Fred Thompson is going down memory lane this week with a “Where were you in ’94?” pitch to remind voters that while he swept into power with the Republican majority his opponent Mitt Romney was running as a pro-choice candidate in 1994 and Rudy Giuliani endorsed Mario Cuomo that year. But his opponents have been waiting months for this and will come out blazing with a number of points which supporters of opponents are happy to offer up: 1) Thompson did not sign the Contract on America and was less than enthusiastic about Newt Gingrich. (“Everything [House Speaker Newt Gingrich] says or does is not perfect by any means, and you can say that about all of us, but he’s out front.” [NPR’s “All Things Considered,” 3/10/95]). 2) He was not a stalwart conservative in the Senate and his staff memorialized in a memo his departures from much of the conservative agenda. (“The memo cited broad areas in which he had taken a contrary position to a majority of Republican senators: Congressional reform, notably campaign finance reform that conservatives vigorously opposed but which he supported. [The archive also contains notes from Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, co-sponsor of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, thanking him for his work in support of the bill.] Consumer protection, including votes to protect the ability of injured people to recover damages and ‘to preserve the deterrent value of punitive damages’; for securities litigation reform to ‘protect investors’ ability to recover for wrongs they suffered,’ and against loosening federal meat and poultry inspections. Other issues like a vote against opening the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve to oil drilling.” [Richard Locker, “Letters Reveal, Yet Add Mystery,” The [Memphis] Commercial Appeal, 8/19/07]). 3) Three words: McCain-Feingold-Thompson; and 4) Thompson opposed tort reform again and again and again.
Other than smudging up Thompson’s record I suspect we’ll hear a variation on the following from his opponents: 1) From Rudy: “I was cutting crime, taxes and bureaucracy–what did you do?”; 2) From Romney: “Let’s talk 2002-You were on a TV set when your party and country needed conservatives and I was battling liberals in Massachusetts”; 3) From McCain: “That’s ancient history–where were you the last three years while I was turning around the failing Iraq war policy?”
This approach by Thompson is an odd choice both because his own Senate record is so thin and because it assumes voters are concerned with where the candidates were 13 years ago, rather than today. It seems a — dare we say– lazy man alternative to developing and explaining policies he NOW holds which would distinguish him from the field and convince conservatives he is a better choice.