Fred Thompson’s wife

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Robert No­vak

Speak­ing at his $1,000-at­icket fund-raiser at the J.W. Mar­riott ho­tel in down­town Wash­ing­ton Mon­day night, Fred Thompson be­gan by in­tro­duc­ing "my cam­paign man­ager — oh, I mean my wife." That lit­tle joke about Jeri Thompson re­veals how the prospec­tive Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date re­gards the at­tack on his in­tel­li­gent, beau­ti­ful wife.

As the ac­tor-lawyer-politi­cian nears his long-awaited of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment, Mrs. Thompson is slurred as a “tro­phy wife” 24 years younger than her hus­band — pri­vately by her hus­band's op­po­nents for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion and pub­licly by the news me­dia. Even Thompson sup­port­ers grum­ble that Jeri, 40, is too al­lur­ing, should mod­ify the way she dresses and even then should not prac­tice her skills as a pro­fes­sional po­lit­i­cal oper­a­tive on be­half of Fred, 64.

That Thompson made light of this at his fund-raiser re­flects the cool re­ac­tion to cri­sis he has dis­played as GOP coun­sel of the Water­gate in­ves­ti­ga­tion, U.S. sen­a­tor from Ten­nessee and many dra­matic roles (most re­cently dis­trict at­tor­ney of Man­hat­tan).

That he is in a com­mand­ing po­si­tion for the nom­i­na­tion may ex­plain the ex­tra­or­di­nary at­ten­tion paid to his wife.

Mur­mur­ing about Jeri Thompson hit a peak of at­ten­tion on Fox News Sun­day July 22 when its round ta­ble en­gaged in whimsi- cal con­tem­pla­tion of de­bate be­tween spouses of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

“Well, first,” said Juan Wil­liams of Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio, “I think you should get Jeri Thompson in here, the tro­phy wife, right?” William Kristol of the Weekly Stan­dard in­ter­jected: “That’s un­fair.” Wil­liams: “Un­fair, un­fair, I know, but — .” Kristol: “It is un­fair.”

That ended the dis­cus­sion. I asked Wil­liams, a re­spected jour­nal­ist, whether he had re­grets about his “tro­phy wife” com­ment. He did not, but ex­plained he got the idea from The New York Times of July 8 in a Style sec­tion re­port by Susan Saulny. “Is Amer­ica ready for a pres­i­dent with a tro­phy wife?” she asked. “Sub­se­quent to that,” Wil­liams told me, “I heard the same thing in con­ver­sa­tion with peo­ple in other cam­paigns — about her be­ing so young, so at­trac­tive and so pow­er­ful.”

The ar­che­typal “tro­phy wife” (a phrase coined by For­tune mag­a­zine 18 years ago) con­jures up the im­age of a rich cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tive who tires of and aban­dons the wo­man he mar­ried when they both were young and has grown old with, and turns to a young, chic new wife, usu­ally seen as a home wrecker. Mrs. Thompson does not fit that mold. Thompson had been di­vorced for 17 years and was on friendly terms with his first wife when he mar­ried Jeri Kehn in 2002. They also have two small chil­dren — not the tro­phy wife car­i­ca­ture ei­ther.

Nor does Mrs. Thompson's back­ground fit the car­i­ca­ture. Af­ter work­ing for the Se­nate Re- publi­can Con­fer­ence and the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, she be­came a big-time po­lit­i­cal me­dia con­sul­tant in Wash­ing­ton.

She has been in­ti­mately in­volved in the plan­ning of her hus­band's cam­paign, in­clud­ing last week's staff shakeup. When Tom Col­lam­ore left as Thompson's cam­paign man­ager, he told CNN that he was “very re­spect­ful of the de­sire of Fred and Jeri to make some changes as they move to the next level.” Those com­ments gen­er­ated whis­pers in the po­lit­i­cal com­mu­nity that whoever ran this cam­paign would have to an­swer to the can­di­date's wife.

Ac­tu­ally, Col­lam­ore is a for­mer bu­reau­crat and to­bacco lob­by­ist with vastly less po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence than Mrs. Thompson. Not even Col­lam­ore's friends could con­ceive of him run­ning a na­tional po­lit­i­cal cam­paign.

In­deed, Fred Thompson's close as­so­ciates main­tain there was no chance he would be a can­di­date for pres­i­dent were he not mar­ried to Jeri. He tells friends the rea­son he aban­doned what seemed a promis­ing cam­paign for the 1996 nom­i­na­tion was that he did not feel he could man­age that en­deavor as a sin­gle man.

The spec­ta­cle of Thompson's Repub­li­can ad­ver­saries de­mean­ing his wife in con­ver­sa­tions with news­men sug­gests how se­ri­ously they re­gard his prospec­tive can­di­dacy. He starts his cam­paign in the top tier of can­di­dates, and is al­ready the can­di­date of the South and the fa­vorite of so­cial con­ser­va­tives. His test is how he will do af­ter La­bor Day when his can­di­dacy's phan­tom stage has been fin­ished. Jeri Thompson will be at his side as an as­set, not a li­a­bil­ity.

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