The Republican presidential field just got even more crowded with the news that former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson is jumping in. You probably know Thomspon’s face, if not his name, as he’s been in a whole slew of movies including The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard 2 and In the Line of Fire. His backers think that his star role in the hit US legal drama Law and Order will propel him into the top tier of candidates—and they’re probably right.
Thompson’s entry into the race is a function of dissatisfaction with the rest of the GOP field. Only three of the current crop are even plausibly electable: Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney. Yet all of them have major flaws as far as the Republican base is concerned. Giuliani is too socially liberal, McCain too much of a maverick and Romney to recent—and convenient—a convert. Thompson is hoping to combine the best qualities of all three: Giuliani’s toughness, McCain’s patriotic optimism and Romney’s telegenic appeal.
We’ll hear a lot of Reagan comparisons, Republican actor running for president etc, in the next few weeks and months. But Thompson is nowhere near that good. The question is, is he good enough to triumph in this field? My gut feeling is that he’ll have a great few months but ultimately won’t make it. His biggest impact will be splitting the conservative vote and making it possible for Giuliani or McCain to grab the nomination despite their various heresies.