Read Paul's bio and previous columns
January 28, 2008
Along With Fred Thompson
never thought I would be picky in choosing a Republican presidential
nominee. After all, the gap between Republicans and Democrats has become
so very wide on issues such as taxes, free trade, abortion, education
and foreign policy that it didn’t seem to matter which Republican was
nominated. In spite of tiny divergences with conservative principles, I
thought, any Republican nominee would be a Godsend against a liberal
How wrong I was.
assumption was that no candidate would even make the cut to the
Republican shortlist without adherence to the principles of the Reagan
coalition. But who thought it would end up being too much to expect
candidates to be economic, social and foreign policy conservatives?
This question became more and more pronounced in 2006, as the Republican
field was shaping up. Most of the Republicans vying for the nomination
at the time had very significant weaknesses – Rudy Giuliani was a social
and economic liberal. Mitt Romney had been so too until recently. John
McCain appeared to be unreliable on key issues, such as taxes.
Only one stood out of the pack: George Allen, former Virginia governor
and senator. Allen had all the minimum requirements. He was an
across-the-board conservative. He was also young, articulate and had
twice won statewide elections in a state that is becoming increasingly
difficult for Republicans to compete in. He knew what federalism meant,
believed in it and talked about it.
Allen wasn’t perfect, of course. But he was the only solid choice in
what should been a field of five Allens for conservatives to choose
from. And he was someone that all Republicans could unite behind in the
general election. Unfortunately, even that one glimmer of hope would
soon be incinerated. In November 2006, Allen lost an excruciatingly
close Senate election to Jim Webb, partly due to the now famous “macaca”
moment. Allen was supposed to get re-elected by a comfortable margin.
Thus, his presidential prospects went out the window along with his
For weeks and months, there was an enormous, blatant gap in the
Republican field that needed to be filled. Those who rightfully expected
a series of reliable conservatives to compete for their votes were now
clamoring for merely one. Newt Gingrich perhaps? Jeb Bush? Anyone out
Then came the phone call I was waiting for. One of my good friends, a
politico, beat me to the news from early sources: Fred Thompson, recent
senator from Tennessee, might go for the nomination. My friend, a
conservative who had withheld his support for Republicans in November
2006 as a punishment for their big government ways, had already vetted
Thompson. “Maybe it’s too early to get excited,” he said, “but if
Thompson turns out to be what we hope he will be, there might finally be
something going for us.”
And until this month, it looked as if something might finally go right
for conservatives. They weren’t merely getting a conservative in
Thompson, they were getting someone who is willing to pander neither to
the voters nor to the media.
Every major position Thompson adopted had arisen from basic,
overarching, consistent principles: Small government. Federalism. State
rights. Individual rights derived from God, and not from government. The
idea is, if you independently attempted to reach a position on any major
issue based on these principles, you would likely end up where Fred
And that’s what Thompson’s appeal was all about. His positions did not
depend on the time of the year or on the state he was in. It was never
about putting Fred Thompson, the former Senator, the actor, the lawyer,
the man, in the Oval Office. It was about putting basic conservative
principles in the Oval Office, with Thompson as a mere agent. And the
best part is that he wholeheartedly accepted that objective.
That is why he didn’t decide to run until he saw the gaping hole in the
field that needed to be filled. That is why he wasn’t willing to pander
in order to score votes. That is why, instead of relying on sound bites
and jokes to win the nomination, he settled instead for unentertaining,
serious responses to what were supposed to be serious questions. That is
why he put out detailed policy proposals when the others were speaking
in tired general terms. And that is why he announced his candidacy in a
14-minute video, and made a plea to Iowa voters in a 17-minute video,
both of which outlined highly intellectual rationales for his
consistency and his positions.
Thompson was either going to get elected with his conservative
principles intact, or he wasn’t going to get elected at all.
Now we are back to square one. Populism, artificiality, money,
one-liners and common-denominator intellectualism have won the day. So
have early state voters who believe that no person can make a good
president unless he acknowledges their inalienable right to be
exhaustively campaigned at for months and years.
But conservatism lost along with Fred Thompson, and America along with
conservatism. Of course, Republicans had the right to choose whomever
they wanted. But one thing they can no longer do is ask for a president
who will be reliably conservative, and who will be so not because he
promised it, but because he is genuinely guided by his principles. They
had their chance, and they squandered it.
© 2008 North Star
Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback
about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is Column # PI089.
permission to publish here.