ST. PAUL — Fred Thompson is back.
At the Republican National Convention yesterday, delegates teared up as Thompson rendered John McCain’s oft-told biography in the basso profundo that served him so well as an actor.
Thompson moved easily from defending Sarah Palin (“a breath of fresh air”), dismissing her detractors as “Washington pundits and media big shots,” to lauding McCain and telling his moving story, to lacing into Barack Obama, who he called “a history making nominee for president– history making in that he is the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for President.”
As Thompson got rolling a common theme emerged in the reactions: Why wasn’t he this good during his own campaign? (See, for example, Eric Trager of Commentary, Ramesh Ponnuru and Jay Nordlinger of National Review, and David Nitkin of the Baltimore Sun.)
Actually, Thompson had gotten pretty good on the stump by the time of the South Carolina primary, but by then it was already too late. He spent much of 2007 teasing the media about whether he’d enter the race, and when he finally limped in he barely made a ripple. Is his political career over?
Maybe not. Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard spoke to Thompson last week and wondered if he isn’t laying the groundwork for another run at the White House.
Admitting to Hayes that he “discounted and underestimated the rulebook,” Thompson is now launching a political action committee, called FredPac, to support conservative candidates and build the kind of relationships with local politicians that are essential to a successful primary campaign. And he’s working on a book combining autobiography and policy proposals — which sounds a lot like a campaign book.
Of course, this all depends on how the 2008 election turns out. In 2016 Thompson will be 74, older than McCain is now (and McCain is the oldest ever major party non-incumbent nominee). That means that Thompson has arguably had his last chance at a serious run unless McCain loses.
But if McCain wins, there may be a role for Thompson in the administration. Hayes floats Thompson as a short-lister “for Attorney General and perhaps even Director of National Intelligence.” He doesn’t get into it in his article, but Hayes, who has done quite a bit of reporting about national security issues as well as about politics, was raving about Thompson’s mastery of intelligence reform issues when I ran into him at a party in Minneapolis that the Weekly Standard co-sponsored Monday night.
Whatever happens in November, then, it’s a good bet that we haven’t seen the last of Fred Thompson.