Fred Thompson: Reluctant Warrior

09 May 2007 |permalink | email article

The serious expectation before the annual dinner of the Lincoln Club of Orange County last week, which famously propelled the gubernatorial candidacy of Ronald Reagan, was that former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson would declare his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. He didn’t and struck out.

The lawyer turned actor turned lobbyist did evoke the Reagan legacy with such themes as limited federal government, strong military and robust free markets, and a warning that Americans must be prepared to sacrifice in a world threatened by terrorists and hostile governments.

Thompson never mentioned President Bush in defending the current policy in Iraq and drew heavy applause in parts of his speech but the audience was silent when he strayed from Republican orthodoxy into areas of bipartisanship.

A Washington Post story last Saturday, mentioning that his dinner companion was Robert Novak, quoted the iconic conservative columnist as saying, “he’s running.”

But in The Post the next day, Novak wrote that the lack of any hint of a candidacy by Thompson was a letdown for the packed audience of bored conservative Republicans looking for a fresh candidate who’s moved from nowhere into the first tier of GOP candidates without airing a single ad.

I was struck by his description of the preponderant reaction to the speech: “It was not Reaganesque.” “No red meat. “Too low key.” 

Novak said Thompson’s problem at the dinner was not one of substance but that the putative candidate’s vigorous style, such as suggesting that Republican corruption and profligate spending caused the 2006 election defeat, was absent.

Calling his debut presidential speech “ordinary,” Novak added “it will be revealing how much he changes his approach in forthcoming noncandidate speeches to Republican gatherings in Virginia and Connecticut.”

An anonymous source, in a conversation with Thompson hours before his speech, described him to me as a “reluctant warrior waiting for the call and one of the top candidates to crash.”

Thompson’s handlers have been careful to expose him to friendly conservative media outlets, where “he alternates between his country-fried Ronald Reagan act and traitor-baiting the Democrats,” Salon.com reported.

Media hype aside, national polls showing Clinton far ahead and Thompson surging are meaningless in May 2007.

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