The Washington Times editorial board tries to answer this question quantitatively. Is main findings are:
Thompson’s lifetime rating by the American Conservative Union (ACU) based on the votes he cast in Congress is 86.1. This suggests that he’s about as conservative as Bill Frist (87.8), slightly more conservative than John McCain (82.3), and less conservative than Sam Brownback (94.0), Duncan Hunter (92.0), and Tom Tancredo (97.8).
On foreign policy issues, as rated by the National Journal, Thompson was about as conservative as any Senator. On domestic issues, he was more liberal than about one-third of his colleagues.
In qualitative terms, my sense is that Thompson may be more of an instinctive conservative than a “movement” conservative. While I think he shares some of the optimism of Reagan, he also appears to have the traditional conservative sense of man’s fundamental frailty. He’s the kind of conservative, I’m guessing, who favors pro-growth policies, but doesn’t think the business cycle has been repealed.
This kind of conservatism has its good and bad aspects. If Thompson were more ideological, he likely would not have supported the McCain-Feingold law. On the other hand, being less ideological can produce healthy caution in some contexts.
Finally, in pragmatic terms the answer to the question of how conservative is Fred Thompson may be this: as conservative as anyone the Republicans can elect in 2008, assuming the Republicans can elect him.
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