If you're looking for a conservative candidate in 2008 and my former employer and first choice for GOP nominee, Duncan Hunter, isn't your cup of tea, then Fred Dalton Thompson may be your best bet. Here's a primer that will explain why that's the case.
Fred's a Tennessee native who "speaks Southern," has a very minimal amount of baggage, and he'd be almost guaranteed to carry every Southern state. Although most Republicans take those states for granted since Bush carried all of them in 2000 and 2004, it's entirely possible that some of the other top tier candidates, like New Yorker Rudy Giuliani and Massachusetts native Mitt Romney, could lose multiple Southern states to a Democratic nominee.
Additionally, in head-to-head polls against the Democratic contenders, Fred Thompson is defying conventional wisdom and putting up numbers that are roughly comparable to Rudy Guiliani's and far superior to Mitt Romney's in most states. Considering that Rudy has far higher name recognition than Fred Thompson, it seems likely that Thompson has the long-term potential to be a stronger candidate than Giuliani and Romney everywhere except the states that are probably too blue for the GOP to win any way, like New York and Vermont.
At a time when the approval rating of Congress is at 11% and trending downward, simply not being a part of that failing Congress is a huge asset.
Fred Thompson has been out of Congress since January of 2003, which means that he didn't vote on Iraq, he wasn't involved on either side of the immigration battles, he wasn't around for Katrina, and he hasn't been involved in the scandals, mudslinging, and craven pandering of the last few years. If, as expected, Hillary Clinton turns out to be the nominee, Thompson can effectively portray himself as an agent of change, who wants to run against the business-as-usual campaign of Hillary Clinton and her pals in Congress.
In the movie Roadhouse, another Dalton, played by Patrick Swayze said, "I want you to be nice until it's time to not be nice."
Fred has this down to an art form.
Typically, he's a pleasant, sharp witted man who comes across like a more politically astute version of most people's grandfathers. But, when he feels a need to punch back, he has shown that unlike the GOP's current standard-bearer, he's up to the task.
For example, when Michael Moore went after Thompson, Fred splattered the Left's propagandist and chief with a lighthearted yet potent video response.
James Dobson, who has sadly been veering off the rails at a rapidly increasing pace during this primary season, said "I don’t think (Thompson's) a Christian. At least that’s my impression.” Dobson claimed that those comments were taken out of context, but he followed them up with some other rather nasty shots at Fred.
When asked about meeting with Dobson by Sean Hannity, instead of pandering to Dobson, who has been behaving like the head of "pro-lifers for Hillary" of late, Thompson responded, "I don't particularly care to have a conversation with him. If he wants to call up and apologize again, that's ok with me. But I'm not going to dance to anybody's tune."
Then there was this exchange, which turned out to be one of the better moments of this week's debate,
"...MSNBC's Chris Matthews shockingly gave an opinion about one of Thompson's answers to a question about a looming strike at Chrysler and whether the government should intervene.
Thompson said "No" and paused which prompted a follow up question from CNBC's Maria Bartiromo in which he expanded his answer.
Matthews then snidely remarked, "You should have stopped at ‘no.’" Thompson shot back, "That's your opinion, Christopher."
If conservatives are looking for a candidate who isn't pugnacious to the point of being obnoxious, but is capable of fighting back against the Clinton campaign's sleazy politics of personal destruction, Fred Thompson has shown that he has what it takes.
Although Fred is not the most conservative candidate in the race, he is certainly the most conservative candidate in the top tier. He is pro-life, he's anti-gun control, he has a good record on small government and fiscal issues, and he can be trusted to appoint originalist judges to the Supreme Court.
That doesn't mean you can't pick Thompson apart on a few issues, but you can do that to any of the candidates running if you take a hard enough look at their records. That being said, Thompson is definitely much more representative of the vision of the Republican Party that people had in 1980-1994 -- than he is of the "Big Government Republicanism" vision of the GOP that George Bush has come to represent. That means that Fred Thompson could be someone conservatives really want to have in the White House, as opposed to a candidate who could only be said to be the "lesser of two evils" when compared to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
Social conservatives are threatening to walk if Rudy, who's pro-abortion, gets the nod and there are more than a few Christians who seem leery of Mitt Romney. Then there's McCain, whom many grassroots conservatives can't stand and Mike Huckabee, a nannystater who will turn off conservatives who care deeply about small government.
