The decision by Sarah Palin to campaign for John McCain has opened up a Tea Party tiff between two of its firebrand conservatives. Former Congressman Tom Tancredo, who has campaigned among Tea Party activists for his long-standing fight against comprehensive immigration reform, declares Palin unfit for the presidency and an unprincipled politician for supporting his bete noir in his re-election bid:
After her speech at the Nashville convention, Palin said she is considering a run for the presidency in 2012. Tancredo however, does not believe she is fit for the presidency.
“I really don’t have this feeling about her as being presidential,” he Tancredo said. “I don’t know what it is exactly. I don’t know if the issues really are that difficult for her or not.”
He questions if she has what it takes, and whether she really wants it. “As governor of the state of Alaska, she doesn’t have all that kind of experience. She can get better. But I don’t know if she is really looking to do it.’’
It could all be a commercial thing, just a way to sell books?
“Sure. Make a lot of money and stay in the mix. I think that’s a great idea.’’
John McCain has brought over his former running mate to campaign for him in Arizona, where the Tea Party movement is challenging his seat in the Senate. She will campaign against J.D. Hayworth, a friend of yours who is on your side in the immigration debate. What does that tell you about Palin?
“That tells me she is a Republican. I am not. I mean, I am a member of that party and that will always stay that way. But to me it’s only a mechanism, a way to get on the ballot and all that. But she is a real Republican.’’
She has to do this to rise in the party ranks?
“I think so.’’
So she is just as much an unprincipled politician as all the rest of them?
“To a large extent.’’
It’s important to remember that Tancredo ran for the Presidency in 2008, and may try again in 2012, too. He will want to set up a contrast with Palin — and, by extension, the rest of the Republican candidates — and so he’s not likely to be an objective observer on any of them. Tancredo explains that his falling out with McCain came from a supposed verbal fight over Tancredo’s refusal to give the BCRA quid pro quo support after McCain did some fundraising for Tancredo to get him elected, and this kind of story allows Tancredo to make himself into the “not business as usual” candidate … even though the entirety of Tancredo’s resume comes from his work inside the Beltway as Congressman.
Palin’s support for McCain has gotten her some criticism, but it’s difficult to see what other choice she could make. She has talked endlessly about her admiration for the man who put her on a national ticket, including supporting most of McCain’s policy choices. During the campaign, Palin expressed support for McCain’s immigration policies, which not only puts her at loggerheads with Tancredo but also with McCain’s primary opponent J. D. Hayworth. If Palin wants to build herself into a presidential contender, she has to get involved in Senate and House races this cycle, and it would have been impossible for her to legitimately stay neutral in Arizona. Taking a neutral position would have been tantamount to an endorsement of Hayworth.
As far as Tea Party credibility goes, Tancredo has his own problems:
But there you were, staunch conservative Tom Tancredo in one of his last days in Congress, supporting a huge government program for the financial sector on the side of all the liberals you loathed your whole life.
“Oh, it was very strange. It was bizarre! But let me tell you the interesting aspect from my point of view. There were several people that essentially said to me (and many, many, many more who didn’t say it), ‘I can’t vote for it, but my God, I hope it passes’.’’ …
Do the Tea Party people realise that you supported the bailout?
“I don’t know.’’
And if they knew, wouldn’t they be angry with you?
“Yeah, I am sure that would take the lustre off.’
As it happens, I have more sympathy for Tancredo on this point. Congress voted to buy up the toxic mortgage-backed securities to stabilize the lending markets, not bailouts of financial institutions (I originally supported the original idea, while critics rightly predicted it would turn into a blank check). The Bush and Obama administrations used that money for a completely different purpose, as Tancredo correctly explains, although Congress buckled under to supplying the language that allowed Treasury to do that. That, however, is a nuanced point — and more importantly, the policy turned out to be against the main thrust of the Tea Party movement for limiting government interventions.
Tancredo’s experience shows the need for nuanced understanding of political decisions … a point which he completely misses with Palin, mainly to benefit himself.