I must admit: reading Bob Novak’s latest in light of Palm Sunday had the song my wife sang as a girl–”Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna / Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”–going through my head:
In just three weeks, Fred Thompson has improbably transformed the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. It is not merely that he has come from nowhere to double digits in national polls. He is the talk of GOP political circles, because he is filling the conservative void in the Republican field of candidates.
Republican activists have complained for months that none of the big-three contenders — Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney — fits the model of a conservative leader for a conservative party. The party faithful have been waiting for another Ronald Reagan. But in conversations with them the past year, nobody mentioned Thompson as the messiah until he appeared March 11 on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”
What do I mean here? Well, think about Palm Sunday. On that day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem and, as John puts it, “the large crowd that had come to the feast…took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” But, of course, just a week later, a similar crowd was yelling just as emphatically, “Crucify him!”
We humans were fickle then–and we are fickle now. I don’t want to take this too far, and certainly Senator Thompson isn’t going to be crucified or any such thing. But I do think he’s going to discover just how fickle humans–and especially conservatives–can be. Yes, right now he’s being greeted as the next Ronald Reagan (what an absurd concept–there was only one Ronald Reagan). But even Reagan himself bore the brunt of our fickle nature: In 1988, at a similar point in his presidency, only 40 percent of conservatives said they would vote for him again given the chance. (Noemie Emery recently reported this in The Weekly Standard.) He was attacked for being too liberal, for allegedly selling the U.S. out in negotiations with the Soviets, for not doing enough about spending, and a host of other sins. And the evolution in mainstream conservative sentiment on the current President Bush needs no further elucidation.
Yes, right now Senator Thompson is seen as the “Conservative Messiah,” as David has put it. But soon the laudatory media coverage will fade and he will face the same scrutiny Governor Romney, Mayor Giuliani, and all the rest have all encountered. (One can see a similar evolution in the Giuliani coverage of late, as well.) As Novak briefly mentions, Senator Thompson was in the 1990s “a protege of Sen. Howard Baker, leader of the Tennessee GOP’s more liberal wing.” He’s most assuredly got some more past statements that will bear scrutiny, just like everyone else. And once it all comes out, the gloss will wear off and the base will realize that he, like every other candidate–just like, dare I say it, Ronald Reagan–is an imperfect man. Then, hopefully, we can all have a logical discussion about who the best choice to lead our country in a very scary–see recent headlines on Iran, for instance–world. My money will still be on the guy with broad executive experience, in and (thankfully) out of government, a squeaky clean character, and a demonstrated ability to learn from his mistakes.