George Will

Oh? Why, then, did he file his own brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold McCain-Feingold, stressing Congress' especially "compelling interest" in squelching issue ads that "influence" elections?

Most lamely, Thompson takes credit for McCain-Feingold doubling the amount of "hard money" an individual can give to a candidate, which he says reduces the advantages of incumbency. But that is absurd: Most hard money flows to incumbents.

Ingraham asked why government should be telling individuals how much they can give to fund political speech by candidates they support. Thompson replied: "Why should the government ... tell a loan officer that he cannot accept money from someone trying to get a loan from him ... and then go ahead and give that person a loan? ... I mean, it's bribery in the real world."

So he believes, as zealous regulators of political speech do, that political contributions are incipient bribes -- but that bribery begins with contributions larger than $2,300. Which brings us to the financial implausibility of his late-starting campaign.

Suppose he does something unprecedented -- gets 100 people a day, from now until Jan. 1, to contribute the permitted maximum of $2,300. After subtracting normal fundraising costs and campaign overhead, he would still enter 2008 vulnerable to being outspent at least three-to-one by his major rivals.

Is there, however, a huge cash value in the role for which he is auditioning -- darling of religious conservatives? Perhaps. But their aspiring darling recently said in South Carolina, "I attend church when I'm in Tennessee. I'm in McLean right now. I don't attend regularly when I'm up there."

"Right now"? He has been living "up there" in that upscale inside-the-Beltway Washington suburb, honing his "Aw, shucks, I'm just an ol' Washington outsider" act, for years. Long enough to have noticed that McLean is planted thick with churches. Going to church is, of course, optional -- unless you are aiming to fill some supposed piety void in the Republican field.

New Coke was announced on April 23, 1985, with the company's president piling on adjectives usually reserved for Lafite Rothschild -- "smoother, rounder yet bolder." Almost 80 days later, the public having sampled it, the company pulled the product from stores. Perhaps Thompson's candidacy will last longer than New Coke did.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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