The pundits and media are once again telling those of us in Flyover Country what a bad job Fred Thompson is doing as a presidential candidate. Aside from his campaign staff in disarray, his wife running his campaign, and his low energy level, Fred has committed a "gaffe" in New Hampshire by stating that no state legislature had yet passed a law permitting gay marriage, when the New Hampshire Legislature, alone among the states, had passed a law permitting civil unions and the governor had signed that bill into law.
Poor Fred couldn't get his facts straight! