I’m sorry that Tom Tancredo is retiring from Congress. He’s never been a favorite of the Corner, but I know him quite well and think very highly of his bravery, decency, and devotion to principle. Tom is an NR conservative of long standing–one of those people like Jim Talent who learned their conservatism at the feet of WFB. He is also one of the main reasons why immigration is now at the center of public debate. When he arrived in Congress, it was an issue that had been left fallow. He promptly established and built up a bipartisan immigration caucus that, first, forced the issue onto the main political agenda, and then blocked the White House and the two party leaderships from pushing through a misbegotten “comprehensive” reform that was really open borders in drag. (To be fair, he couldn’t have done this without the assistance of George W. Bush.)
But immigration is not the sole issue of concern to Tom. He is a conservative across the board. And conservatives who differ with him on immigration can still rest assured that his voice and vote will support their general issues. When the immigration debate took off for the second time two years ago, some on the “open borders” side quietly dismissed Tom as one of the Yahoos who were supposedly the main opponents of the legislation. Tom may occasionally have misspoken, as we all do. But the barnstorming talk he gave to the “values voters” showed that there was real political talent in this modest American. So does his command of his constituency. With almost the entire national, state, and media establishment against him, he still racks up overwhelming victories at home. If he had not decided to retire Congress of his own accord, he could have held the seat until death supervened.
Tom is not retiring from politics, however–he’s running for the presidency still. Though highly unlikely to win, he ensures that the more favored candidates cannot simply fob off the voters with bland cliches about assimilation and “a nation of immigrants.” As long as he is on the platform, they can be held to account, and forced to propose genuine solutions to the problem of massive uncontrolled immigration (as Fred Thompson seems to be doing, to his credit.) I hope Tom stays in the race as long as possible and that he does well. And when he finally bows out, I trust he will remain on the national stage in some role until immigration is finally brought under democratic control. Alas, that looks likely to be a long way off despite Tom’s best and brave efforts.