By John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007
On the Internet sites where conservatives gather to read and chat each day, Fred D. Thompson, the as-yet-unannounced Republican presidential candidate, has been laying out his positions on dozens of issues with little public notice and plenty of rhetorical flair.
The Virginia Tech massacre, he said, showed that students should be allowed to carry guns "to protect themselves on their campuses," and he said the university's ban on legal guns may have contributed to how long the shooter was able to keep killing.
Scientists who insist that global warming is ruining nature, he said, are like those true believers four centuries ago who insisted that the Earth is flat. "Ask Galileo," he said.
As for Congress's recent attempt at an immigration overhaul, that was nothing more than a "legislative pig" with lipstick that hid the United States' failure to secure its borders. "A nation without secure borders will not long be a sovereign nation," he warned.
The musings seem to constitute Thompson's early effort at assuring the core conservatives of the Republican Party that he is one of them -- despite his run-ins with the bloc as a U.S. senator who supported campaign finance reform and opposed federal limits on malpractice lawsuits and attorneys' fees.
"They were wildly popular," said Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, where three dozen commentaries by Thompson have been posted since he started testing the presidential waters in March. "It was a great way to introduce himself. He had just the right balance of red meat and substance to feed a conservative audience -- at least as an opener."
Thompson's writings could prove problematic in a general election, where he would have to win over moderate voters.
"Today, everything is out there forever, and you don't have any luxury of claiming there was a misunderstanding," said Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican strategist. "If a campaign is putting some of these comments out there, they are going to have to live with them for the rest of the campaign."
Rollins knows the benefits and risks of an actor-turned-politician's use of a "commentary campaign" to burnish conservative credentials before a run for the White House. He worked for Ronald Reagan, who for years used radio commentaries and columns to lay out his vision for America before running for president.
Thompson mostly writes his own articles, often borrowing material from the commentaries he gives on ABC Radio as a frequent contributor to Paul Harvey's show, aides said. In addition to his articles on National Review Online, Thompson has posted to the Townhall.com blog and placed podcasts on RedState.com, including a three-part, issue-oriented interview.
Thompson's attempts to curry conservative favor come as his efforts to raise money and assemble a nationwide campaign staff have experienced growing pains. He finished June with just over $3 million raised, putting him well behind the top contenders.
On Tuesday, he moved aside Tom Collamore, the man he had picked to assemble his campaign. That decision prompted the immediate departure of the research director. Several sources close to the campaign said Thompson's wife, Jeri, had lost confidence in Collamore and was exerting increased authority over campaign decisions.
The departures forced advisers to respond to questions about organizational unrest as Thompson traveled to Texas and San Diego for fundraisers. "We're not at a loss for people who want to help Fred Thompson should he decide to run," spokeswoman Linda Rozett said.
Aides said Thompson's writings and Web postings began a year or so ago as an effort to repurpose his radio commentaries. But they have taken on a life of their own now that Thompson is considering running for president, and giving him a forum to lay out his positions.
They have helped distinguish Thompson from many candidates in the race, said Mark Levin, a conservative talk radio host with 4 million listeners. Thompson has appeared on his show four times in the past four months.
"Most of the other candidates -- other than an issue here or there -- are trying to conceal their viewpoints in which they think they will offend some portion of the electorate," Levin said. "Thompson comes out, and he is unafraid of articulating his viewpoints. He's not trying to camouflage them."
Thompson's writings seem certain to appeal to key elements of the Republican base.
"Let me ask you a hypothetical question," Thompson wrote in defending Israel's military responses during the Palestinian conflict. "What do you think America would do if Canadian soldiers were firing dozens of missiles every day into Buffalo, N.Y.? . . . I can tell you, our response would look nothing like Israel's restrained and pinpoint reactions to daily missile attacks from Gaza."
His commentary on the Virginia Tech shootings -- titled "Signs of Intelligence?" -- suggested that the university's gun ban was a reason the gunman was not stopped sooner.
"One of the things that's got to be going through a lot of peoples' minds now is how one man with two handguns, that he had to reload time and time again, could go from classroom to classroom on the Virginia Tech campus without being stopped," Thompson wrote. "Much of the answer can be found in policies put in place by the university itself."
"Virginia Tech administrators overrode Virginia state law and threatened to expel or fire anybody who brings a weapon onto campus," he wrote. "Many other universities have been swayed by an anti-gun, anti-self defense ideology. I respect their right to hold those views, but I challenge their decision to deny Americans the right to protect themselves on their campuses."
Thompson also derided Congress's failed immigration legislation, demanding that its supporters "explain why putting illegals in a more favorable position than those who play by the rules is not really amnesty."
Thompson seems to have taken particular pleasure in mocking global warming.
"It seems scientists have noticed recently that quite a few planets in our solar system seem to be heating up a bit, including Pluto. . . . This has led some people, not necessarily scientists, to wonder if Mars and Jupiter, non signatories to the Kyoto Treaty, are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air-conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle," he wrote.
The former trial lawyer also has taken pains to shore up one of his perceived weaknesses, explaining in detail why as a senator he opposed federal limits on malpractice lawsuits and attorney fees -- restrictions that most conservatives supported.
"Federalism sometimes restrains you from doing things you want to do," he wrote in one posting. "You have to leave the job to someone else -- who may even choose not to do it at all."
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.