Although Al Gore isn’t intending to run for President these days, he may be thinking about it. And if that’s the case – and plenty of folks wish it were so – he should sit back and watch what happens to the campaign of his former colleague Fred Thompson. The two have more in common than being former Senators from Tennessee: right now they’re both a stand-in for choosing “none of the above” in their respective parties’ primaries.
Although Thompson has not announced his Presidential campaign – you can expect him to formally do so around July 4th, which is conveniently just after the campaign fundraising report deadline – he is experiencing a meteoric rise in the polls. The Los Angeles Times now has him nipping at the heels of GOP front-runner Rudy Giuliani.
When you look below the surface at the poll numbers, however, it is apparent that voters aren’t really supporting Fred Thompson, the former Senator from Tennessee, they’re supporting the man they want Fred Thompson to be, something they’re not seeing in the line-up of potential presidents on offer.
The Religious Right is hardly enthused by the strength of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign. He’s pro-choice, supports gay rights and has a record of personal moral behavior – three wives! – befitting a Democrat. They’re also not sold on his two main rivals, born-again “conservatives” John McCain and Mitt Romney, who have only recently begun singing from their political hymn books. And while candidates like Sen. Sam Brownback and former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore fit nicely into the Religious Right’s mold, human nature leads voters to want to pick a winner, leaving this core group of the Republican Party without a candidate until Thompson showed up.
In the Times/Bloomberg poll, Thompson gets a staggering 32 percent of the Religious Right vote, and even more when you eliminate also-rans like Brownback, Gilmore and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
But how conservative is Fred Thompson? It seems that he, like Romney and McCain before him, aren’t as hard-core as the Religious Right would want. On abortion, he says that it should not be criminalized – that the decision should be made by the woman. That hardly sounds staunchly pro-life as some conservatives want to believe.
Conservatives’ love affair with Fred Thompson reminds me somewhat of a teenage girl’s infatuation with the High School quarterback. From afar, she dreams that her lover will be a doctor, lawyer or hedge-fund manager, will be faithful and fulfill her every need as they live happily ever after. But once she actually dates the guy, it’s another story…
For conservatives, Thompson isn’t the future-doctor, but the second-coming of Ronald Reagan. Think about how many times have you heard Thompson described as telegenic, a great communicator and a staunch conservative and you’ll know what I mean. In reality, when you look at his campaign staff he’s hired, it seems that Thompson is more likely to be a third term of the Bush Presidency than the second coming of Ronald Reagan.
Once Fred Thompson enters the race and the media gets over the hysteria of the self-proclaimed “Fred Heads,” we’re likely to find out who Fred Thompson really is, rather than projecting upon him what Republicans want him to be.
When Thompson’s positions on abortion, tax policy, entitlements and the Iraq war are scrutinized, conservatives may well learn that the high school quarterback they’ve been lusting for is hoping for nothing more than to work at his uncle’s feed store – if he can’t make it to the NFL. And he’s cheating on them with the head cheerleader – metaphorically at least.
For a once and possibly future candidate like Gore, a former vice president and veteran of presidential and state elections, this may not be news. But Gore’s current popularity, to my mind, reflects Fred Thompson’s. And the Republican’s vetting process can serve as a learning experience for what happens when any might-run goes from “Mr. None-of-the-Above” to being an actual Presidential contender.
Candidates are always much more attractive when their names aren’t on the ballot.