The Fred Thompson niche — real but shrinking

David Broder’s report on his conversation with Fred Thompson, though a bit fluffy in places, provides a glimpse into what a Thompson campaign would/will look like. Originally, Thompson was going to be “the real conservative in the race,” filling the niche that George Allen or Bill Frist might have occupied. But as time passed, Mitt Romney was able to convince many conservatives that he fills that space well enough. Those who doubt Romney’s sincerity or object to him on other grounds now are starting to look at Mike Huckabee. Although Huckabee would seem to have virtually no shot at the presidential nomination, he’s now visible enough to further undermine a Thompson claim that he’s the only real conservative alternative, and to siphon off a chunk of Thompson’s potential support.
Thus, Thompson is on the right track when, in the Broder interview, he presents himself less as a candidate who can check off all the conservative boxes and more as a uniter and a problem solver willing to talk about hard issues like entitlement reform that haven’t received enough attention from other candidates. Here too there’s competition, though. Romney, for example, has at times stressed his considerable problem-solving skills. But Romney has had to work hard (harder perhaps than he expected) just to establish his bona fides as a conservative, and Thompson at his best seems better able to talk convincingly about “the vision thing.”
Indeed, Thompson may have an edge over the entire field when it comes to combining a solid conservative record with a sense of gravitas and high-mindedness. But if there’s a niche there, he needs soon to move aggressively to fill it.
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