But he’s no Ronald Reagan and he’s never going to be viable. Here’s why:
He’s A Political Light Weight and He’s Not Ready For The National Stage
In his first week of campaigning, Thompson has shown that he has neither the substance nor the experience that is essential for a serious presidential candidate. One wonders what makes him — and his supporters — think that he is, in any way, up to the job.
He skipped the New Hampshire debate last week and he’s passing on a candidate forum in Fort Lauderdale next week. But given his air-headed performances in public so far, he ought to stay away. Far away. Maybe after a few more years of briefings, he might be ready — but, he’s definitely not presidential material right now.
In several recent public appearances, he’s shown his complete lack of understanding about critical policy issues. For example, he apparently had no idea about the issues of importance to conservatives surrounding the Terri Schiavo case about termination of life support, following a 15 year coma.
The case dominated the national media for months and involved dramatic decisions in the Florida courts, the federal courts, the state Legislature, Congress and the Florida Supreme Court, but Fred seems to have missed it. When asked about the Schiavo case on a Florida cable show, Thompson seems to have drawn a complete blank: “I don’t remember the details of the case.” Apparently, his handlers quickly realized that this was not the right answer and later persuaded the Associated Press to report that he actually had an opinion, but did not share it. What’s the big secret, Fred? Later, he rambled on about the importance of letting locals make the decision. Evidently, no one told him that conservatives had fought vigorously to overrule the local courts and turned to the president and Congress for support.
Then he was asked about a national catastrophic fund that would help Florida residents who have been inflicted with extremely high increases in homeowners insurance since the hurricanes of the past few years. "I don't know enough about it yet," he said, while visiting Florida.
This man is out to lunch.
Perhaps the most puzzling thing that Thompson said last week concerned Al Qaeda. According to Fred, one of the big reasons that Iraqi citizens supported the U.S. is because they were upset about an Al Qaeda ban on smoking. Unfortunately, this is not a joke. And, in discussing Usama bin Laden, Thompson seemed more concerned about due process for the terrorist murderer than anything else.
This man is out of touch. And, he’s not what he pretends to be.
The Political Insider
Thompson is not at all the outsider maverick that he claims to be. In fact, he’s the ultimate Washington insider. He was a successful lobbyist before he went to the Senate and he returned to lobbying after leaving it. Until very recently, he worked for Equitas, a British insurance company trying to squirm out of paying for asbestos/cancer claims. He also represented a Tennessee Savings and Loan, Toyota and Perrier.
Jean Bertrand Aristide, the quasi-Marxist deposed Haitian president who was last generation’s equivalent of Hugo Chavez was one of his clients. And the right will not like that he lobbied for the Teamsters Union Pension Fund.
Although Thompson is adamantly opposed to government subsidies, he sought a handout for Westinghouse for its nuclear power plant in Oak Ridge. And, although he claims to be pro-life, he was an advocate for a pro-choice group.
The New York Times reported this week that in 1992, Thompson’s old law firm actually advised the lawyer for the Libyan terrorists who were charged with planting the bomb on Pan Am flight 103, which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland. The firm was paid over $800,000 — that’s a lot of lawyering. The Libyans billed the firm for several hours for conferring with the lead attorney on the case. According to the firm’s lawyers, Thompson advised them on “jurisdictional” issues.
Translation: how to keep the terrorists from being extradited to stand trial.
At the time, Libya was refusing to extradite the suspects and the entire international community was outraged. It was then that the U.S. added Libya to the list of countries where there is state-sponsored terrorism. Ultimately, the suspects were extradited and tried in Scotland. One of them was convicted, while the other was acquitted. In 2003, Libya admitted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the families of the survivors — no thanks to Fred and his law firm.
Thompson’s view on lobbying for questionable clients is that it is no different than a lawyer defending a client. He says that he makes “no apologies” for his lobbying clients. But apparently Thompson doesn’t realize that voter don’t like lobbyists (or lawyers, for that matter) The latest Gallup Poll reports that 75 percent of the American voters believe that it is “unacceptable” to finance a presidential campaign with contributions from Washington lobbyists. How will they feel about voting for one?
Questionable Conservative Credentials:
One of Thompson’s lobbying clients, in particular, will rankle with conservatives: The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. While Thompson says that he has “no recollection” of lobbying for the group in 1991, the minutes of a September 14, 1991 meeting of the association report that he was hired to “aid [the association] in discussions with the administration.”
