March 29, 2007
Memo to Mitt: Consider the Virtues of Dick Cheney's JobBy J. Peter Mulhern
No doubt the latest Gallup Poll came as a shock to you, Governor. It must be very disappointing after all your hard work to have a guy like Fred Thompson eating your lunch as soon as he mentions in passing that he might consider giving serious thought to the possibility of studying a run for the White House. It's time to review your options and your party's.
The Republican primaries don't have to be an internecine bloodletting. There is at least one unorthodox path to party unity that looks better and better as one considers your strengths and weaknesses those of your rivals. You are in the enviable position of being able to do something that is both selfless and shrewd. You can do well by doing good. More about that later, but first let's take a look at the racing form for 2008.
Rudy Giuliani could unite Republicans behind him by reconciling himself with the social right. To do that he would have to take a strong stand against the arrogant style of judging that led to Roe v. Wade. So far he has confined himself to reciting boilerplate about his devotion to "strict construction" and his approval of George W. Bush's Supreme Court nominees. This won't do the trick. If he can't do better he will fade and his candidacy will serve only to divide the GOP.
John McCain is dead man walking. A large part of Giuliani's success to date results from a process of elimination. Most Republicans only know two candidates and, for a significant number, McCain comes in a distant second in any two-man race. There is no way McCain can attract enough of the party to win the nomination. Even if he could, he would find himself charging into the general election astride a dismembered horse.
You should be ideally positioned to be everybody's second choice, the principal beneficiary of McCain's imminent implosion, and the eventual nominee. But if Gallup is right, you're approaching Harold Stassen territory. Apparently you have a problem. That problem is bigger than mere lack of name recognition and more intractable than any residual resistance voters may have to a Mormon in the White House.
In a political career stretching back to your run for the Senate against the captain of the SS Oldsmobile in 1994, you have spent a great deal of effort convincing the voters of Massachusetts, who were profoundly suspicious of your Mormon faith, that you are in tune with them. Now you have to go before a Republican primary electorate around the country and tell them that you really, truly are a traditional, religious Latter Day Saints guy and not just the slick, modern member of the managerial elite you have been portraying in Massachusetts for years.
This isn't just a question of flip-flopping on any particular issue. It's about authenticity. Republican's aren't going to line up behind any candidate that seems too protean. Bill Clinton is a uniquely Democrat phenomenon. Republicans want a candidate who knows who he is and is thoroughly comfortable playing himself in public.
They also want a candidate who is hard-nosed and confrontational with all our enemies, foreign and domestic. Here your polished image and genteel family background work against you. Like George W. Bush, you are the son of a famous Republican father, a party legacy (think "Flounder" in Animal House.) The last thing Republicans are clamoring for right now is another prince of the GOP.
All these liabilities are holding you back and may ultimately sink your candidacy. This would be a shame, both for you and for the conservative movement. You represent an opportunity for conservatives in the same way that Jimmy Carter was an opportunity for the left. Carter turned out to be everything his party's left wing wanted in a president. In 1976, however, he traded on his origins in Georgia, his Baptist faith, and his naval background to attack Gerald Ford's vulnerable right flank and win a narrow victory.
An attractive conservative from Massachusetts could redraw the electoral map by taking territory that was off limits when the GOP was running a Texan and a guy from Wyoming who made his fortune in Texas. As a tactical matter, Republicans and conservatives need leaders like you.
Unfortunately, people don't always opt for what they need. Republicans have three serious declared candidates but none of them is on course to capture enough of the GOP coalition to win either the nomination or the election.
Enter Fred Dalton Thompson, stage right.
In the short time since he sent up his first trial balloon he has generated more excitement in Republican ranks than all the other candidates combined. Suddenly nobody's talking about Giuliani's star power any more.
Senator Thompson has a talent, last spotted among Republican politicians in the person of Ronald Reagan, for explaining conservative ideas to a wide audience that has very little interest in or understanding of politics. Listen to the work he has done filling in for Paul Harvey on the radio and you will quickly see why so many have gotten so deeply invested in his potential candidacy so fast.
