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.