In the world of the focus-grouped, the poll-tested, the vetted, the blow-dried, the calculated, the coiffed and the cautious, Tom Tancredo strides like a man wielding a scythe in a shop filled with delicate crystal.
The former Colorado Republican congressman built a national following based on his reputation as the hardest of hard-liners on illegal immigration, a position he described as no less than a fight for the preservation of Western civilization. (No shrinking violet, he.)
Tancredo didn’t have much success on the legislative front, or in a 2008 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. But he did become a favorite on the talk-radio circuit, the cable TV food-fight shows and a celebrity in some conservative corners for his all-stick, no-carrot approach to immigration and, more, his often impolitic, fire-breathing rhetoric.
He attacked the president of his own party, George W. Bush, as a hypocrite on border issues. He assailed fellow Republicans as shills for big business. Turning to foreign policy, he once suggested if Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. with nuclear weapons, the country should bomb Mecca. (That one drew a scolding from Bush’s State Department.)
In sum, his blithe dismissal of Washington niceties made Tancredo -- as Barbara Mandrell might put it -- tea party before tea party was cool. (Or, for that matter, before the tea party even existed.)
After retiring from Congress, Tancredo returned to Colorado and in 2010 waged another highly unsuccessful campaign, this time for governor. Four years later, he is back for another try, which few in the GOP deem any more likely to succeed.
Tancredo acknowledged the doubters, at least one of whom apparently showed up for the opening of his campaign headquarters.
“It’s one of the things my opponents say, so therefore it gets repeated,” Tancredo told the Denver Post. “I understand exactly how people feel. I am controversial. I know how people feel about me. But what is left of my life that is not known? If there is something, man, I’m not aware of it.”
Indeed, it is difficult to think of many national politicians these days who would conduct an interview happily puffing a cigar and enjoying a tumbler of scotch in their Capitol office.
So one can imagine the glee as the combative candidate -- reviled by Latinos like few others for his anti-immigration campaign -- unveiled his slogan this week: “Viva Tancredo: Live your own life.”
The latter, he told the Post, refers to his support -- alone among major candidates -- for Colorado’s 2012 ballot measure legalizing the sale of pot. “It will be our task to get the message out to them that I’m not your father’s Republican,” Tancredo said.
Electability may be a problem for the former congressman. But grabbing attention -- hey, bull, check out this red cape! -- has never been.