There are whiffs of moderation in Senator Thompson's past, but they won't do him much harm with conservatives. This must seem terribly unfair to you. Conservatives know that Thompson won't agree with them about everything and that he may have changed his mind about one or more things they consider important. But he makes people believe in his sincerity and good sense. It may be an act, but it works.
On radio and TV, Senator Thompson has presence developed over a lifetime in front of critical audiences as a lawyer, politician and actor. He projects centered self-confidence. His skills as a communicator will win him a substantial following, perhaps substantial enough to take the Republican Party by storm.
Fred Thompson's principal political liability is that he has never run anything. This is hardly disqualifying for a president, but it may be disabling for a presidential candidate getting off to a late start.
If one has to choose between a skilled administrator and a skilled communicator in a presidential primary, take the communicator every time. The presidency is essentially about the vision thing - both having it and selling it. A president with vision can hire all the administrative talent he needs. No president without it has ever been able to manage his way to a successful presidency. Just dust off your ouija board and ask the ghost of Herbert Hoover the way Hillary consults Eleanor Roosevelt.
There is every reason to believe that Fred Thompson has the skills to be an excellent president, but does he have the skills to put together an effective campaign in less than half the time all his competitors have devoted to the same task? Color me skeptical.
At this point you are probably wondering why I'm bothering to paint such a gloomy picture. Bear with me.
Even if no candidate has the juice to win the nomination and pull the Republican coalition together, we don't have to give up and reconcile ourselves to Gore-Obama in '08. With one daring stroke you could transform the race. Oddly enough, the last former Massachusetts Governor to make a splash in national politics blazed the trail.
No, I don't mean that short guy with the five o'clock shadow who won the Democrat nomination in 1988. He was a sitting governor not a former governor at the time. I am referring to Endicott "Chub" Peabody who ran for Vice President in 1972 with the unfortunate slogan: "The number one man for the number two job." Chub, as you certainly recall, was widely known as the only Massachusetts governor ever to have four towns in the state named for him - Endicott, Peabody, Marblehead and Athol. He mounted a one-man crusade to modify our tradition of allowing candidates for president an unfettered choice of running mates.
Chub's campaign was quixotic, but he had a point. The office of Vice President has steadily increased in importance and it seems odd to treat it as such an afterthought. Why go through the entire nominating process and then pull a running mate out of a hat at the convention? Why not form a team of running mates early in the process so two politicians can pool their resources the better to rally their party?
You are in a unique position to do this. Get Fred on the horn and offer an alliance. Offer to run for Vice President as his running mate. A Thompson-Romney team would probably sweep all the competition for the Republican nomination aside.
Senator Thompson, who is sixty-four years old, might very well have no interest in serving more than one term as President, which would make this arrangement particularly advantageous for you. Even if he served two terms you would get your shot in 2016 when you will still be younger than John McCain is today. In the mean time you'll be gainfully employed and both the Republican Party and the nation will have a chance to grow comfortable with you.
You can offer Thompson campaign funds, an established national organization, and an able partner with executive experience and no trace of a southern accent. He can offer you a golden opportunity to convince Republicans that the Mitt Romney they meet on the campaign trail this year is the real Romney. He can help you make the difficult transition from Massachusetts politics to the national stage. With respect Governor, it isn't clear that you can make the transition any other way.
I know this vice-presidential gambit sounds radical, but it isn't entirely unprecedented. Shortly before the 1976 Republican Convention, Ronald Reagan tried to win over moderate delegates he needed to defeat Gerald Ford for the nomination by naming Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as his running mate. This was a last ditch effort by a nearly defeated candidate and it failed. The alliance I am proposing has far better prospects.
By postponing your presidential ambitions you can greatly improve your odds of realizing them. At the same time you can help prepare your party for the all-important effort to elect a president in 2008 who understands that we are at war.
Forging an alliance with Senator Thompson would be good for you, for your party and for your country. Give it some thought Governor.
J. Peter Mulhern is an attorney outside Washington, DC, and a frequent contirbutor to American Thinker.