Fred Thompson Threatdown

Fred Thompson is running for President, and he presents the most pressing threat from the Republican side of the aisle.

While current polls show Democratic candidates like Barack Obama comfortably ahead, his chances for moving up in the polls are striking:

Yesterday, I suggested that Fred Thompson would be this campaign’s Wes Clark: A savior candidate whose very best day was the one before he announced for president. But today, I see that Ross Douthat is rather bullish on Thompson’s chances, and he makes some points that make me doubt my judgment in the matter:

Thompson has one thing going for him that Clark didn’t: He’s a savvy politician, not a wide-eyed neophyte, and he clearly knows a thing or two about running for office. His non-campaign campaign to win the conservative base’s heart – from the radio commentaries to the anti-Michael Moore YouTube bit – has been smarter politics than almost anything else we’ve seen from the Republican field so far, and it suggests that Thompson understands the voters he’s trying to woo in a way that many of his rivals don’t.

Ezra remains unconvinced that Thompson will emerge unscathed from the rigors of the campaign once he officially dives in.

I think he is the most serious candidate the right has (or can) put forth.  You have the top three contenders for the throne, followed by nakedly racist dominionists  like Tancredo and Brownback who essentially have “make the US a theocracy” at the top of their talking points.  Of the top three, who actually has any real pull?

Giuliani is a mix of left and right wing politics under a distinctly authoritarian crown.  Everything about him screams skeletons in the closet, and think of what we already know about his professional gaffes and personal life.

McCain is an increasingly irrelevant ex-maverick without an idealogical home.  He ran away from the centrists, but the far right circus still won’t let him in, no matter how much elephant refuse he offers to shoulder.

That leaves Mitt Romney, who despite having campaigned thus far, is polling equal to or less than Thompson (who hasn’t even officially entered the race!).  Romney faces a McCain like challenge, hide his past left-leaning tendencies to project a solidly conservative image.  It ain’t working. His failed senate campaign and his successful gubernatorial campaign are still vividly etched on the minds of Massachusetts natives and opinion makers.  He just comes off as a sleazy salesman, who slapped a mercedes insignia on a chevy.  It will only get worse when voters check the mileage.

The campaign coverage up to this point has been building a place for him, much like campaingn coverage in 2000 built a place for Bush.  Back then, we “needed” someone who would “reach across the aisle” to get things done.  True to form, Bush was sold to the American people as a “uniter”.  The manufactured need this time around is a “real conservative”.  The 2006 elections were framed not as a loss for Republicans, but a realization that anything less than hard core conservatism would fail at the voting booths.  This was followed up by early suggestions that none of the current crop of candidates had enough “star power” combined with “conservative credentials” to win the primary nod.  In steps Thompson.

The coverage in a “get to know the candidate” Reuters article reflects this:

His late candidacy, fueled in part by conservative dissatisfaction with the 10 official Republican candidates, has stirred heavy interest among curious activists and could fill a void for conservatives.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has led the field for months ahead of Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. But many conservatives are dissatisfied with all three top contenders and Thompson already runs third in many national polls, ahead of Romney.

Fortunately for us, a Thompson candidacy presents plenty of openings for a viable and aggressive Democratic candidate to take advantage of:

He said Washington’s partisan politics had bred cynicism about government and there was a “disconnect” between Washington politicians and Americans.

Thompson, a supporter of the Iraq war, also criticized the Democratic-controlled Congress for its debate on bills that would set withdrawal deadlines and timetables for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Notice the quick turnaround and lack of irony here.  The vast majority of Americans want to leave Iraq.  By continuing to support endless war in the region and framing withdrawal as “retreat”, Thompson is furthering the very cynicism he criticizes.

His weaknesses boil down to his idealogical closeness to Bush, and the contradictions between his desire to run as a “small government” conservative and the politics of fear and control he inherits from Bush.

This man, more than any other, represents an extension of the Cheney white house.  It will be vigorously pro business, nativist, militaristic and authoritarian.  He would continue the current white house approach to war, health care, the environment, and civil rights.  These are very unpopular positions, and they leave him wide open to effective critique.  It remains to be seen how he would deal with economic issues like taxes.  Will he cut taxes and spending, or cut taxes and increase spending like the current President?  While not as overtly theocratic as candidates like Brownback, a Thompson presidency would see us taking some steps backward regarding the separation of Church and State.

But make no mistake, his candidacy will be a serious one, and we need to take it seriously right from the start.  We need to make sure our own candidate is one who stands up tall and consistently for what the American people want, and we need to aggressively match Thompson strike for strike.  The 2008 election will be every inch the battle the last few elections were, and the stakes will be incredibly high.


One Response

  1. […] has the best chance of emerging at the top of the pack come primary season.  The essence of his risk to the Democratic candidate boils down to his celebrity and the Reagan halo Republicans are certain […]

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