Fred Thompson may be the only top tier candidate who can keep the party's base from fracturing in 2008. He is pro-life, has an outstanding voting record on abortion, and he has prominent social conservatives like Gary Bauer supporting him. Furthermore, he seems to be the most popular candidate amongst the party's grassroots and he has a strong record on fiscal issues and federalism, which will appeal to the wing of the GOP with more Libertarian tendencies. It's also worth noting that Fred comes across as a very reasonable man, who eschews the sort of harsh rhetoric and extreme positions that turn off some of the more moderate members of the GOP.
In 2008, the GOP is going to need to get strong support from all the traditional parts of the GOP base if we're going to have a chance to win and Fred is capable of making it happen.
When Fred Thompson was in the Senate, he had a mixed record on illegal immigration issues -- not all good, not all bad. NumbersUSA gave this brief summary of Thompson's career: "Leans toward less immigration, less population growth, less foreign labor."
But, in all fairness to Thompson, illegal immigration wasn't exactly viewed as a hot issue or as being extremely important to conservatives back then. Perhaps more importantly, all the other candidates in the top tier, plus Huckabee, have extremely troubling records on illegal immigration issues, which make it very difficult to trust anything they say about securing the border or amnesty.
On the other hand, even though Fred Thompson doesn't have the credibility of a Tom Tancredo or Duncan Hunter on the illegal immigration issue, people can believe him when he says he will build the fence, secure the border, insist on a security-first policy, and go after sanctuary cities.
Remember when elected Republicans -- like say, Ronald Reagan -- used to regularly talk about taking power away from the federal government and giving it back to the states? Well, Fred Thompson is that kind of Republican and in these days of creeping socialism and ever-expanding government power, it would be fantastic to have a President who actually says to himself before he signs a law, "Is this something government should be doing? If so, at what level of government?"
Now anybody can talk the talk about federalism, but Thompson has shown that he walks the walk, too. Thompson has bragged that he has come up on the "short end of a couple of 99-1 votes" because he stuck to Federalist principles. His stance on gay marriage, which is support of a constitutional amendment that would prevent judges from legalizing gay marriage, but allows state legislatures to do so if they choose -- shows that he's anti-gay marriage, but unwilling to compromise his Federalist principles, even when it would be politically convenient to do so.
One of the biggest complaints conservatives have had about the Bush Administration is that it hasn't made a serious effort to cut spending. Given his past record, that would seem unlikely to be a problem for Fred Thompson. The gold standard on fiscal issues, The Club for Growth, examined Fred's voting record in the Senate and gave him a review that will make conservative heads turn. Here's a summary of what the CFG had to say about Thompson:
"Fred Thompson's eight-year record is generally pro-growth with an excellent record on entitlement reform and school choice and a very good record on taxes, regulation, and trade...His belief in a limited federal government is demonstrated by his numerous votes against government intrusion in the private sector and increased federal spending. His fondness for Tennessee pork aside, Thompson consistently voted against increased spending and new government projects, at times, one of only a handful of senators to do so."
At a time when the Democratic Party controls Congress and has yet to run across a domestic program that they wouldn't be thrilled to expand by a few billion dollars, wouldn't it be great to have someone like Fred Thompson sitting in the White House, deftly wielding a veto pen?
If, like most conservatives, you're looking for a candidate who shares many of the same values as the Gipper, Fred Thompson is definitely the top tier candidate who best fits that description. Does that mean Fred Thompson is perfect? Far from it, but he is a few steps to the right of George W. Bush and it does seem likely that conservatives would genuinely be happy with a Thompson presidency. Imagine that -- a top tier GOP candidate who could motivate conservatives to vote for him because they would want him in office, as opposed to trying to convince them to trudge to the polls just because they don't want to see President Hillary Rodham Clinton.