Near the end of his successful first term, Ronald Reagan was asked whether he thought his training as an actor had prepared him for the job of the Presidency. Reagan replied, "I don’t see how any fellow that wasn’t an actor could do this job."
That is because Reagan understood that the single most important quality a successful President must bring to the job is a sense of confidence, balance, resolve and optimism. After the hand-wringing of Jimmy Carter, that is precisely what Reagan restored to the White House.
It is also the jaunty confidence of Franklin Roosevelt in the depths of the depression that, even though he did not have the immediate solutions to the great Depression at hand, he was sure he could find them.
Even peppery Harry Truman exhibited a cock-sureness about the challenges posed by the post-war economy, the rebuilding of Europe, the fight against communism in Greece and the Cold War.
John F. Kennedy made the Presidency look effortless and graceful exhibiting his air of confidence about the New Frontier through his wit and self deprecation. "The man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris."
This is why "Law and Order" star, and movie actor and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson’s possible candidacy must be taken seriously.
The President Americans want is, in fact, the guy they see on "Law and Order"; wise, thoughtful, deliberative, confident without the cockiness of George W. Bush, urbane yet country. Fred Thompson communicates all those important virtues as District Attorney of Manhattan (although how a Southerner with a broad Tennessee accent got elected District Attorney of Manhattan is never explained.)
Obviously, Thompson’s ability as an actor to portray this role are not qualifications enough to be elected President, but Thompson’s solid eight year record in the U.S. Senate is reminiscent of Reagan’s two terms as Governor of California as providing the experience the American people want to see in their President.
Thompson passes all the litmus tests for the Party’s right-wing base although he hails from the brand of Tennessee Mountain Republicanism of Howard Baker which exists in the mountains of Tennessee, the Carolinas and Virginia. Republicans of this stripe were pro-union and anti-succession in the Civil War which gave way to the more moderate brand of Republicanism.
Thompson has already demonstrated political skill by publicly announcing his cancer and treatments to determine if that is an impediment to a Presidential candidacy, reportedly a decision for disclosure he and his wife made.
Thompson must avoid a boarding-party of Frist loyalists who had planned to run the former Majority Leader’s Presidential campaign and put his campaign in the hands of someone who understands the intricate financing and budget requirements to compete in the frontloaded system of 2008.
Like Ronald Reagan, Thompson is often criticized for his energy level but as John F. Kennedy proved 1960, Richard Nixon proved in 1968 and Ronald Reagan proved every time he ran for public office, learning how to conserve your energy is the most important discipline of running for President; your performance, while "on", is more important than how many hours you log campaigning. Besides, Thompson eviscerated this reputation when he worked a vigorous schedule to win his seat in the U.S. Senate.
Thompson’s prospective candidacy has bred real enthusiasm and hope about the 2008 race among major Republican donors and activists. There are still experienced Reaganites in virtually every state to carry the Thompson banner.
Thompson should use his prosecutor image to make the resurgence of Al Qaeda the number one issue in his campaign. A pledge to find and crush the terrorist network will provide Thompson flexibility on his future support of the Iraq War after the probable failure of the surge. Tough talk on Al Qaeda and implied criticism of the Bush Administration for allowing Al Qaeda to spring back to life will make it hard for anyone to get to Thompson’s right.
The long campaign schedule has already served Fred Thompson well by exposing the flaws in the candidacies of John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, providing a yearning in Republican ranks for a stronger candidate.
Roger J. Stone Jr. is a long time political operative who was active in the Nixon’68 campaign. He writes on politics at stonezone.com