The thought occurred to me shortly after watching Brit Hume lead off with a question about former Senator Fred Thompson at the top of the last Fox News debate. All of this fervor on the right concerning Thompson’s late to the game campaign feels a little like déjà vu. Remember about this time four years ago, during another campaign and within another party? Yes I’m speaking of former General Wesley Clark’s late entry into the 2004 Democratic primary. For months Clark was coy about his ambition to run for the Democratic nomination, while party-surrogate 527’s launched advertising in an attempt to promote him.
Clark, who currently is rumored to be on Hillary Clinton’s short list for VP, fed red meat to Democrats with lines regarding the war like "Are we safer after all of this?" and "When ought the United States use force?” and “I was either going to be the loneliest Republican in America, or I was going to be a happy Democrat." Yet Clark’s late entry into the race never caught fire and his presence in the race only served to detract from the more established candidates. Four years later, Redux: former Senator Fred Thompson’s Campaign.
To Thompson’s credit, he was candid early on with interviewers about his intentions to run for the Republican nomination. Yet, when it came time to file papers with the Federal Election Commission to officially enter the race, he held off on until after the September 5th New Hampshire Fox News Debate. One might surmise from this maneuver that Thompson’s camp realized he would not live up to expectations in the debate. Rather than disappoint Republicans, he could continue to garner free exposure from the syndicated airings of Law and Order, since the episodes in which he appears would be pulled as soon as he filed with the FEC. By the end of the fundraising quarter, Thompson had only reported 3.5 million in campaign contributions, which is roughly the same amount his opponent, fellow Republican Congressman Ron Paul, raised in the same period of time.
Despite his ‘Freddy come lately’ approach to the primary (which is sure to alienate the early New Hampshire and Iowa voters) and his lack luster fundraising, Thompson is still riding high in the polls nationally. Most polls have him competing well with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. However, Thompson does not poll highly in early primary states where former Governor Mitt Romney has a sizeable lead, nor does he do well against top tier Democrats nationally and in the South, which could hamper further fundraising. These money concerns, coupled with his disregard of prepared speeches, his wife’s meddling with his campaign staff, and the lack of a real platform should hurt his campaign. It has not, yet. This is due to the immense amount of red meat he throws to the base of the Republican right on issues like same-sex marriage, immigration, gun rights, right to life, and intelligent design. These are issues, which as the basis of a campaign like Representative Tom Tancredo’s, can turn an outspoken candidate into a lightning rod - marginalized and therefore ineligible to be on the ticket in 2008.
Thompson is arguably the least substantive of the top tier candidates and he snubbed the N.H. Fox News debate, but these current troubles may not compare to his history of problems when all things are said and done. He has a long and sordid past, dating back to his position as co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee in its investigation of President Nixon. He admits he leaked information to the Nixon White House during the height of the investigation, tipping off Nixon's attorney that the committee was aware of the president's secret tapping device, and would be making the information public.
Thompson’s ‘Fred Heads’ may be appropriately named for a ‘lazy like a fox’ candidate who spent eight years in the senate, failing to author or sponsor a single piece of legislation. He served this odd eight-year term as a U.S. senator by filling the last of Al Gore's term and then one of his own, but he left to pursue his career as a supporting actor because he thought the political realm was too dirty. Since then, the right has accused Thompson of pro-choice lobbying and using his own political action committee to benefit his son. He also married Republican consultant Jeri Kehn, of whom much has been written regarding her being twenty-five years his junior. Just because he calls himself a consistent conservative does not make it true. Ronald Reagan, he is not.
Two factors concerning Fred Thompson and his presidential aspirations that are rarely covered are his health and his involvement leading up to the Iraq war in 2003. Thompson has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and while it is considered indolent, or the lowest grade of the chronic disease, this is a topic worthy of consideration for someone seeking the presidency. In the latter case it would be an understatement to say that there has been a lack of recall concerning the advertisement Thompson did for the Citizens United Foundation. In the ad, Thompson performed a 30-second sales job on the Iraq war for the Bush administration, speaking of a Saddam with nuclear weapons and making an analogy between Hussein and Al-Qaeda, subtly insinuating a connection between the two. This ad is largely responsible for the public misconception that still prevails today: Saddam Hussein had something to do with the attacks on September 11, 2001. In the ad, Thompson says
“. . . And when people ask What has Saddam done to us? I ask
What had the 9/11 hijackers done to us – before 9/11? ”
The answer to Fred’s question is simple: the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the simultaneous bombs in 1998 at the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the Cole bombing in 2000. The ad’s premise and reasoning are faulty, as Hussein violated the no-fly zone continually for 12 years, with no American casualties. Thompson’s intellectual dishonesty and mediocre acting skills helped the Bush administration push a hasty authorization through Congress and convince the American people that a pre-emptive war was the only route.Thompson, who is known best for his role as D.A. Arthur Branch on Law and Order, has made himself an image of a down-home, southern conservative who campaigns out of the bed of his red pickup truck. He may not be the next Ronald Reagan, but he still may be competitive. Even if he blew off Brit Hume to schmooze it up in southern California with Jay Leno, even if he was late to the game and not ready for primetime, and even if he is just another do-nothing legislator, he may still have a chance in this field. When you’re running against a Baptist preacher, a cross-dresser, a Mormon, an OB/Gyn, a P.O.W. and a couple of xenophobes, anything can happen. Remember the Gray Davis recall and California gubernatorial race in ‘03, or has everyone already forgotten?