A Third Party Illegal Immigration Challenge?

Rasmussen polling put out these eye catching numbers on Thursday:

The survey also asked respondents how they would vote if “a third party candidate ran in 2008 and promised to build a barrier along the Mexican border and make enforcement of immigration law his top priority.”

With that option, support fell sharply for both major parties. The Democrats still come out on top with support from 31% of Americans. The third party candidate moved into a virtual tie at 30% while the GOP fell to 21%.

This result probably reflects unhappiness with both parties on the immigration issue rather than a true opportunity for a third party. Historically, issues that drive third party candidates get co-opted by one of the major parties as they demonstrate popular appeal. Most Americans favor a barrier along the border and enforcement of existing law prior to other reforms.

With the immigration issue candidate as an option, 36% of conservative voters opt for the Republican candidate while 35% take the third party option. Among political moderates, 34% pick the Democrat while 32% prefer the third party option.

On Saturday, this news about Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minutemen Project came out:

“Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, is considering a run for president in 2008 representing the Constitution Party.

Gilchrist has just returned from Florida where he met with the party’s national committee.

Chairman James Clymer told WorldNetDaily the party was excited about the possibility of Gilchrist as its marquis candidate.

“Yes, indeed, we are interested,” Clymer said. “Gilchrist spoke to us last weekend in Tampa and our people asked Jim then if he would be the candidate. We think it would be wonderful if Jim Gilchrist would seriously consider being our presidential candidate.”

Gilchrist told WND the only candidate he would support as the Republican Party presidential nominee in 2008 was Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.

“If John McCain enters the race for president,” Gilchrist said. “I will definitely run. John McCain should have forfeited his right to run for president on the Republican Party the moment he put his name on immigration legislation with Sen. Ted Kennedy.”

Gilchrist and the Constitution Party both agree on the need to secure the southern border with Mexico. Commenting on the street demonstrations planned for tomorrow, Gilchrist said they are nothing more than “a declaration that we are no longer a nation governed by the rule of law, but that we are being ruled by mob rule.”

Asked whether he felt President Bush’s “guest worker” program or the administration’s “pathway to citizenship” were reasonable compromises, Gilchrist reacted sharply: “The Republican Party is going to pay a huge price for pandering to what they think is going to be an illegal-alien vote and for their reckless disregard for the rule of law. The Republican Party has sold out our sovereignty.”

Gilchrist told WND that he thought his third-party candidacy could be viable, noting “the country is ready for a third-party candidate, just like the country was ready for Ross Perot in 1992.”

Sigh.

First of all, a third-party candidacy isn’t really “viable” and even if it were, Gilchrist wouldn’t be the one to lead it as evidenced by his 2005 loss in a run for Congress. The work he has done with the Minutemen Project has been fantastic and much appreciated and moreover, we share a lot of the same views about illegal immigration. However, no one can ride the illegal immigration issue alone to the presidency. Tom Tancredo, who has talked about running for President, has acknowledged as much and has said he may run to focus attention on the issue, not because he believes he can win.

In Gilchrist’s case, he couldn’t possibly win, but because of the depth of feeling on the illegal immigration issue and the pathetic way that a lot of Republicans in the Senate and Bush have handled the issue, it is possible that Gilchrist could drain off enough support from the GOP to put a Democrat in the White House.

That’s why it would be foolish for him to run for President. Instead he would be better off throwing his support behind whichever truly “viable” candidate on the Republican side comes closest to his position on illegals. Although Tancredo is the best of the bunch, George Allen and Newt Gingrich aren’t bad on illegal immigration either. Also, it’s possible some of the governors who get in the game may be ready to crack down on “undocumented workers” as well. That’s where Gilchrist can make a difference, not running with a third party that hasn’t won anything on the national level and is never going to win anything.

Whatever Gilchrist does, Republicans up on the Hill need to start getting a handle on the depth of feeling this issue is producing in their base. This issue is getting as big as Iraq, as big as deficit spending, as big as abortion, and the GOP better start treating it that way instead of errantly concluding that they can be as soft as they like without having to pay a price. If the GOP in Washington ends up flubbing this issue, it could cost us Congress, in 2006 or 2008, and the presidency in 2008 — and that’s no exaggeration.

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