Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fred Thompson Surges In Presidential Polls

Fred Fits Despite not having officially entered the race, actor and former Senator Fred Thompson has just made his first appearance at the top of one of the polls for the Republican presidential nomination, beating Rudy Giuliani for the first time. Look for the Rasmussen poll results, and note in the graph on this page the strong recent surge in Thompson's poll numbers, which has come at the expense of every other candidate.

There are a number of reasons for this, including Thompson's appealing personality. I was struck by the audience reaction to him in a recent appearance on Jay Leno's show: people like and trust Thompson, regarding him as a serious and honest man (this reputation for sincerity may explain why he is trouncing Hillary Clinton in a general election match-up).

There is also another reason for these results. I have backed Rudy Giuliani because I like the idea of Republicans choosing the war as their top priority, while subordinating the agenda of the religious right. But Thompson—who is by no means a holy roller, but who opposes abortion and is more "conservative" on a number of issues, like immigration—does not ask Republicans to make this choice.

He allows them to choose a candidate who is relatively strong and forceful when speaking about the war, but who is also a better "fit" for the party's conservative base. But that doesn't mean that Thompson is a shoo-in for the nomination. With less experience, particularly in an executive position, he has not been extensively tested for the stamina, quick decision-making, and management skills required to win a campaign—and to fulfill the responsibilities of the presidency.

"Rudy Amid the Evangelicals," Alex Koppelman,, June 27 The conventional wisdom is that Rudy Giuliani's bid for the Republican presidential nomination will be in serious trouble without the support of evangelicals and social conservatives. It is still early in a wide-open race. But with his campaign appearance on Tuesday at Regent University, the school founded by conservative televangelist Pat Robertson, the former mayor of New York City showed that he was still struggling with a strategy for social issues important to the party's conservative base.

When the first question from an audience member came in two parts, Giuliani embraced the chance to avoid dealing with social issues altogether. He was asked how to appeal to Muslims who are not religious extremists and how to "get Judeo-Christian values back in our government"—conservative code for issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Giuliani went off on a rambling answer about Islam that took him to the streets of Saudi Arabia and into the politics of the Soviet Union, before skipping on to the next question from an audience member.

When pushed for clarification at a press conference later in the day, Giuliani said he had simply forgotten to answer the latter half of the audience member's question. "You can't possibly describe Judeo-Christian values in one lesson or two or three, but if there was one, it would probably be Jesus' admonition that you would be judged based on how you treat others, and I would try to exemplify that in the way that I governed as president," Giuliani explained. "I think that Judeo-Christian values are so much a part of America that if you run a government responsibly and honestly and peacefully, you're reaffirming Judeo-Christian values." He never mentioned abortion or same-sex marriage, intelligent design or prayer in schools….

Rather than pander to the base and risk looking like a flip-flopper, he implicitly acknowledges the differences between him and evangelical voters on social issues and moves on—while continuing to emphasize his image as "America's mayor," the one many Americans remember from 9/11 as a strong, decisive leader. That, the campaign wants voters to think, is the most important quality to look for in a president this time around, because of Islamic extremism and the war in Iraq….

"Don't expect you're going to agree with me on everything," he had told the audience, "because that would be unreasonable. Even I don't agree with myself on everything," he said. "It's not about one issue -- it's about many issues."

Nevertheless, he added that if the election did come down to a single issue for voters, then it should be about the one thing that the former mayor has made a signature issue: the fight against terrorism….

"I wouldn't even consider voting for him," [Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention] said in an interview Tuesday…. Land, who has recently made supportive statements about Thompson, says he believes Giuliani's support among evangelicals has mostly come out of a sense of pragmatism, a fear of Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton becoming the next president and a desire to see the most electable candidate become the Republican nominee….

Charles Dunn, the dean of Regent's Robertson School of Government, thinks otherwise. He divides the evangelical leadership into two camps, "purists" like Dobson and Land, and "pragmatists" like Robertson. And he thinks the pragmatists will win this fight. "What I'm sensing in the rank and file on this," Dunn says, "in the evangelical Christian and conservative Catholic audiences, is that you have a high percentage of pragmatists among them, and they're willing to give Giuliani a serious look."

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