Judy De Sarno, the executive director of the group at the time says that she has specific memories of discussing Thompson’s lobbying work with him in phone conversations and during meals at Washington restaurants.
Former Congressman Michael D. Barnes (D-Md) confirms that Thompson worked for the abortion rights group. He was employed by the same lobbying and law firm that Thompson worked for and he said he talked to Thompson “while he was doing it [lobbying for the group], and I talked to [De Sarno] about the fact that she was very pleased with the work he was doing for her organization.” He added: “I have strong, total recollection of that. This is not something I dreamed up or she dreamed up. This is a fact.” How odd that Thompson would have “no recollection.”
When Thompson first ran for the Senate in 1994, he checked a box on a questionnaire about abortion indicating that he believed that abortion “should be legal in all circumstances for the first three months.”
And when he ran again in 1996, he told the Christian Coalition that he “opposed” a constitutional amendment protecting “the sanctity of human life.” He wrote on the questionnaire “I do not believe that abortion should be criminalized. This battle will be won in the hearts and souls of the American people.”
With a Republican field of a pro-choice candidate (Giuliani), a recent convert to pro-life (Mitt Romney) and a former abortion lobbyist (Fred Thompson), the right wing doesn’t have much to choose from.
But Thompson will also get in trouble for his immigration positions. In 1995, he voted against limiting services other than emergency medical care and public education to illegal aliens. He was one of only six Senators to vote against the proposal. Voters will not like that he wanted to use tax money to provide a host of medical and other services to those who flouted our laws and came here illegally.
And, in 1996, he voted against creating an employer verification system so that businesses could identify illegal immigrants who applied for jobs in their companies.
As noted above, Thompson and his law firm worked to help keep Libyian terrorists from standing trial for killing all of the passengers on Pan Am flight 103. In the aftermath of 9/11 and on its sixth anniversary, Thompson will have difficulty with his past work.
Finally, Thompson has ruled out signing a pledge not to raise taxes if elected president. A no-tax pledge, a fundamental for any conservative candidate, is a litmus test for most voters in the New Hampshire’s Republican Primary and they will not take kindly to Thompson’s position.
Thompson paid his son, Daniel — for four years — as a no-show employee of his PAC after he had left Congress.
The PAC had about a quarter of a million dollars available when he decided not to run for another term in the Senate. Since 2002, the PAC has been almost totally dormant. It raised almost no more money and gave out $70,000 to other political candidates. The balance, $170,000 went to Daniel. The PAC had no office, no phone, no fax, and almost no activity. But Thompson used it to pay his son, a total abuse of campaign funding.
All summer, the war has raged, not pitting Thompson against his Republican rivals, or even his Democratic opposition, but featuring a battle of Mrs. Fred Thompson against virtually her husband’s entire campaign staff.
The list of axed, fired, or forced-to-resign employees would distinguish a campaign of far greater tenure, but coming in a candidacy yet even to be announced, it is truly unique.
The first ax fell when Jeri Thompson — who fancies herself a political consultant — challenged Tom Collamore, an experienced southern political operative for control of the campaign. Jeri’s indignation at what she perceived as the staff’s wasting her husband’s money rose to an apogee when she arrived at the campaign headquarters and allegedly took attendance!
Collamore, who is a former VP of Altria, the sanitized name for Philip Morris, was forced out and former Bush Energy Secretary of US Senator from Michigan Spencer Abraham was brought in to take his place. Abraham lasted all of ten days and a new team was installed in place.
The latest casualty of these endless internal wars is former Fox News staffer Jim Mills, the third communications director in this still fledgling campaign. Also gone last week was his close aide, Mark Collaro. Every day brings new firings and departures.
Unless Thompson’s house gets itself in order, it won’t be a campaign, but a floating civil war.
Thompson and his staff worked assiduously throughout June and July to raise funds for his exploratory committee. They boasted that they would exceed expectations as they beat the donor community for money. But the results were underwhelming. They raised only $3.4 million and spent $600,000 of it in the process. More to the point, half of it came from Tennessee, where Thompson had served as senator, indicating future troubles in mounting a broad based fund raising operation.
So, for all of the above reasons, Fred Thompson is not likely to survive the stark light that shines on every presidential candidate.
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.