Today must be bizarre headline day. This headline from Newsmax leads readers to believe that Conservatives have reacted negatively to Thompson’s announcement. But a reading of the article shows the opposite. A nice story by NewsMax. The headline is just a little too misleading for my taste.
While many Republican voters view likely presidential candidate Fred Thompson as the great conservative hope of 2008, a review of Thompson’s Senate voting record and past comments could change the minds of some conservatives.
Thompson was quoted expressing support for abortion rights in 1994 when he first ran for the Senate from Tennessee, although once in the Senate, he consistently voted pro-life.
He not only voted for, but was a major booster of the campaign finance reform bill that many conservatives believe infringes on free speech. And although he has been a vocal opponent of the Senate’s current immigration reform bill, he supported legislation in 1998 to help illegal immigrant farm workers temporarily stay in the U.S.
“He’s a nice enough guy, but the idea he is the second coming of Reagan is a bit exaggerated,” David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, told Cybercast News Service.
“The interest in his candidacy signals the dissatisfaction voters have with the first tier. He could fill the void for people who are saying, ‘gee, isn’t there anybody else,'” Keene added.
The first questions surrounding Thompson and abortion appear on a 1994 candidate survey from the non-partisan group Project Vote Smart, in which he answered that abortions should always be legal in the first trimester of the pregnancy. He also indicated his support for parental notification laws.
During that same year, in the July/August 1994 issue of Republican Liberty, a newsletter for libertarian Republicans, Thompson was quoted as saying: “Government should stay out of it. No public financing. The ultimate decision must be made by the woman. Government should treat its citizens as adults capable of making moral decisions on their own.”
However, Thompson’s voting record in the Senate was pro-life. He registered a zero rating from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America and a rating of 100 percent from the National Right to Life Committee.
Past comments notwithstanding, other pro-life activists say Thompson’s votes are more important.
“We’ve been very satisfied. We can discount a dozen year-old comment when we look at the record he has held,” said David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, in an interview.
Thompson told the Weekly Standard earlier this year that he did not recall saying he supported abortion rights.
“Although I don’t remember it, I must have said something to someone as I was getting my campaign started that led to a story. Apparently, another story was based upon that story, and another was based upon that, concluding I was pro-choice.”
Thus far, social conservatives are not upset with Thompson, said Wendy Wright, president of the conservative group Concerned Women for America.
“I’m only speaking anecdotally, but I’ve had a lot of conversations about Fred Thompson, and I’m not sensing any concerns,” Wright told Cybercast News Service. “What they’re saying now is that he’s had a solid pro-life voting record.”
On an issue that strongly divides Republicans – illegal immigration – Thompson has staked out a position against the current Senate bill that would provide a path for citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants already here, create a temporary worker program and stiffen penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
He even used his spot as a guest host on the Paul Harvey radio program to voice opposition.
However, in the Senate, Thompson voted in 1998 for a bill that established a temporary farm worker program, similar to the guest worker program supported by Bush.
John Vinson, president of American Immigration Control, said no candidate is perfect but believes there are reasons to oppose Thompson.
“I’m happy he condemned the bill in the Senate,” Vinson told Cybercast News Service. “But I’m bothered he doesn’t seem to think we should encourage them to go back.”
Thompson’s supporters have no questions about his conservative credentials.
“I know Fred Thompson is a man of his word,” Tennessee State Rep. Jason Mumpower, a member of the national Draft Fred Thompson 2008 Committee, told Cybercast News Service. “I know that he said no to this amnesty bill. I know what he did on abortion. I trust him. If America takes a look at him, they’ll see the same thing I see.”
In the Senate, Thompson joined some moderate Republicans in voting to raise the minimum wage in 1996, in voting for a “patient’s bill of rights” in 2001 to mandate better coverage by health-care plans and in supporting the 2001 Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act.
The campaign finance reform bill, sponsored by Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, angered many conservatives who believe restrictions on political donations violate free speech.
Thompson’s support for the proposal was one of the reasons he was among just four Republican senators to support the McCain 2000 presidential campaign. McCain is also running for the 2008 GOP nomination.
“He was a reliable conservative in the Senate except for the McCain-Feingold bill, and that’s because he was enamored with John McCain,” Keene said.
On a similar front, when Thompson chaired investigative hearings probing alleged illegal fundraising by Democrats in the 1996 election, he expanded the probe to include his own party as well.
In the 1999 Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Thompson voted not guilty on the charge of perjury, but did vote to remove Clinton from office on the charge of obstruction of justice.
Among the conservative groups that rank members of Congress based on their voting records, the American Conservative Union gave Thompson an 84 percent rating in 2001. In the most recent ratings, the Christian Coalition gave Thompson a 77 percent score and the Eagle Forum a 75 percent score in 2002.
Those rankings are comparable to interest groups’ scores for McCain, who is often scorned by the right.
Because former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, two of the Republican presidential front-runners, were never in Congress, they were never ranked. However, both are facing scrutiny concerning their past support of abortion rights, homosexual rights and gun control.
Romney changed his position on these matters after entering the presidential race, while Giuliani has maintained his stances.
“[Thompson] will stand not as an absolute conservative, but conservative compared to the frontrunners,” John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, told Cybercast News Service.
“Rudy Giuliani is not a conservative, Mitt Romney will have problems based on his positions as governor of Massachusetts, and John McCain — though he has a conservative voting record — has problems with campaign finance reform and immigration reform,” Geer added.
Geer compared Thompson’s record to that of former Tennessee Republican Sen. Howard Baker, for whom Thompson worked during the 1970s.
“[Thompson] has a reasonably conservative record on social issues, but that’s not what drives him,” Geer said. “He’s more of a Reaganite small-government Republican.”
While it is not in the realm of public policy, Thompson’s reputation as a lady’s man between the nearly two decades he was divorced and remarried could also come up in the presidential race.
During a meeting with House Republicans in April, he reportedly said: ” I was single for a long time, and, yep, I chased a lot of women … And a lot of women chased me. And those that chased me tended to catch me.”
Wright is not sure the issue will be a liability for Thompson. “I’ve heard a lot of people respond that at least he did it when he was single,” Wright said. “He seems to have been a faithful husband when he was married.”