In October 1979, as I drove him towards O’Hare Airport, Paul Weyrich did his best to cool my ardor for Ronald Reagan. "Don’t get your hopes up, Chris," he said, "he’s not a real conservative."
During the following 28 years, Weyrich has become the dean of conservative politics, and actually turned out to be quite a fan of Ronald Reagan. Now, Weyrich asks, "is Fred Thompson the second coming of Ronald Reagan?" Then he answers his own question: "Not exactly."
You can say that again, Paul. Fred Thompson is not the second coming of Ronald Reagan. In fact, he’s the second coming of Dick Cheney, and wants to succeed Cheney in the presidency (not a misprint) by using the same tactics Cheney used to acquire it.
Cast your memory back to July 2000, when Dick Cheney was "helping" candidate George Bush as head of Bush’s vice-presidential search committee. Cheney cheerfully vetted the finalists on Bush’s "short list," going over all of their personal and financial secrets (in fact, according to reports earlier in July, former Senator James Danforth, one of the finalists, had to prematurely wrap up his "independent" whitewash on Waco in order to go home and pull together the materials Cheney had demanded).
Cheney, of course, didn’t have to tell anybody anything. But we all know what a good shot he is — and it’s not hard to picture him, with piles of file folders in his lap, deftly and reluctantly pointing out to Bush the shortcomings of first one, then another, of his competitors, while conveniently staying out of the line of fire himself. "Gee, Dick, none of these guys really make the grade," the governor might groan. "What are we gonna do?" And Cheney would sigh, and look at the ceiling, and wait for Bush to draw the logical conclusion.
Fred Thompson knows that devious path to power all too well, having been one of the candidates in 2000 himself. Like the other "finalists," Thompson had been vetted by Cheney, and had seen the results. And he didn’t like them.
Fast forward to 2007. So far, ten Republicans have announced their campaigns for the party’s presidential nomination, and the public is vetting them hard. But Fred Thompson knows better. He has learned from Dick Cheney. Instead of campaigning for president, he has been campaigning to raise millions of dollars (say, Fred, is there going to be a public report? Donors? Amounts?) for the defense of I. Lewis Libby, Cheney’s closest confidant in the government who is currently a convicted felon on his way to federal prison.
While all the other candidates realize that they will lose — major league, big time — if they do not somehow distance themselves from Bush and Cheney, Fred Thompson demurs. He is quietly ingratiating himself with Bush and Cheney and their biggest donors, waiting for the other candidates to run out of steam, trip over themselves, or become the victim of some embarrassing data-dump that will destroy their campaign. Thompson knows that he will eventually have to publicly distance himself from Bush if he wants to win in 2008. But he is laying his true foundations now with the neocon insiders as he prepares for that public deception. Yes, next year he will campaign as another Reagan — but he shares only one trait with the Gipper: he is a good actor.
Thompson is already making the move in private. In recent weeks, he has been swaggering between various meetings of Republican and conservative "leaders," distancing himself from Bush and Cheney and doing his best Ronald Reagan imitation, while imparting the unspoken message that the other candidates are all mice. And he is having an impact: "I have not seen such excitement since Ronald Reagan ran and won the Governorship of California in 1966," says Weyrich.
Well, I was excited in 1979 too.
The sad reality is, alas, far from exciting. Following the neocon playbook, Thompson is having it both ways, pretending to be an outsider (so much so that hey, he doesn’t even have to run!) while playing closer to the inside than anyone else in the running. This is the classic dialectic, commonly known as deception, that is so dear to the neocon hot-tub gang to whom he has been endearing himself (how refreshing, that he raises money for them, not for him! My, is he different! Down is up!). To provide the kiss of death, Liz Cheney has now signed on to provide a direct channel to the boss, as well as to act as a minder for Thompson, should he begin to be swayed by his own rhetoric. And, of course, he moderately pretends to oppose bombing Iran, but why not blockade instead? Hey, it’s only an act of war.
Now there’s a compassionate conservative for you.
Fred Thompson is not another Ronald Reagan. He is Dick Cheney with a drawl. True conservatives would best take a pass on this "outsider," and look for someone who has the courage of his convictions (frankly, I’d settle for someone who merely had convictions.). In the meantime, in the words of the Good Book, "Put not your faith in princes." And, as Weyrich recommends, "pray hard."