In a post-election analysis story last week, the Denver Post quoted conservative political analyst Katy Atkinson's views on Tom Tancredo's future.
"He's always going to have an audience. He is a really great communicator," she told the Post.
I would have liked one more sentence explaining why she thinks this. So I asked her.
"Have you ever heard Tom Tancredo speak?" Atkinson kindly replied via email. "I've known the guy for 30 years and his enthusiasm is contagious. Combine enthusiasm with passion, sincerity and the ability to make complex subjects comprehensible, sprinkle on a sense of humor and you get a great communicator. You don't have to agree with him all the time, or any of the time, to admire his abilities."
I admire Atkinson's abilities, but I've criticized the Post in the past for quoting her and other familiar pundits too often. So when I queried her, Atkinson added, "I've just been relishing the irony of you asking for my opinion." (Nowadays, I think there's a wider variety of pundits quoted in the Post's political stories, which is a good thing. But I'll do a bean count at some point to see if this is true.)
In any case, Tancredo is clearly great at getting media attention, and he is a good speaker, but he's not so great as a communicator, because he goes off message too often, and it's not clear what he's trying to achieve--except to draw attention to himself.
Extreme media stunts, like the kind Tancredo is famous for, can work for extremists as long as they are on message, but Tancredo too often goes over the cliff.
For example, when he says the U.S. should bomb Mecca in retaliation to a terrorist attack, and Tancredo's agenda is to foment anger against illegal immigrants or Islam, he's gone too far because his message gets lost in the outcry about bombing a religious site and the ramifications. The ensuing debate does not focus on immigrants or Islam per se.
But when Tancredo says Obama is more of a threat to America than Osama bin Laden, and Tancredo's agenda is to tear down Obama, he's actually succeeded in injecting his message into the mass media. The ensuing media discussion centers on how bad Obama really is.
Still, you'd never guess that strategic communications occupies Tancredo's thoughts very often, but that's how it goes with bomb throwers. And he's a great one.