Tired of playing cop, some in the Minuteman movement are trying to influence the 2008 presidential election by playing powerbroker. And like just about everything this bunch does, the results are sad - but funny.
Take the fact that one of their top choices for president has already exited the race. Of course, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., never stood a chance of accomplishing anything other than embarrassing himself. And he did that pretty definitively when he urged the disbanding of the Congressional Black Caucus, suggested that the definition of what it means to be an American is tied to speaking English, and likened Miami to a Third World country.
Yet Tancredo was seen as a fine prospect by the San Diego Minutemen who - in an evaluation of presidential candidates on their Web site - listed him as "acceptable." Also in that category are Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan, neither of whom has entered the race. In this political version of Alice in Wonderland, Duncan Hunter and Ron Paul round out the Minutemen's top tier.
In the "unacceptable" column, you'll find Mike Huckabee, who, oddly enough, was recently endorsed by Jim Gilchrist, one of the co-founders of the Minuteman Project.
Huckabee is hoping the endorsement persuades the nativist wing of the Republican Party to forgive and forget that the former Arkansas governor once backed in-state college tuition for illegal immigrant students.
Here's the sad part. This is wasted energy. Huckabee should have no regrets. He did the right thing in Arkansas. If an illegal immigrant child moves to Little Rock at the age of 2, and lives there with her family until she is old enough to apply to college, we can assume that - by that point - her parents would have paid a bundle in sales, property and income taxes. Why shouldn't that college student get the same in-state tuition break that goes to other similarly situated students who happen to be U.S. citizens? Oh yes, because she and her family are illegal immigrants - something that didn't seem important to the tax collector for most of her life.
But even if Huckabee does need help polishing his tough-guy persona on illegal immigration - and neither Chuck Norris nor pheasant hunting is doing the trick - cozying up to the likes of Gilchrist buys trouble. Here you have someone who has been under fire from his own troops and accused of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from supporters.
Gilchrist denies those charges, insists that all the funds in question went toward legitimate expenses of the organization, and accuses his accusers - which include four former board members of the Minuteman Project - of attempting a "hijacking" of the group. A former CPA, Gilchrist has admitted to some "temporary mismanagement" of funds that included bounced checks. But he told The Associated Press that - having done more than 1,000 media interviews - he doesn't "have time to cross every 't' and dot every 'i.' "
Here's the funny part: Suddenly, other anti-illegal immigration activists are hounding him with the same zeal with which he once hounded illegal immigrants at the border. After Gilchrist appeared with Huckabee at a news conference in Iowa, the vigilante leader was bludgeoned on the Internet by hard-core nativists who believe Huckabee is soft on illegal immigration and that Gilchrist is just out for Gilchrist.
You don't say. The former Marine/journalist/accountant appears to have floated from one career to another before taking on the illegal immigration issue as his meal ticket. Since then, he has launched an unsuccessful run for Congress, co-authored a book and hit the lecture circuit. Along the way, Gilchrist convinced himself that people actually care about his opinion on illegal immigration - and now what, presidential politics?
Most people don't, and that includes some of Gilchrist's former disciples in the border-watcher movement. Many of them are now actively trying to discredit him, either to settle old scores or to prop up their own pitiful choices for president. The dissenters can't just disagree with Gilchrist. They think they've got to destroy him.
That's not surprising. That's how zealots are. They eat their own kind. When there is so much anger and frustration and bitterness, all of it gets directed everywhere - at the media, the Bush administration, the Mexican government, and now at each other.
Besides, 'tis the season. A presidential election always turns into a bit of a circus. And what's a circus without the clowns?
Navarrette can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
© Copyright 2007 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.