Momentum has been building for Thompson in the past six weeks. If he announces his presidency run in the next few weeks, he will coast easily into a berth in the Republican finals against Rudy Giuliani. But if he delays — as he shows signs of wanting to do — he will miss the boat.
For many candidates, delay means that they don’t have to stand out and be targets until later in the game. But for Thompson, delay could be fatal. The major negative against the former Tennessee senator is that he lacks the heart or the fire in the belly to compete and win. With Hillary Clinton looming as the expected Democratic nominee, victory is of surpassing importance to the Republican primary electorate. Republicans will not nominate someone who they think is ambivalent about running.
During his Senate tenure, Thompson’s work habits were suspect. The New York Times recently (gently) noted that he was not known as one of the hardest working senators. The very fact that he left the Senate after only eight years in office raised suspicions that he was distracted by the allure of Hollywood and the joys of private life. Too long a delay in announcing his candidacy could fuel such speculation and create a negative that need not exist for the actor turned politician turned actor.
On paper, Fred Thompson looks like a nominee from, well, central casting. Invoking the legacy of Ronald Reagan, his communications skills hearken back to the era when the GOP right had a president so fluid, silken voiced and articulate that it could advance its agenda without compromise and still prevail. With Rudy Giuliani threatening to resurrect Rockefeller Republicanism in a modern incarnation, Thompson offers a refuge for pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay Republicans.
The recent Supreme Court decision upholding Congressional legislation banning partial birth abortion and the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech will both ignite demands on the left for an aggressive drive to protect Roe v. Wade, and to legislate tougher gun controls. This Democratic offensive puts Rudy Giuliani in the middle and could erode support for his candidacy. On the other hand, it could fire the ranks of true believers and lead them to rally around a Fred Thompson candidacy.
If doubts develop about Thompson’s willingness to run, or his aggressiveness once he is in the race, Newt Gingrich — waiting in the wings — could get into the race and compete with Fred for the designation as Mr. Right. Thompson would have to climb over the former House Speaker to get the right to face off with Rudy Giuliani in the finals. Rudy, for his part, has to decisively defeat John McCain to become the Republican moderate, who would then face the winner of the Gingrich/Thompson semi-final.
If Fred Thompson jumps into the race quickly, with both feet, and hits the ground running, he can pre-empt Newt’s potential candidacy and head it off — much like Barack Obama’s swift entry into the race eclipsed any real chance that Al Gore had to challenge Hillary. It is well worth getting into the race early in order to win a bid in the semi-finals and a free pass to the GOP finals against Rudy.
The financial demands for competition on the super, super Tuesday — February 5, 2008 — are daunting. Giuliani, with $12 million on hand, has a big head start. If Thompson waits too much longer, Rudy’s financial edge could become decisive. With virtually the entire nation voting on the same day, the cost of advertising and even of personal campaigning, is huge and Thompson will need every day he can make available to raise money — starting too late may mean never having a chance to win.
Dick Morris served as Bill Clinton's political consultant for 20 years, guiding him to a successful reelection in 1996. He is the author of New York Times bestsellers Because He Could, Rewriting History (both with Eileen McGann), Off with Their Heads, and Behind the Oval Office, and the Washington Post bestseller Power Plays.
Copyright Eileen McGann and Dick Morris 2006. To obtain free copies of all of the columns and newsletters by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann for non-commercial use, please sign up at www.dickmorris.com.
Dick Morris is a Fox News contributor and author. His latest book is "Here Come the Black Helicopters: UN Global Governance and the Loss of Freedom." Visit his website: www.dickmorris.com and follow him on Twitter@DickMorrisTweet. Click here to sign up to get all of Dick's videos emailed to you.