Fresh Hell From the Rockies

If May has been a rough month for Barack Obama, you could say the same for those intrepid voices calling for a “rebranding” of the Republican Party to make the GOP kinder and gentler and more appealing to the significant majority of Americans who look dimly upon that organization (59% of them in the latest CNN-ORC survey).

There’s the general problem that Scandalmania ’13 is reinforcing the pre-existing impression that the GOP isn’t exactly focused on the issues most Americans care about, while amplifying the voices of conservatives who buy into all sorts of outlandish conspiracy theories about the president. And then there are more specific problems associated with high-profile GOP candidates for office who are undermining the claims that past controversial candidates like Todd Akin (and Richard Mourdock and Joe Miller and Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle and just a few dozen others) are isolated cranks unrepresentative of the “adults” in the party.

The ticket just nominated by the Virginia Republican Party, in which gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, long a hero of the mad fringe, is probably the “moderate,” is a case in point; conservative analyst Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics writes this very morning that Commonwealth Republicans may be in the process of throwing away their advantages in this year’s state elections, which will receive vast national attention).

But there’s more fresh hell for Republican “rebranders” roaring out of the Rockies: the news that Tom Tancredo is running for governor of Colorado, and will almost certainly be the front-runner for the GOP nomination after winning 35% of the vote for that office in 2010 as a third-party candidate.

For the many Republicans who believe de-toxifying the party’s image among Latino voters is central to its short- and long-term political prospects, a Tancredo run for statewide office is very bad news. It’s not just that Tancredo, a nativist right out of the nineteenth century, is opposed to the comprehensive immigration reform legislation that even many serious conservatives consider so important that it must be made an exception to the general rule that the GOP need not “moderate” its policy positions to win. Tancredo has major issues with levels of legal immigration, and insists the GOP and the conservative movement must advocate deportation–not self-deportation, but forced deportation–of millions of undocumented workers.

Everything about Tom Tancredo’s act is designed to secure maximum national media attention. Yes, perhaps national Republicans can ostracize him like they did poor old Todd Akin, but at some point you have to wonder how many statewide candidates running on their own “brand” can be disclaimed without drawing still more attention to their ravings, not to mention engendering blowback from the majority of Republican primary voters in most parts of the country who actually agree with their most outrageous utterances. Yes, Tancredo’s “out there,” but in 2014 he may well be joined in the ranks of bizarre high-profile GOP candidates by Joe Miller of Alaska (again), Paul Broun of Georgia, and Lord only knows who else. The “rebranders” really have their work cut out for them.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.