New Score­card for A Repub­li­can Scram­ble

The Washington Post Sunday - - Letters - David S. Broder

The un­set­tled state of the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial race can be il­lus­trated in the Tale of the Two Thomp­sons.

Tommy Thompson, the for­mer gov­er­nor of Wis­con­sin and sec­re­tary of health and hu­man ser­vices in Pres­i­dent Bush’s first term, jumped into the race last week, claim­ing to be the “ re­li­able con­ser­va­tive” vot­ers want.

Thompson has lit­tle money and, at this point, no stand­ing in na­tional polls. But for months he has been spend­ing ev­ery week­end in Iowa, and he says that his goal is to win the straw vote that will draw sev­eral thou­sand Repub­li­cans to Ames, Iowa, on Aug. 11 for the state con­ven­tion.

In 1995, when Bob Dole was run­ning and wanted to make his mark in the straw vote, so many of his fel­low Kansans came to Ames that it looked like Wi­chita and Topeka had been de­pop­u­lated. Thompson in­sists that he will not be bus­ing vot­ers in from Wauke­sha, Racine and Kenosha but that he will be able to re­cruit enough Iowans to pre­vail.

Such is the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the sup­posed front- run­ners that Thompson is con­vinced that win­ning this non­bind­ing, to­tally sym­bolic straw vote will by it­self make him a se­ri­ous con­tender.

That dream looks less im­plau­si­ble when you con­sider the case of Fred Thompson ( no kin). He is the for­mer sen­a­tor from Ten­nessee who re­tired from pol­i­tics in 2003 to re­sume a ca­reer as a movie and TV ac­tor that was more lu­cra­tive and, ap­par­ently, less bor­ing. Now, his rest­less spirit is urg­ing him back into pol­i­tics. And with no more be­hind him than the pop­u­lar­ity of his role on “ Law & Or­der” and a hint to Fox News’s Chris Wal­lace that he might be in­ter­ested in the White House, this Thompson has vaulted into third place in the Repub­li­can polls.

He has yet to an­nounce his can­di­dacy, raise his first dol­lar or build the sem­blance of an or­ga­ni­za­tion, but he has lapped for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor Mitt Rom­ney, who has been run­ning for months and who leads all other Repub­li­cans in fundrais­ing.

The only two can­di­dates who out­pace Fred Thompson in th­ese early polls are Rudy Gi­u­liani, the for­mer mayor of New York, and Ari­zona Sen. John McCain. And both of them, es­pe­cially McCain, have seen their num­bers erode.

Be­hind all four of them are a bunch of oth­ers, in­clud­ing Mike Huck­abee, the for­mer gov­er­nor of Arkansas; Jim Gil­more, the for­mer gov­er­nor of Vir­ginia; and Kansas Sen. Sam Brown­back, all of whom are vy­ing for the same “ re­li­able con­ser­va­tive” slot that Tommy Thompson cov­ets.

And then there are two House mem­bers, try­ing to break the his­tor­i­cal jinx on can­di­dates who try to vault from the House to the White House — Reps. Dun­can Hunter of Cal­i­for­nia and Tom Tan­credo of Colorado. Both of them voice the an­tag­o­nism to im­mi­gra­tion across the south­ern border that sep­a­rates much of the Repub­li­can Party base from Pres­i­dent Bush. And their pres­ence in the early de­bates en­sures that the di­vi­sive is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion will not be one the other can­di­dates can duck.

This is not just a con­fus­ing pic­ture for Repub­li­cans but a wor­ri­some one. The only can­di­dates with es­tab­lished na­tional names, McCain and Gi­u­liani, have five mar­riages be­tween them and prob­a­bly a dozen is­sues that are con­tro­ver­sial for im­por­tant Repub­li­can con­stituen­cies.

Rom­ney, an ex­cel­lent cam­paigner and fundraiser with an ex­em­plary private life, has en­dured what might be called a lengthy pe­riod of po­lit­i­cal ado­les­cence as he tries to make the awk­ward tran­si­tion from be­ing a Mas­sachusetts- style mod­er­ate Repub­li­can to the kind who can run to the right of Gi­u­liani and McCain.

He also faces an ugly anti- Mor­mon bias fanned by some re­li­gious big­ots and tol­er­ated in si­lence by too many oth­ers.

The weak­ness at the top cre­ates an open­ing for Fred Thompson — a man who made lit­tle im­pact on the Se­nate and left it vol­un­tar­ily when he could eas­ily have been re­elected. He is an odd choice for con­ser­va­tives, since he was one of the few sen­a­tors who sup­ported McCain over Bush in 2000 and one of the few Repub­li­cans who voted en­thu­si­as­ti­cally for the McCainFein­gold bill lim­it­ing cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. His celebrity as a TV pros­e­cu­tor out­weighs all of that, at least in some eyes.

As for Tommy Thompson, his cre­den­tials in­clude pi­o­neer­ing work as a gov­er­nor on wel­fare re­form, health care, school choice and other do­mes­tic is­sues. But none of that counts as much for him as turn­ing out bod­ies for the Ames straw vote.

What a sys­tem! What a party!

Tommy Thompson

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.