The Man on the White Horse: Could Fred Thompson Be the Answer to Republican Prayers? the Party of George W Bush May Yet Opt for an Obscure 64-Year-Old Ex-Senator Who Has No Known Achievements
Stephen, Andrew, New Statesman (1996)
I was having breakfast here the other day with John Reid--yes, that one: the one with a Scottish accent who used to be home secretary a long time ago--when he suddenly asked me who I think next year's Democratic and Republican presidential candidates will be. "Hillary Clinton and Fred Thompson," I found myself replying, not taking the time to think, and then finding myself mildly surprised by my answer. New Statesman readers know I committed myself in these pages, as long ago as 2005, to the prediction that Hillary will be the Democrats' 2008 candidate--a notion that was greeted with scorn at the time, though all the polls now indicate that she is cruising comfortably towards being crowned formally at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August next year.
Barring mishaps or a last-minute loss of nerve among the Democrats--and the mighty Murdoch empire is beginning to marshal forces against Hillary's supporters to convince them that American men will never vote for a woman--that will happen. But Fred Thompson? He is an obscure 64-year-old former senator for Tennessee with no significant political accomplishments. He has not even declared his candidature. But, writing about the political climate in Washington these days, I warned Gordon Brown recently that he should not deride the possibility that he might find himself dealing with Thompson as the 44th US president--a man whose main claim to fame is that he plays a character called Arthur Branch in the long-running television series Law and Order.
Why such a risible possibility? The problem for the Republicans is that they still don't really have a credible candidate. At one point, John McCain looked a likely winner. But while the role of insurgent suited him to a T, all the energy deserted him the moment he somersaulted into being front-runner this year (it hasn't helped that he is nearly 71).
For the moment, Rudy Giuliani has taken over that position and may even keep it--but he will, I suspect, prove to be too much of a rough diamond, with his chequered past. That leaves the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney who, at 60, seems at first glance to be the ideal candidate: impossibly handsome, the only leading Republican candidate to have had (and still have) just one wife, and very wealthy. But he is also emerging as too glib by half, and the biggest blitz of TV ads by any candidate failed to gain him sufficient traction. His lifelong Mormonism, too, attracts unwanted attention.
Thoroughly demoralised Republicans, who no longer even bother to defend George W Bush, but don't know to whom they can turn, are looking desperately for a man on a white horse to come charging to the rescue. Who better than a B-movie actor described by Richard Nixon on the Watergate tapes as "dumb as hell", and who has 25 films and ten TV series (including an appearance in Sex and the City) on his resume? A blank slate on to which voters can project what they want--and that still has the requisite acting skills to come over as strong, paternalistic and empathetic? Isn't there even a precedent in quite recent presidential history, maybe?
Step forward then Thompson, father of a grown-up family but also of a stunningly telegenic three-year-old daughter and eight-month-old son--by a clever lawyer wife, his second, who is 24 years younger and has looks that any presidential wife would kill for. Ronald Reagan, who plotted the beginnings of his political career on the set of the cowboy TV series Death Valley Days, must be beaming down with approval on the late-blossoming career of a former disciple whose vacuous right-wing outlook and acting abilities almost identically match those of America's 40th president.
"People listen to him and see someone who's very comfortable with who he is and confident about what he believes in," is how Chris Healy, chairman of the Tennessee Republicans, sees him. "That's a skill that, obviously, Ronald Reagan took to great lengths. …