Need an Introduction to Fred Thompson?

As you may know, former Republican Senator and current television actor Fred Thompson is floating the idea of running for president, and the early returns suggest the idea might be going somewhere. fred_thompson130x150.jpg Thompson places third in the Republican field with 12% support, only bested by Giuliani at 31% and McCain at 22%. (Mitt “Dead in the Water” Romney polls at a shockingly low 3%.) They’re skeptical over at The Plank:

A Hollywood actor, high-priced attorney, and lobbyist (for Toyota and the S&Ls, among others), who ran for Senate as a pro-choicer and had a reputation as a considerable ladies man before marrying his second (much younger) wife doesn’t seem to me to quite fit the profile of white knight for the political right.

So for the time being let’s consider Thompson another imperfect entry in a class of GOP candidates from whom imperfection is the norm. A 1996 Washington Monthly article has some really good material on Thompson for those looking for more info. Some sampling below.

[T]here’s more to Fred Dalton Thompson than first meets the eye–which is saying a lot considering this sleepy-eyed Southerner stands 6’5″ and weighs 225 if he weighs an ounce. With his pickup truck, his blue jeans, and his deep, friendly drawl, Thompson has cultivated the perfect political image for today’s anti-Washington climate: a straight-shooting, no-nonsense man of the people with a big helping of horse sense and a hankering to clean up our nation’s capital. Both his 1994 and 1996 Senate campaigns played up this outsider image, portraying Thompson as an average Joe who shares his neighbors’ disgust with a political system that no longer serves regular citizens.

But even without the Hollywood credits, the 54-year-old Thompson is far from your average good ol’ boy. In the mid-1970s he served as minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, and later as a special counsel for both the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees. Even more significantly, for nearly two decades preceding his election to Congress, Thompson was a high-paid Washington lobbyist for both foreign and domestic interests.

Despite his Beltway ties, Thompson has maintained his just-plain-folks status among voters, a feat critics attribute to the senator’s acting talents and his shameless use of “props” like the red pickup. Indeed, the charismatic Tennessean’s ability to charm a crowd is undeniable. During the 1994 race, whenever the opposition tried to pin the “insider” label on him, Thompson would drawl a few lines about the kind of world he wants to leave his grandkids, and all insinuations that he was part of the Washington establishment disappeared like wood smoke on a warm breeze.

For those outside Tennessee who’ve never seen Thompson in action, now might be a good time to run down to Blockbuster and rent a few of his flicks. (Thunderheart is my personal favorite, though In the Line of Fire took in more at the box office.) Take a good look at Thompson’s broad, drooping features (which bring to mind a bear crossed with a basset hound). You’ll almost certainly be seeing more of this face in the coming months, because Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson may well be the future of the Republican party.

For all of his charm and presence, Thompson is more than just a pretty face. Once people finish gushing over how genuine and friendly he is, they move on to terms like “smart,” “intelligent,” even “brilliant” (giving him a leg up on Reagan in the brains department). His professional reputation among lawyers and politicians alike is that of a sharp mind and quick wit.

Like I said, it’s good. Read the whole thing here.


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Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

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