Fred Thompson is on the verge of declaring his candidacy for the 2008 race for President of the U.S. With his star quality and down-home demeanor he is already running second among the Republicans in some polls and first in others. Thompson’s “late” entry to the race and his quick rise to the top have to be frustrating to those candidates who slogged their way through organization-building and the early debates. It helps, of course, that Thompson has a well-connected wife with PR savvy and legions of powerful political friends willing to support and endorse a candidacy before it gets off the ground.
One of the stars of the TV show, Law and Order, Thompson is often described as Reaganesque; he is tall, muscular, has a populist style, sincere manner and has an appealing show-biz quality that other candidates envy. The Reagan comparisons, of course, increased when he went to England to seek the endorsement of Lady Margaret Thatcher, a close friend, political ally and colleague of President Reagan.
Obviously, when he declares his candidacy he will be scrutinized by opponents in his own party as well as by the opposition. He has a 10-year record as a Senator; reporters will be combing through that record and all the related rhetoric for indications of where he stands on various pivotal issues. His problems will likely stem from interviews in the early 90s when he said that he opposed criminalizing abortion and opposed a constitutional amendment protecting the sanctity of life. Further, at that time he told reporters that while he was pro-life, he didn’t support the prohibition of early term abortions.
Those documented statements contrast with his solidly conservative voting record in the Senate. Thompson explains the difference by citing the effect of seeing his now 3-year-old daughter’s sonogram. At that time, he explains, the pro-life issue became a position of the heart as well as of the head.
Another inconsistency that will haunt Thompson is the fact that he helped get the McCain-Feingold bill passed. That controversial legislation prohibited advocacy groups from explaining candidates’ positions from 30-60 days prior to primary and general elections. Though an original co-sponsor of the bill, Thompson now says that McCain-Feingold went too far. The Supreme Court agrees. Just this week, the Supreme Court reversed restrictions on “issue advocacy” –– a move that will enable groups to inform the public about candidates’ positions on critical issues during the last weeks of a campaign.
Conservatives, then, will have to decide whether to put their vote on the line with Thompson’s rhetoric or stand with his record.