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January 28, 2008

Conservatives Lose Along With Fred Thompson


I 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 Democrat.


How wrong I was.


My 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 Senate seat.


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 there?


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 Thompson was.


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.


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