Tom Tancredo's Flop Sweat

As of this writing, there's a very telling technical glitch in the section of the MSNBC site devoted to rating participants in May 3's debate of Republican presidential candidates. Click the "Picking the President" link keyed to Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo and you'll be transported to a Mit Romney feature instead. It's as if the webmaster is saying, "You aren't really that interested in Tancredo, are you? Wouldn't you rather check out someone who's got a chance in hell to actually compete?"

Such questions are justified given Tancredo's performance in the debate, which was emceed by MSNBC's Chris Matthews from the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Even folks who pay attention to politics may not have recognized hopefuls such as Jim Gilmore (Virginia's former governor), Duncan Hunter (a California congressman) and Ron Paul (a rep from Texas). Yet Tancredo still managed to come off worst of the ten yappers, and the reason was his obvious discomfort. The Lone Star Times, which gave Tancredo an "F" on its grading page, had it about right. "Can you say deer in headlights?" the author asked.

Granted, the format was particularly bad for Tancredo. For the most part, candidates were expected to give answers within thirty or sixty seconds -- a problem for Tancredo, since he prefers blabbing about topics at length to encapsulating them in a few well chosen words. But he knew the rules going in, had plenty of time to prepare for the sort of questions he'd be asked (there were precious few surprises), and he still managed to bungle even the simplest responses. At one point, Matthews asked the politicos to comment about the possibility of Bill Clinton being back in the White House -- a reference to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Softballs don't get much bigger, fatter and slower, and because Tancredo was on the far end of the stage (meaning that everyone else had a chance to answer before he did), he had plenty of time to think of a pithy/humorous retort. In the end, he came up with a decent take-off on a George Bush line, saying that Bill was already measuring the drapes in the Oval Office. But he stammered out the joke instead of punching it, displaying all the comic timing of a mortician on a first date with a still-mourning widow.

That's the way it went throughout, and to make matters worse, Tancredo seemed to get sweatier and more awkward as the marathon session went on. He recalled Richard Nixon in his famous 1960 face-off with John F. Kennedy -- the one historians credit with helping win the election for JFK. The main difference: Nixon was better.

If Tancredo doesn't get more polished fast, even his anti-immigration faithful will bail on him. Then it won't be long before there'll be no Tancredo button to click. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts