Fred Thompson Loss Ends Republican Party

Fred Thompson Loss Ends Republican Party Steve Bainbridge is preparing to sit out the 2008 election rather than vote for anyone but Fred Thompson.

If the choice is between choosing the lesser of 4 evils and teeing up a process by which the GOP reinvents itself for the 21st Century, I’m inclined to opt for the latter. Coupled with losing Congress in 2006, losing the presidency in 2008 will provide a pair of defeats that surely will prompt “attentiveness” on the part of the GOP leadership and the intellectual base of think tanks and academics who helped lay the foundation for the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions.

If only Fred Thompson were a better candidate, the party and the Republic could have survived. Pity.

Alternatively, I suppose, one could argue that the intellectual base of the party is fine. Rather, its politicians are abandoning principle for expediency in pandering to an electorate that constantly demands more government subsidies. Traditionally, conservative Republicans embraced tax cuts and small government. Now, the movement’s elected leaders, with very few exceptions, embrace tax cuts and big government.

Hagiography aside, that trend started with Ronald Reagan. He wanted tax cuts, huge increases in defense spending, and big cuts in domestic spending. He settled for the first two, however, along with massive public debt. It proved to be a very popular platform. Aside from the Ross Perot boomlet in 1992, fiscal responsibility turned out not to be a very salient electoral strategy.

The idea that Fred Thompson represented a major reversal of this course is a testament to his status as a chimera upon whom one could impart one’s wishes for an ideal candidate rather than any reality. As an actor, he often played the sort of no-nonsense, gruff talking, straight shooting leader that conservatives love; as a senator, though, he was rather ordinary.

Indeed, as the Washington Times pointed out last summer, his voting record put him to the left of Bill Frist. His lifetime ACU rating of 86 is barely ahead of John McCain’s 82 — and he was a consistent supporter of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation that earned its namesake so much enmity. As the Washington Post put it, “the two shared remarkably similar voting records in the Senate.” John Little links a now-no-longer-online Congressional Quarterly study which “found that Thompson and McCain voted the same way on 83 of 102 CQ-defined ‘key votes’ (81.4 percent) during the eight years the two men served together.”

For reasons mostly of style rather than substance, though, the conservative establishment pined for a Thompson campaign and has done whatever it can to derail McCain, as a front page piece in yesterday’s WaPo explained.

[Rush] Limbaugh led the way with a verbal blitz, not just against McCain but against his closest rival in South Carolina, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

“I’m here to tell you, if either of these two guys get the nomination, it’s going to destroy the Republican Party. It’s going to change it forever, be the end of it,” Limbaugh fumed on his radio show Tuesday. It was a line of argument that he kept up all week long.

[Former House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay resurfaced on Fox News Friday to excoriate McCain for working with “the most liberal Democrats in the Senate,” for passing an overhaul of campaign finance laws that “completely neutered the Republican Party,” and single-handedly thwarted oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“McCain has done more to hurt the Republican Party than any elected official I know of,” said DeLay, the former House majority leader, who was personally damaged by McCain’s Senate probe of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a probe that implicated numerous DeLay associates.

Conservative blogger Patrick Ruffini, on the Web site of popular radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, implored South Carolina Republicans on Friday to vote for Huckabee, simply to extend the nomination fight in hopes that another candidate could derail McCain.

And Jim DeMint, South Carolina’s ardently conservative senator who is backing Mitt Romney, issued a message Friday to “fellow conservatives,” warning that “Washington experience is the problem, not the solution. We cannot afford to have a President who has fought for amnesty for illegal immigrants, voted against the Bush Tax Cuts, and curtailed our First Amendment rights in the ill-conceived campaign finance legislation.” He never mentioned McCain’s name, but his meaning was clear.

The irony that so many of these people are lining up behind Mitt Romney, a guy who was a Massachusetts liberal until he started running for president, is simply bizarre.

Ruffini has set up an unscientific online poll aimed at Thompson supporters and they overwhelmingly (2,404 of 3,304, or 73%) say they’d switch to Romney. As of this writing, 2024 of 2302 wouldn’t be swayed even if Thompson were to endorse McCain.

This just goes to show that politics is largely irrational. People say that issues, judgment, and experience matter but, in reality, personality and style are what drive attitudes about candidates.

Nothing shows that better than last week’s Pew study on public perceptions of the ideology of the 2008 candidates. Republicans see Hillary Clinton as decidedly more liberal than Barack Obama, for example, while the general public and Democrats (correctly, in my view) see the two as rather similar ideologically with Obama somewhat further to the left. Regardless, all the candidates are much closer together on important public policy issues than the graphs would indicate.

We don’t choose candidates, though, based on a blind examination of their policy papers. Rather, we weigh them as personalities for “gravitas” and “leadership” and “toughness” and the degree to which they “care about people like me.” Fred Thompson is folksy and affable and therefore must be just like Ronald Reagan.

The beauty of long, grueling campaigns, though, is that they reveal people for who they are. Thompson doesn’t have the passion to do what it takes to be president. That probably just proves that he’s sane, really, but presidents have to spend four years working ridiculously long hours under constant scrutiny. People who want semi-normal lives, therefore, are unsuited for the job.

McCain, Romney, Huckabee and Giuliani are still in the running. One of them will ultimately win the nomination and run against the winner of the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama playoffs in the Democratic Conference for the presidential championship.

None of them are my ideal candidate. It’s quite possible that Huckabee is far enough from my ideal that I’d prefer one of the Democrats; thankfully, it’s looking like I’m not going to have to make that version of Hobson’s choice. Otherwise, as distasteful as I find aspects of their agendas and personalities, I can’t imagine that Hillary Clinton would be my preferred alternative.

Photo: BlogTheNews via Google.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Best of OTB, Campaign 2008, Politics 101, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughters. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Republicans need to decide whether they’re a catch-all party or a programmatic one. Since the disparate factions of today’s Republican Party each constitute only a very small proportion of the total electorate, should they march farther down the programmatic path they’d best get used to not winning any elections.

    As best as I can tell Professor Bainbridge is, basically, an old-fashioned paleocon. Their numbers are dwindling but they amount to 10% of the electorate, tops. They’ve never been a larger proportion but the “Reagan coalition” united incompatible subgroups under a single banner to win elections. The idea that Ronald Reagan was a paleocon is absurd. He was less socially conservative than they and despite the lip service wasn’t a fiscal conservative. How anyone can contend that Ronald Reagan, IMO an anti-communist old-fashioned liberal of a stamp that vanished from the Democratic Party decades ago, was a small government conservative with a straight face eludes me.

    Mike Huckabee, again as best as I can tell, stands for socially conservative redneck socialists. Again, not even a majority of the Republican Party which itself constitutes just about a third of the total electorate.

    Fred Thompson’s and John McCain’s voting records tally so closely that the difference between them looks to me to be mostly one of style and publicity.

    Mitt Romney seems to be what used to be a Nelson Rockefeller Republican. That mostly attracts the Republican Party’s Hamiltonians. As best as I can tell they’re the ones who propelled GWB into the presidency in 2000 under the mistaken assumption that he, like his dad, was one of their own. They’ve been bitterly disappointed.




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  2. kim says:

    Well, Rush and all the elites can stuff it. This year American people are speaking for whom they want. Maybe, just maybe, they want real change. Thompson is the last person I would ever vote for.I am voting for the person that has the same interests as me. Go Huckabee!!




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  3. Vince says:

    Kim-

    “This just goes to show that politics is largely irrational. People say that issues, judgment, and experience matter but, in reality, personality and style are what drive attitudes about candidates.”

    You and your remarks make the case for this assertion just perfectly.




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  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    There are things about all six of the top republican candidates (McCain, Romney, Huckabee, Thompson, Rudy and Paul) that I like. There are things about all six that I don’t like. Welcome to the real world. While it is entirely appropriate to weigh the candidates during the primary season to say who you think is best, there will soon come a time that the question is not “Which of the republican candidates is the best?”, but rather “Is the republican nominee better than the democratic nominee?”.

    That is why republicans need to keep the 11th commandment in mine during the primary season. Advocate why you think your choice is the best. Contribute time and money. But when the primary season is over don’t let your disappointment if you were unpersuasive get the better of you. Then you ask yourself the question “Is the republican nominee better than the democratic nominee?”.




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  5. nightjar says:

    If only Fred Thompson were a better candidate, the party and the Republic could have survived. Pity.

    Huckabee is not some anomaly, but a direct product of the GOP embrace of southern social narrow mindedness. Rudy is the product of a party reduced to a single issue of competence [former competance], national security.

    Romney reflects the contradictory facets of the GOP coalition regarding Immigration, foreign intervention, compassionate conservatism, religious dogma and raw power politics. And John Mccain is the biggest threat of all– a political maverick.

    And about survival of the Republic. Do you mean the Republic now known to the world as the nation of torturers?




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  6. legion says:

    Coupled with losing Congress in 2006, losing the presidency in 2008 will provide a pair of defeats that surely will prompt “attentiveness” on the part of the GOP leadership and the intellectual base of think tanks and academics who helped lay the foundation for the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions.

    If Bainbridge really believes that anything short of actual bankruptcy and being ignored by people will cause the heart of the modern GOP to change, he’s stupider than he looks. But the fact that he really seems to have bought into the PR spin of Fred Thompson EVER having been a legitimate, independent candidate should have given the lie to his gullibility long ago. Freddie was never more than an animatronic front-piece for the same sorts of wannabe kingmakers that got Bush into office.




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  7. Markustee says:

    Freddie was never more than an animatronic front-piece for the same sorts of wannabe kingmakers that got Bush into office.

    You got that wrong. The candidate of choice for the smoke filled backroom republican kingmakers was McCain. That was reported by Novak some time ago.

    McCain is your kingmaker’s candidate. He is the one-world government, destroy the USA candidate, give authority to the Hague candidate. He is GWB all over again.

    Thompson offered conservative, consistent, rational, and principled leadership. His voting record is not the issue – bills rarely have good things unless they have bad things too. His principle is to fight the battles you can win, and don’t waste your time on the ones you cannot.

    But no glitz. No glamour. No glitter. In this nation, sadly, that means no electability, unless those with minds that actually censor their TV’s wake up. If there are enough of them. I’m doubtful. I’ll write him in anyway.

    The thief in the race was Huckabee. His pandering to the evangelical “Christians” in the race proved one thing – they are neither evangelical, nor Christian – and not very smart, either. Huckabee is a liar and a deceiver. Fred Thompson is a foreign agent, indeed. 99.8% of the people that heard that heard “spy”, and he knew it. And, he has yet to address the issues that Fred Thompson raised about his record that brought on that ad hominem attack.

    I am sorry for America. By the time we realize what we have done, we will have national health care, and a socialist government. Goodbye, freedom. Hide your guns, buy gold. There is little else you can do. Oh, maybe buy a prayer rug and a turban now, while they are still cheap.




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  8. Dave says:

    I am reminded almost daily just how much I don’t fit in with the party of the fiscally insane George Bush. He usurped the name “conservative” to get elected and has since wrecked the conservative movement along with the help of those in the world stage media.

    Huge and inefficient prescription drug plan anybody?

    How about an education bill written by Ted Kennedy that get pawned off as Bush’s No child left behind act which in turn gets conservatives demonized in the press on a daily basis for six years?

    Then we have the politically correct management of a war where our soldiers are barely able to do their job because of the mountains of lawyer inspired paperwork just so we can look fair to those who hate western culture?

    We also have the senseless persecution of marines that did their jobs honorably only to be made examples of in repeated weak attempts to appease leftists around the world.

    Dubai Ports deal?

    Amnesty for illegal aliens who clog up the nation’s hospitals for free and are responsible for a large increase in crime.
    I could go on but I know you get the point.

    Now, we have some elitist type people in the Republican ranks telling us that we should vote for the super business tycoon Mitt Romney whose personal mannerisms relate with maybe 12% of real conservatives who will actually vote. This guy changes his message to fit his audience so much, that I thought I was listening to a charged up MBA at a bank stock meeting. No, he’s not going to win against the uneducated socialist left in this country. NEXT!Then we have Mike Huckabee, a man who wants to take some of your rights away because they….Well they just ought to be taken away because they’re just not right. No Thanks, I might want to smoke a cigar some day. NEXT!I’ve read everything on the Ron Paul website but since I happen to be a realistic thinker, and I understand the very real threat of radical Islamic fascism, I’ve also moved on. NEXT!Of course we also have the ex mayor of New York City. Last time I checked, conservatives don’t behave that way. NEXT! I dread even having to mention McCain by name for fear that I might get a late night call from one of his unnaturally cheery staffers who will tell me how much we need a person like him to bring us all together and start asking me to mention his name a few more times and maybe even put it up at the top of the blog somewhere. No, thanks, I respect what he had to endure in Vietnam because my dad was there too but this guy is narcissistic, and absolutely not a conservative; besides, we don’t need yet another president who will “work for—–I mean—– with the democrats as they move our nation towards socialism”. NEXT! So now we end with what I see as the only true conservative left in this race. A man who’s not self absorbed, and doesn’t waste time changing his mannerisms or accent just to please the crowd of the moment like a socialist liberal (who would step on their mother if it meant becoming more popular). He’s not an attention addict like the rest of the field. That goes for both parties! What he has done by sticking to his real self is convince me that there are still true patriots in the right places who will serve this country and then go home with honor and dignity. Yes, it’s Fred Thompson. He is the one I am voting for in this primary and I say to you all that we need now more than ever, a true conservative to be our nominee for president. I have watched and listened all year to these other candidates and they all lack conviction unlike Mr. Thompson who makes them all look like children with his realism. What you see is what you get. No phony speeches, no promises that aren’t kept, no secret amnesty bills or entitlement programs designed to create yet another dependant class in the dead of night when we aren’t looking. With Mr. Thompson you get honest, low profile, no nonsense conservatism, which is what our country needs a dose of right now.




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  9. Beth says:

    Since the disparate factions of today’s Republican Party each constitute only a very small proportion of the total electorate, should they march farther down the programmatic path they’d best get used to not winning any elections.

    Exactly. Nor will the sit-it-outers win any converts to their ideology, either. That seems not just irrational, but outright stupid to me.

    Thankfully, the vast majority of Republican/conservative voters aren’t as irrational as the ones you find on the blogosphere.




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  10. Tlaloc says:

    I am reminded almost daily just how much I don’t fit in with the party of the fiscally insane George Bush. He usurped the name “conservative” to get elected and has since wrecked the conservative movement along with the help of those in the world stage media.

    Who was the last actually fiscally conservstive president? Not Bush, or pappy Bush (“read my lips.”) Not Reagan who both presided over massive deficits but also eventually had to raise taxes when his supply side rhetoric didn’t pan out.

    So how is that the current Bush is the one to have rebranded conservativism? Hasn’t it *always* been a pipe dream?

    I’m just sayin is all…




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  11. Tlaloc says:

    Thankfully, the vast majority of Republican/conservative voters aren’t as irrational as the ones you find on the blogosphere.

    Must. Resist. Obvious. Jokes.

    *pant*

    Okay. I’m fine now.




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  12. pacificaharry says:

    I’m pleased to note this issue has continually been raised in the past week or so but what I see coming from my social conservative friends is a bit disturbing. While McCain, and all the Repub candidates have some points to disagree on, it seems that the extreme right is bent on subterfuge of the party for some sort of conservative purity contest, which no candidate holds up to in the light of day. I am greatly disgusted with the folks I’ve listen to for years that seem incapable of any resemblance of impartiality (see Hugh Huwitt), even when they embrace a candidate I like. I’ve also seen the far right support the purity in the words of Mr. Santorum as he railed against McCain, yet make no comment about Santorum being unemployed from Congress. The far right is correct in one aspect, the party is in danger of losing its soul, however that soul is not based solely on “Christian Values” but on small govt, strong military, and personal responsibility republicans like me who are an equal weight to the “social conservatives”. I have supported social conservatives to lead the party in the past,but I will not stand for the narrowing of a party that begins to resemble the mirror image of the DailyKos.




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  13. JP says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    This is not a very hard choice for me. Almost all of the Republican candidates are members or have ties to the Council on Foreign Relations, which is working towards greater globalization and eventual world government.

    The only candidate that does not have ties to this organization is Ron Paul. He is a tried and true Goldwater Republican.

    This soldier is marching with Ron Paul.




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  14. Jim Waddell says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

    Those wishing to buy candidate advertising should send inquiries to otb@blogads.com




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  15. Kathy says:

    Indeed, as the Washington Times pointed out last summer, his voting record put him to the left of Bill Frist.

    To the left of Bill Frist? That’s a meaningless phrase. Bill Frist’s left side is lunatic fringe far right. You’d have to travel at least 100 miles in a leftward direction from Bill Frist to reach any point that even begins to be left.




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  16. Tlaloc says:

    The only candidate that does not have ties to this organization is Ron Paul. He is a tried and true Goldwater Republican.

    Goldwater managed to get just over 50 electoral votes in 64. Compared to LBJ 486.

    You’re right, Paul *is* a Goldwater Republican.

    Ron Paul’s election map




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  17. legion says:

    The candidate of choice for the smoke filled backroom republican kingmakers was McCain.

    I could see that in the early stages of the primary season, but a) McCain faltered when he came under the heavy scrutiny of being the lead dog (though he’s had the sense to keep his head down and let others take that heat since) and b) regardless of what you think of him as a person or politician, McCain has shown an occasional idea or two of his own & the need to stand behind them (faint glimmers of his days as a ‘maverick’, perhaps). That last point makes him unsuitable as a figurehead, while Thompson has shown no real signs of having any ideas beyond the positions he’s told to have by his handlers – perfect, except that his malaise and general disinterest in actually, you know, *running* or anything is a typical side effect of that sort of dissociation.




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  18. James Joyner says:

    Bill Frist’s left side is lunatic fringe far right. You’d have to travel at least 100 miles in a leftward direction from Bill Frist to reach any point that even begins to be left.

    My point in invoking him is that many conservatives who are backing Thompson thought Frist was too moderate. Frist was a moderate conservative on the American spectrum; he’s hardly “fringe” or “far right.”




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  19. Bithead says:

    To the left of Bill Frist? That’s a meaningless phrase. Bill Frist’s left side is lunatic fringe far right.

    To a Democrat, doubtless.




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  20. mozarker says:

    Ron Paul is the only true conservative running for president. He is, and will remain, my candidate of choice.

    I am truly disgusted by the mainstream media’s attempt to marginalize him by refusing to acknowledge his existence. For those of us who take the time to research where the candidates stand on the issues, it is obvious that Ron Paul is the only one who has solutions to the serious problems facing our country.




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  21. Thomas Farr says:

    All candidates have flaws I support Fred. I will vote in the general election but if it is not for Fred once again I will be voting for the one who will do the least amount of damage to conservatism. It won’t be in support of a candidate but a vote against another candidate.




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  22. Joe Lawson says:

    My my my, look how far the Republican Party has fallen with the Bush’s at the helm. Reagan made a deal with the devil when he chose Bush as his running mate. Are you kidding me, Thompson conservative ha ha ha ha ha….Reagan is rolling around in his grave. Giuliani, Huckabee and you can’t be serious Mr. Amnesty himself John McCain?

    There where three truly conservative candidates, now only one but the Rockefeller Republican NeoCon machine wouldn’t have any of it. Hunter, Tancredo and Ron Paul – Only Ron Paul is left, and he seems to be the only one with some momentum as he slowly inches upward in every race, and except for Romney he is the only one with money to do anything.

    Hello Brokered Republican National Convention




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  23. fazsha says:

    To right the GOP ship, they need to get back to what being a Republican is all about.

    1. No entanglements with wars not involving U.S.
    2. Minimal federal govt – allow states to choose level of state involvement.
    3. Minimal taxes.
    4. Strong defense.

    For those 4 principles, only Ron Paul will do.




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  24. Tlaloc says:

    Only Ron Paul is left, and he seems to be the only one with some momentum as he slowly inches upward in every race

    So at this rate, “inching” as you say, would he be within striking distance of the nomination before or after our sun dies a violent terrible death?

    I kinda like Ron Paul, in the same way I kind of like Dennis Kucinich- the Man of La Mancha thing is cute.




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  25. Jim Gonzales says:

    If I wanted to vote for a liberal I would of been a democrat.




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  26. SC_GOP says:

    Fred Thompson has wreck the party – ALREADY. He divided the social conservatives’ votes in SC and keep pulling Huckabee’s legs. Where was he 6 months ago when other candidates had a debate in May 07′? Where was he when they had another debate in Sep 07′? He wanted to keep people guessing. And now he is not dropping out, although his campaign isn’t doing too much. Again, he is keeping everybody guess. Do you really want a president who keep people guessing like watch a well scripted movie?

    Huckabee is a true social conservative with great ideas and he doesn’t bow down to the big cash machine in NYC (a liberal city, by the way) and the Wall Street. I am an investor myself, and I applaud his FairTax plan which capital gain is tax free. The ONLY reason the richest is ranting against him is because these people have their own tax shelter while the majority Americans don’t.

    Middle-class Americans have been over taxed for too long. Let’s get rid of all tax shelters. FairTax will do just that.




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  27. Janet0116 says:

    For all those dismissing Ron Paul because of lack of votes, why aren’t you also dismissing Rudy? Now is not the time to vote for who the ‘winner’ might be, now is the time to vote your principles, if you have any. Put it this way, if Satan himself had the clearest chance of winning the nomination, would you vote for him? Voting for the supposed ‘winner’ is illogical.




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  28. Jo says:

    You know, Fred and McCain are very close. Fred even helped on finance reform. All of these people like to throw Reagan’s name around. Reagan raised taxes in Calif., he was said to be uneducated on foreign policy, he signed pro-abortion legislation, and pushed the first amnesty bill. In 1980, he was the “anti-establishment” candidate. He was the “anti-establishment” Republican President. Now the “establishment” is trying to say that all of the other candidates aren’t Reagan enough. Reagan had an appeal to Dems. because he spoke to the middle class. Fred Thompson is no Ron Reagan. Ron Reagan was the only Ron Reagan and he did great things.




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  29. Rick Cain says:

    Let’s face it, the GOP voter is NUTS!

    What truly defines the modern GOP voter is a strange mix of religious protestant extremism and the love of war.

    This is PRECISELY why Ron Paul, despite being the best conservative candidate since Goldwater, isn’t doing so well.

    So now what you get is a motley mix of “ethically challenged” GOP talking heads, some who are about as conservative as Ted Kennedy, pulling huge vote tallies because frankly the republican voter is just plain confused about his/her own party platform. Whatever happened to the party of small government, low taxes, reduced spending, and noninterventionist foreign policy? Tossed out into the proverbial trash during the Reagan Revolution and replaced by an iranian-style extremist policy that is worse than Woodrow Wilson’s antics.

    Ron Paul is not crazy, like he says “The reason people don’t know me is it been a long time since you have met a real conservative so you don’t know what one looks like”.




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