The entry into the Republican presidential primary of one candidate named Thompson, and the prospective entry of another by the same name, highlight both the potentiality and limitations of the field just below the first-tier candidates — Giuliani, McCain, and Romney — all of whom are still struggling to claim the loyalties of a critical mass of GOP loyalists.
Both Thompsons are estimable conservatives embodying a solid fusion of all elements of the Reagan Coalition. Any TAS reader, at least this one, would be proud to cast a ballot for either one.
Former Wisconsin Governor and HHS Secretary, Tommy Thompson, has already taken the plunge and participated in the recent debate between all ten pachyderms currently in the race. He is letting it all ride on a victory in Iowa to leverage his record and limited funding.
Thompson has an executive resume comparable, if not superior, to that of the three front-runners. He does not bring strong defense or foreign affairs experience to the contest, but that was hardly an obstacle for either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.
Yet, in terms of domestic accomplishments, Thompson cut taxes relentlessly, vetoed appropriations with abandon, created the national model for welfare reform, and actually implemented a school voucher program in a big city. And he kept on winning elections in a state made up of voters notorious for their independence of mind. I know. I sleep with one (OK, OK. I have been married to her for over three decades.).
Tommy Thompson also has federal experience running a behemoth federal agency for the Bush Administration.
Thompson is a stout, beefy guy, certainly no show horse. He could be a front lineman out of central casting. Not for him the pretty-boy, blow-dried look of a John Edwards with his $400 haircuts. In Wisconsin you get thrown out in the snow all night for such extravagances.
Despite his outstanding, real-world accomplishments in policy matters near and dear to the hearts of Republicans, Tommy Thompson does not get much attention in the conservative media outlets and blogosphere.
THE OTHER GUY, OF COURSE, is former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, currently supporting actor as a district attorney in the hit series Law & Order. He has a commanding, deep voice with good timber and a soothing Southern accent. I recall Thompson when he worked for Howard Baker on the Senate Watergate Committee. He was impressive in his role as chief minority counsel to the committee and displayed many of his confident and pleasing traits even then.
Now Thompson is a tall, beefy guy, certainly no show horse. He could be a front lineman out of central casting — except for the fact that he is a prosecuting attorney on TV and a commander of an aircraft carrier in The Hunt for the Red October. (Stay with me here. This is a political column, not a personality piece for a fan magazine.). Thompson is an appealing, “cool media” personality who communicates well through the medium of television. Robert Novak has criticized Thompson’s recent, bland speech delivered in California; but the Senator generally receives great reviews as a convincing and credible speaker. Recall that he replaced Al Gore as senator from Tennessee and won that seat with a record margin in the history of that state.
From everything I have read, Fred Thompson voted the right way on most of the big issues while maintaining collegial relationships with all wings of the Republican Party, not to mention Democrats. In his speeches and articles, he puts forth stimulating ideas on a variety of subjects from federalism to tort reform.
But, as the Germans say, try this thought experiment: name a big accomplishment of Fred Thompson in public life? As a matter of fact, Thompson was very active on regulatory reform issues as Chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee which I just happen to know because I work in environmental regulation.
OF COURSE, RONALD REAGAN, a former actor, was always criticized for his supposed lack of substance or even accomplishment as governor of California. When foes called him a great communicator, they often meant it as an insult.
No matter, Reagan’s accomplishments as President were of a higher order all together. He was a successful President because he possessed an inner, philosophical gyroscope and an ability to communicate and persuade his fellow Americans.
Today the arts of rhetoric are often derided as a superficial thing. “Oh, that is just rhetoric,” is a common complaint. Yet, Aristotle understood the importance of rhetoric, the means of persuasion, in public life. He characterized the elements of effective rhetoric as ethos, logos, and pathos. These categories relate to the character or integrity of the speaker, the logic or substance of the argument, and the empathy or connection which the speaker must attain with respect to the listener’s emotional state.
Both Tommy and Fred Thompson score high on ethos and logos. The tie-breaker will come down to pathos and their respective abilities to insinuate themselves into the hearts and minds of their fellow Republicans.