Peter Beinart and Jonah Goldberg this week talk about how Fred Thompson is not the next Ronald Reagan, as well as how each party today is in some ways captive to the memory of its favorite deceased president.
They make excellent points as usual, but I'd like to veer off to address Thompson for a bit. I'm on record as saying I think he won't be all he's advertised when he finally enters the race, reportedly next week.
That Thompson looks the part of a president is obvious, and it's his closest tie to Reagan. But by accounts from people inside his own proto-campaign, his extemporaneous speaking skills leave much to be desired. His energy and commitment have been questioned by many, and one wonders just how much of his popularity is due to simply not being named Giuliani, McCain or Romney.
But what is getting short shrift in coverage are Thompson's own issue conversions. Ever since thinking about getting into the race, he has been using his media space in the National Review, radio commentaries, and talk shows to show off his conservative credentials. He has hit all the hot-button issues on the Right: repeal of McCain-Feingold, abortion, social issues, patriotism, tax cuts and the like.
But this isn't the same Fred Thompson I remember. He was one of my favorite senators while he was in Congress because he was reasonable, moderate and plainspoken about it. He was the same guy who was John McCain's national campaign co-chair in 2000, one of the only senators to publicly support the Arizona Republican. He even voted enthusiastically for McCain-Feingold. Thompson was hardly the darling of conservative voters.
I've said before I expect a certain amount of issue shifting with a presidential candidate. They are no longer representing just their own states, but the entire country, and not every change in rhetoric betrays an unforgivable character flaw. I think we just ask that they keep those changes within a area code we can reasonably accept.
Thompson's conversion to me is just a bit too calculated and much, and I'm not buying it. That so many others are would indicate a great deal of wishful thinking in the hopes of finding another Reagan, and is also a testament to their candidate's charisma. We shall see if it holds up over the long haul.