Immigration! Immigration! Immigration!

Today Bay Buchanan, Tancredo's former campaign adviser, followed her man and endorsed Mitt Romney. Noam flagged a Michael Scherer piece below that starts to get at the weird clusterfuck* that is immigration in the GOP race here:

It's an incredibly hot issue, maybe the hottest one on the ground, and yet the candidates that had done the most honest work on it throughout their lives (Tancredo, Duncan Hunter) got no traction. And the chances for any of the remaining candidates to coalesce support on the immigration issue has been shattered by the fact that the big names in the anti-illegal movement split their endorsements all over the place. Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman movement, signed on with Huckabee. Tancredo went with Romney, as did Buchanan and anti-illegal rockstar Sheriff Joe Arpaio, but most of Tancredo's staff went with Fred Thompson, as did Iowa Congressman (and anti-illegal hero) Steve King. And now all these people are sniping at each other for making the endorsements they've made.

Maybe you can untangle this a little by thinking of it this way. On immigration, the hard-line Republican candidates (not McCain, and I don't totally understand Ron Paul's views on this) can be placed along a spectrum: At one end is authenticity and hopelessness; at the other, inauthenticity and success. So the spectrum would go Tancredo, Hunter, Thompson -- who was mostly a blank slate -- and then the sudden converts Romney and Rudy.

How come the most authentic anti-illegal candidates -- the ones who have been advocating a big fence and no amnesty for years -- were so hopeless? My own views are more liberal on this, so I'm tempted to believe it's because building the fence and deporting millions of people simply isn't what people want to do.

But as Tancredo pointed out, now all the GOP candidates push these same ideas! Really, immigration hardlining is just a new religion. Its early disciples are the weirdos, those harrowed souls chased in their dreams by the specter of Mexicans scurrying across rivers, whose very fervency marks them as people not to be taken seriously. But as one of those souls, the decision whether to throw your weight behind fellow travelers -- Tancredo, when he was in the race, or now Fred Thompson -- versus Romney or Huckabee is like the choice between keeping trudging in exile with the early purist martyrs or becoming a well-fed court priest for the Emperor Constantine. So you have a suspicion the Emperor converted just to expand his power. But, really, when you're set up in gigs that nice and given so many people to preach to, who cares?

Indeed, the publicity hounds in the movement, those you'd expect to yearn to be court priests -- Tancredo, Arpaio -- went with Romney, while the lower-profile true believers who'd walked with Tancredo when it was already clear he was hopeless moved to Thompson. 

I don't think the Romney endorsers have to fear a setback if Mitt lapses after the primary: This religion is growing, no matter what any one person does about it. But I will make one prediction. If and when Duncan Hunter, a personal favorite of mine and a sincere hopeless purist, drops out of the race, he won't endorse Romney. Duncan, don't let me down.

*still shamed into using this language on our site by Steven Pinker. 

--Eve Fairbanks

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