Robert Novak

Jeff Bell, an innovative conservative theoretician whose experience goes back to Ronald Reagan's 1976 presidential campaign, also wanted to help Thompson. His expertise could be invaluable for a candidate trying to fill the Reagan niche. Bell did not even get as far as a meeting with Thompson, though one was scheduled, abruptly canceled and then not rescheduled. What gatekeeper kept out Bell is unknown, but he was involved in a dispute many years ago with Ken Rietz, a Republican activist who was in charge of putting together Thompson's campaign.

These are not isolated cases, but other Washington insiders who were repelled at the Thompson gates do not want the embarrassment of having their names published. One Republican activist, who excels as both a policy wonk and fundraiser, has repeatedly offered himself to Thompson -- without a response. A high-level Bush administration official, with experience in politics and finance, has sent Thompson one resume after another -- without a response.

The constricted Thompson circle may explain early shortcomings. Failing to perform opposition research on himself, Thompson has been taken by surprise by the dissection of his career. No new initiatives accompanied the unveiling of his candidacy. To skip the Sept. 5 debate in Durham, N.H., while announcing his candidacy on Jay Leno's television program, was a startling affront to New Hampshire.

Thompson's great asset remains the collective glass jaw of his opponents. Giuliani is not only a social liberal in a socially conservative party but is burdened with a life story that makes Democrats tremble with anticipation. Romney, who has transformed himself from liberal to conservative on social issues, to many Republicans seems a multi-millionaire investment banker willing to make any deal (though his biggest problem with evangelicals and strict Catholics is his Mormon religion). McCain seemed his old feisty self in the Sept. 5 debate, but on ABC's "This Week" last Sunday, he came over as melancholy. So, there is still a void. But can Thompson fill it?

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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