Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Assessing Fred

Much has been made of the still unannounced candidacy of Fred Thompson and its effect on the Romney campaign. Certainly there is a compelling case for Fred Thompson to run, as with several candidates. Still, the buzz around the candidates is mostly name recognition at this point. USA Today states it this way:
One reason for Thompson's fast start is name identification, says Republican strategist Rich Galen. "More people watch him every week on TV than will vote in total next Feb. 5," he says, the day of primaries in about a dozen states.

Galen also notes, however, that neither Giuliani nor Clinton can yet claim the allegiance of a majority. "In both parties, at least two-thirds of the members are looking for alternatives or at least options," he says. That provides an opening for contenders such as Thompson or Gore who aren't running — at least so far.
So other than name recognition, what does Thompson bring to the table? The Fix’s Chris Cillizza sums it up like this:
Combine Thompson's capacity for fundraising in his home state with his starpower and his acceptability to social conservatives and you have a package that no other candidate in the field offers.
Perhaps it is a unique thing to be able to raise funds in Tennessee, but it is hardly defining of potential presidents to be able to raise funds in their home state. That leaves Thompson’s star power and acceptability to social conservatives. But how acceptable to social conservatives is Thompson? Chris Cillizza lists this collection of positions:

Thompson -- along with McCain -- was one of the main backers of campaign finance reform legislation that is roundly despised by social conservatives.

And when he ran for the Senate in 1994, Thompson was routinely described as a supporter of abortion rights. (Confirmed here, here, and here, although his record appears consistently pro-life)
Whether conservatives will give him a pass on these issues is unclear, but Thompson’s candidacy certainly raises some of the same questions on the issues that Romney’s does.

Lastly, Thompson’s star power. Certainly, as stated by USA Today, Thompson has more exposure than almost any candidate through his TV role. Despite this, Thompson seems to lack a fire for the grind of campaigning. Chris Cillizza again states:
Two factors make a bid by Thompson an ill-advised proposition -- the incredibly early start of the 2008 campaign and the former senator's well-known distaste for the nuts and bolts of campaigning.

Thompson's slow start is not insurmountable, but given his reputation as a less-than-enthusiastic campaigner, the lead he's spotted the front-runners makes more of a difference. This reputation also begs the question: If Thompson doesn't rise to the challenge of campaigning, how can we expect him to rise to the challenge of governing and managing the nation's beauracracy? There is no question that Mitt Romney has the ability and capacity to do both.

Ultimately, Thompson's flirtation seems more a phenomenon of celebrity than of substance. Personally I like Fred Thompson, but more for his role on Law and Order than his politics (which is by no means a knock on his politics). Right now the polls indicate that conservatives are still searching for their ideal candidate. I think this is more a function of the loss of the last election than anything. They’re looking for that person to knock it out of the park instead of looking at the consistent producers already in the line-up. Mitt Romney's ability is what distinguishes him from Thompson, in my mind. Romney has consistently produced great results wherever he has been. Regardless of previous statements, Romney's record of accomplishment stands alone.



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