Fred Thompson has captured the imagination of conservatives who find themselves dissatisfied with the current crop of presidential contenders. They want to find a nominee who combines the charisma of Rudy Giuliani, the firmness on the war of John McCain, and the conservative domestic policies of Duncant Hunter and Mike Huckabee. In short, conservatives want another Ronald Reagan.
According to some of those who worked for Ronald Reagan, they may have it in Thompson:
Ronald Reagan’s closest allies are throwing their weight behind the White House bid by the late president’s fellow actor, Fred Thompson.
The film star and former Republican senator from Tennessee will this week use a speech in the heart of Reagan country, in southern California, to woo party bigwigs in what insiders say is the next step in his coming out as a candidate.
A key figure in the Reagan inner circle has now given his seal of approval to Mr Thompson, best known as a star of the television crime drama Law and Order.
As deputy chief of staff, Michael Deaver was a key member of the “troika” of aides who kept the Reagan White House on track. With the chief of staff James Baker and special assistant Ed Meese, he was the master of image and presentation.
Deaver has remained at the forefront of the Reagan legacy, and has close contacts with Nancy Reagan. Clark Judge, one of Reagan’s speechwriters, also supports Thompson, calling Thompson “a man of tremendous substance”. Roger Stone, a Reagan campaign strategist, notes that Thompson has Reagan’s self-assurance without the cockiness of George W Bush, and that he communicates wisdom and deliberation.
With this team forming, it’s obvious that Thompson will join the race. If that wasn’t enough, his upcoming appearance at the Lincoln Club this Friday should make it clear. It has worked for Republican electoral success since it helped inspire Reagan to run for governor, and it made history when it assisted Arnold Schwarzenegger and pushed the recall effort that made him a successor to Reagan in California. If Thompson can bring the Lincoln Club behind him, he will have a force in political fundraising on his team — and will have gotten a jump on the other Republicans that have conservatives pining for Fred as the new Reagan.
All of this is true, and yet Thompson is both less and more than Ronald Reagan. Thompson has a long record of political reform from the ground up, first with Watergate and then in Tennessee. His acting career followed his political career, while Reagan did it the other way around. Reagan spent years grooming himself for higher office by speaking on the dinner circuit, building his rhetorical repetoire for a long-shot run at the California governor’s office, followed by two attempts to win the Republican presidential nomination.
In contrast, Thompson has not appeared to seek high office, nor has Thompson worked on what looked to be in retrospect a grand plan for a political career. That lack of ego may work to Thompson’s advantage in an era of deep skepticism. It’s not Reagan, but it’s Thompson, and Thompson might sell as the reluctant philosopher, drafted out of necessity.