Last night, I had the privilege of attending a dinner with Fred Thompson and his wife, along with two or three dozen journalists and fellow travelers (to cover my case). Thompson’s statements were off the record, but I can report my overall impressions.
First, Thompson exudes the same great presence and ease of manner in person that he does on television. He’s likeable and quick with the good one-liner.
Second, Thompson’s instincts are, with the notable exception of campaign finance reform, soundly conservative. This was certainly true on the issues he wanted most to talk about — the war on terror, economic growth, entitlement reform, and immigration. At the risk of oversimplifying (or perhaps positing a false dichotomy), it seemed to me that Thompson’s conservatism is more rooted in common sense than in ideology. However, he seems intellectually curious enough to consider more cutting edge conservative ideas. In this way he may resemble Reagan, who in many ways was a common sense conservative, but also a man of ideas who ended up betting much on brave new supply side economic theory. However, I don’t mean to suggest that Thompson would be as bold as Reagan.
Third, on the evidence of last night, Thompson needs to sharpen his message and his presentation skills. Some of his answers were crisp, but others were rambling and a bit unfocused. Moreover, he was better on generalities than on specifics. If I’m not mistaken, Thompson has only run twice for public office, and his last race was in 1996. In addition, he’s not held public office for a while. He may be rusty.
Thompson did not talk about his intentions last night, but all indications are that he’s going to enter the race. This can only be good news for Republicans. However, running for president is very hard work and, as a late entrant, Thompson will have his work cut out for him.
UPDATE: Thompson has told USA Today that he plans to run for president.
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