney. He had, at least, the rhetoric that’s now right, and a record that is good, and a chance to go all the way.
When I went with Romney, I tried to get as much of a commitment as I possibly could out of him. We had a conversation that morning. The agreement we had was that the conversation we had had to be public, and the fact that he committed to some of my ideas had to be public. I think, I hope, and pray, that he was being truthful. Yes, [illegal immigrants] can have a temporary card, he said. They can stay a while to put their affairs in order--that’s what he said, “put their affairs in order”--get their kids out of school or try to get their house sold. But then they have to go. There’s nothing else I think I could do. I think the issue itself will keep them honest as the election season goes by. When they get elected, God only knows what happens to them.But there was nobody running that is a stalwart. Nobody that had a chance. There’s Duncan [Hunter]. I believe that he would have been completely committed had he gotten elected.
Yeah, what’s the deal with Duncan? He just hasn’t gotten any support, but he’s still in it. He has no money, but he doesn’t seem to care.
Yeah, it’s like, I like him, and he’s a very affable fellow, but what is this for? What is he trying to accomplish? I don’t get it. He doesn’t really have an issue, except, sort of, trade. Maybe he just likes being in the debates. It’s a bizarre thing. Even Dennis Kucinich has peace, you know?
If Huckabee wins the nomination, where do you see the immigration energy going to? Could there be a third-party candidate on immigration, like Lou Dobbs?
I don’t think there would be that. I--[long sigh]--I think the issue would go to the states. I would start going to the states. Look at Arizona yesterday--the toughest law in the U.S. goes on the books yesterday. That’s where I would go next if it looked as though we had no help at the federal level. We are making inroads in various states. That’s where we will build pressure. Once states start taking action, you’re going to see that reflected in the Congress.
I think one reason [you haven’t seen any third-party grumblings] is that nobody is that fearful even if Huckabee wins Iowa. The only thing he does is hurt Romney. He does not win the country. The people that support him are told to do so, essentially, by God, but he cannot win. I do not believe he’s going to win Iowa, I do not believe he’ll win the nomination, and he certainly couldn’t win the presidency. I’m more afraid of McCain. The biggest blow to my cause would be if Huckabee wins in Iowa, which damages Romney and allows McCain to do even better than he would have otherwise done and go on with more steam.
Why didn’t you get any support during the primary?
I’ll give you one anecdote. I was in Fort Lauderdale, St. Petersburg, some place in Florida. It was the end of a debate. When [debates] end, everybody goes to the end of the stage to sign autographs. It got late, they were turning the lights off, and I was the only candidate still signing autographs. I had 50 people lined up, still waiting. And then I noticed every one of them has on somebody else’s button!
The thought “maybe I could actually be president”--never once did that enter my mind. From the time that I entered into this bizarre arena, made even more bizarre by my entrance, it was like, ‘Who am I? I mean, why in the hell ... ?’ And so it’s just, I think they simply don’t see me as president. And I don’t blame them! If you don’t see yourself as president, why should they?
Romney seemed kind of hesitant when he put out a statement thanking you for your support. He led by saying, “While we don't agree on every issue ... ” Did that annoy you?
[laughs] It’s true he hasn’t been ... exuberant about my endorsement. But I don’t really care. He can use it for what it’s worth. My thing is the issue itself. I think he wants to avoid the baggage that would come from any sort of endorsement from Tom Tancredo, but, on the other hand, take advantage of whatever kind of support I have. I’ve done a couple of calls for him. That’s all they’ve asked for. It’s like working with a corporation, it really is! There’s so many facets, so many people playing so many roles. It’s very methodical and by the book. I remember talking to Bay [Buchanan, a Tancredo adviser] when we saw it was time to pull the plug. I said to her, I remember, “Well, [deciding to support Romney] is fine, but do you think he’d even want it?” I was thinking, “Heck, he might say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks, because you’re too reactionary, you’re too controversial.’”
Some conservatives say your type of rhetoric, not your issues--“no mas salsa,” which was in one of your press releases, that kind of thing--will ruin the party.
I think that when Romney and Huckabee and others make a 180-degree turn--well, Romney not quite so bad as that, but certainly Huckabee and Giuliani--they do it not because Tom Tancredo happens to be on the stage. They do it because the polling tells them they’d better. I don’t think I’m going to have to be the only one, anymore, breathing life into this issue.
With all these new converts--Rudy, Romney, Huckabee--are you worried their support will lapse after the primary?
Of course I am worried. All you can do is hope.