If former Senator Fred Thompson decides to make a stab at winning the presidency next year he’s better put on his climbing shoes. He’ll be faced with scaling some pretty high walls to get there.
He’s already begun to climb a very high one: questions about his health raised by his admission that he has lymphoma, a form of skin cancer that in his case is said to be latent and non-aggressive.
No matter how non-life threatening his form of the disease may be, the very word “cancer” when applied to anyone, especially a presidential candidate, raises all kinds of doubts in the public’s mind. Those doubts, even if totally unjustified, are very hard to erase from the public’s consciousness.
Assuming that his rugged appearance and obvious good health manage to allay public uneasiness about his cancer, once he successfully climbs that wall — like the bear that climbed the mountain only to face other mountains — Fred Thompson will have to surmount a series of other high barriers.
To begin with, there’s the matter of money. It’s commonly understood that it takes something like $100 million just to get into the race and stay there, and the top GOP candidates have been out beating the bushes and shaking the money trees for a long time and they’ve soaked up a lot of the ready cash.
As of now, Fred Thompson hasn’t raised one red cent and can’t begin to until he becomes a candidate or forms one of those silly exploratory committees.
Then there’s the matter of putting together a campaign staff of skilled political operatives, and then organizing the needed army of grassroots workers in the primary states required to identify and recruit voters and get them to the polls. It’s a massive job, sort of like organizing something as extensive as the Normandy invasion — and Thompson is no Eisenhower.
Assuming Thompson can get over this obstacle and is able to organize at the grass roots, he is still facing the need to get out there in all those primary states and carry the flag of his candidacy. There is no way he can rely on his obvious charisma to substitute for being on the scene. And the fact that overwhelming numbers of primary states are having their primaries on the same day next February imposes a huge burden on all the candidates they can’t shrug off. They have to be there and highly visible.
Fred Thompson all but shrugged off that burden when he appeared on Neil Cavuto’s show Wednesday, implying that his solid conservative message and his high profile and charisma could substitute for his physical presence.
Where have I heard that before? Oh, I know — it was in 1980, during the crucial Iowa primary caucuses. My father, Ronald Reagan, was an obvious absentee candidate. His top advisers convinced him that his presence in that key state was not really necessary — after all, he was a major celebrity with charisma radiating out of every pore in his body. He could simply rise above the battle by staying off the battlefield.
Unlike my dad, I was there and I saw at first hand how much his campaign was suffering from his absence. My fears were totally justified when George Bush, who was all over the place, beat my father hands down. After that, he fired those campaign advisers and went out and beat the bushes and in the end won the nomination.
I hope Thompson doesn’t take the advice of those supporters yearning for a new Ronald Reagan; that he has a leg up on all the other candidates thanks to his Reaganesque qualities. There was only one Ronald Reagan, and he’s no longer around. America needs a president who is his own man and knows who and what he is.
Maybe Fred Thompson fits that description, but he has a long way to go and a lot of hills to climb before he even gets as far as the Republican nomination.