Fred Thompson the Great Conservative Hope?

There has long been frustration among the party’s social conservative wing that there were no “real conservatives” in the race, despite guys like Tom Tancredo, Mike Huckabee, Jim Gilmore, and Duncan Hunter being in the race. I guess they mean “real conservatives who have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning.”

Enter Fred Thompson. The former Tennessee Senator and current “Law and Order” actor has debuted in third place among Republican contenders in a new Gallup poll.

Gallup Poll Republican Presidential Candidates March 27, 2007

Ron Paul, Tancredo, and Huckabee poll at 1% and Gilmore, George Pataki, Chuck Hagel, and Hunter get less than that.

This is a survey of adults, not subjected to a likely voter screen, and the margin of sampling error for the Republican sub-sample is +/-5%. Thus, technically, you or I might be ahead of Mitt Romney and Sam Brownback. Call it CPAC karma.

CQ‘s Greg Giroux examined Thompson’s voting record on a dozen or so key votes during his eight years in the Senate and constructed a chart [PDF format] comparing his votes to those of his rivals who also served in that body, McCain, Hagel, and Brownback.

Thompson and McCain voted together on 83/102 votes, or 81.4 percent of the time; Thompson and Brownback 57/70 (81.4%) and Thompson and Hagel 57/71 (80.3%).

Thompson joined McCain, Brownback and Hagel in voting to authorize the current war in Iraq, to cut taxes for married couples, to ban an abortion procedure opponents call “partial birth” abortion, to approve tax-sheltered education savings accounts, and to enact a balanced-budget constitutional amendment.

Among the instances in which Thompson and McCain differed were votes in 2002 to effectively extend a repeal of the estate tax beyond 2010, to authorize oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and to postpone tougher automobile fuel efficiency standards. Thompson voted “aye” and McCain voted “no” in all three cases.

Also in 2002, Thompson agreed with McCain but opposed Hagel and Brownback — and most Senate Republicans — in backing a rewrite of campaign finance laws that barred the national party committees and federal officeholders from raising the unlimited “soft money” dollars upon which the parties had come to rely. McCain was a chief sponsor of that law.

In 2001, Thompson opposed and McCain supported a Democratic bill to bolster the rights of patients in managed care plans. Hagel and Brownback joined Thompson in opposition.

So, Thompson supported McCain-Feingold, the bill most often cited by Republicans as to why they distrust McCain’s conservative credentials. Thompson was more conservative on environmental issues. A glance through the chart reveals that most of the other differences were on spending matters, with no obvious pattern emerging painting either as more fiscally conservative.

It’s not therefore clear in what sense Thompson is more “conservative” than McCain. Mostly, I think, it’s that Thompson hasn’t gone around grandstanding on issues that would win him media acclaim at the expense of his party.

It’s clear, though, that Thompson would be an instant contender for the nomination were he to enter the race. That he’s already got four times the support of Romney, long considered one of the “Big 3” in the Republican field, is impressive indeed.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Public Opinion Polls, US Constitution, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    Thus, technically, you or I might be ahead of Mitt Romney and Sam Brownback.

    Is this your formal announcement that you’re in the race, James? Or have you just formed an exploratory committee?

    You have my wholehearted support!

  2. spacemonkey says:

    Fred will be formidable.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Is this your formal announcement that you’re in the race, James?

    Well, if voters in all 50 states sign a petition …

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    If nominated, I will not run; if elected I will not serve.

    To me these early poll results more than anything else suggest that neither Democratic nor Republican partisans are immune to the electability shibboleth. In my view presidential politics would be a lot truer, more interesting, produce better results, and, ultimately, be better for the country if people just voted their hearts and completely dismissed notions of electability.

  5. Tlaloc says:

    I find it interesting that the last survey (where thompson is counted for the first time) also shows Giuliani taking a 13 dive. Are Fred’s supporters coming straight over form the Rudy side of the court? If so the GOP primary might be pretty hotly contested between McCain, Thompson and Giuliani (previously it looked like there was no way McCain would catch up).

  6. Bithead says:

    Well, here it is, James, Fred speaking ofthe latest meme from the moonbats… the rehashing of the tale that 9/11 was a Bush plot:

    It was an interesting coincidence that their announcements hit the news just as the military released Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s confession regarding his role in planning the 9/11 attacks — and a lot more. Of course, we didn’t really need his confession, because his career has been so well documented.

    But sure enough, the terrorist’s admissions instantly drew sneers, and not just from the tin-foil hat crowd. Well-placed people acted like Mohammed’s smug confessions meant nothing.

    A lot of people have at least a little in common with Sheen and O’Donnell. They just don’t like to think about how much our enemies actually hate us. It’s easier to escape down a rabbit hole to a land where our own government is tricking us into thinking the world is a dangerous place.

    This would be the same government that can’t even keep our most secret surveillance programs out of the newspapers.

    Who else in the list of people as you listed has had the testicular mass to even identify the tinfoil hat crowd as such, much less confront them so?

    That’s what’s propelling the man’s numbers.

  7. bob in fl says:

    IMHO. Thompson would be the most formidable candidate against any of the Democrats in the 2008 election.