Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Acting the part -- Fred Thompson for President

Still waiting for the miracle to happen in Helena... And while we're waiting, since both Wulfgar and Moorcat have recently weighed in on Fred Thompson's potential candidacy, critical mass has been reached around here in wanting to comment on Thompson, prompted most recently by Thompson's recent essay in National Review.

He was responding to the scolding he took from a NR editor because he wasn't sufficiently anti-trial lawyer. Here's a sample of Thompson's response, in which he demonstrates that on the bills in question, his votes in the Senate weren't against "tort reform," but were for federalism:

Federalism sometimes restrains you from doing things you want to do. You have to leave the job to someone else — who may even choose not to do it at all. However, if conservatives abandon this valued principle that limits the federal government, or if we selectively use it as a tool with which to reward our friends and strike our enemies, then we will be doing a disservice to our country as well as the cause of conservatism.

Montana Headlines is just as skittish as every other conservative this year, and we aren't ready to commit to a presidential candidate.

The reality is that unless the political landscape changes dramatically -- and it has been known to do that from time to time -- the next President will be a Democrat and will have healthy majorities in both both Houses of Congress. Look for things to get very nasty on the Democratic side of things for that very reason -- the nomination will likely mean the White House.

So, if the ship is going down, you want to have a candidate who can do the party proud, build for the future (four years of Hillary will get old really quickly), and who actually believes in conservative principles and can communicate them. And maybe, just maybe, he might get lucky.

Neither Guiliani nor Romney fits the bill, and it is hard to say which one is the more sure general election loser, but our money would be on Romney for that particular prize. The levels of dislike for McCain are, as we have discussed in these pages before, unbelievably high amongst GOP activists -- the ones who do the work, man the phone banks, and who "will crawl over broken glass" if need be to vote.

In our opinion, the dislike is disproportionate to his "crimes," but we have to admit that we have been part of the "anybody but McCain" crowd at times. But when the answer to that cry comes back with "Guiliani or Romney," then the good Senator from Arizona starts sounding a lot better.

The whole discussion about McCain is probably irrelevant, though. He is so obviously not physically up to the ridiculous American two-year campaign schedule that even the casual observer can see it. The Presidency is, shall we say, at least as physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding as a campaign, though, so there is a certain amount of useful weeding-out that goes on. And McCain is being weeded out.

There are things to be said for Gingrich (the other undeclared candidate) but they all take us back into a past that is not likely to build the GOP for the future. And there is that small matter of his carrying on sordid Clintonian affairs at the same time that he and his party were going after Clinton for lying under oath about his own embarrassingly juvenile affairs. One can hardly imagine that any part of America is going to warm to Gingrich -- no matter how urbanely articulate and reasonable he is these days.

No, Gingrich's only hope was to be the one that conservatives turned to in order to save the day against Giuliani, Romney, and McCain. And now, with the rise of Fred Thompson's non-candidacy, that chance for Gingrich is gone -- long gone. For all his accomplishments, few wax nostalgic for the days of Gingrichism.

The joke is that Thompson's appeal is that he takes the place of "none of the above" in polls. It's certainly partly true.

But Thompson has quietly been everywhere in recent years, calmly building a reputation for having clear conservative beliefs without being doctrinaire (this latter is more important to conservatives than those reading from the standard "wingnut" script about the Republican right comprehend.) And he has an ability to communicate clearly and convey a sense of confidence -- not in him, but in ourselves and in America -- that we haven't seen since the Gipper.

Let's just run the list. We have been hearing him fill in on the Paul Harvey radio news program -- that great middle American staple. We have been reading his editorials in the Wall Street Journal -- backbone of the Republican business community. His audio commentaries and essays have been regulars in National Review -- for all its flaws, still the popular journal of record for American conservatives. Oh, and don't forget Law and Order -- face time is face time.

And those are just the ones we have run across. He apparently has a syndicated radio spot, although we haven't heard it.

Note the recurring theme -- Paul Harvey, audio commentaries, syndicated radio. The radio connection has a powerful subliminal message for Republicans, and not just because of a voice that has, despite its different accent, effects on the listener that are reminiscent of the effect that Reagan's voice had.

The real connection with radio is that it was Reagan's constant presence on the radio throughout middle America during those long Carter years that most built him a large grass-roots following. Every politically active Republican knows that it was there that Reagan hammered out in his own mind what he thought and believed on a wide variety of subjects, and it was there that he did the final honing on how to articulate those political beliefs. It is a key part of conservative Republican lore repeated around the metaphorical campfires.

It thus comes as no surprise that with the first whiff of a possible entry into the race, Thompson leaped right past Gingrich, who has mainly been camping out on Fox News and doing "public conversations" with Mario Cuomo and the like. He has also leaped past Romney in polling, and he will stay there. McCain is fading fast, Guiliani has also been dropping in the polls. The rest of the pack has been forgotten for now. Only Thompson is rising -- and has been for months, quietly.

Perfect? Hardly -- but that's not necessary, and the current "front-runners" have done us the favor of showing us just how grateful for an imperfect conservative we would be. Flash in the pan? Maybe. But browsing around some of the key places on the web where conservatives chat in large numbers, Thompson is killing the opposition right now in a way that no other fleeting fad candidate or "purist candidate" has.

A lot of conservatives are changing from "none of the above" to "Thompson," and Montana Headlines is certainly heading that direction.

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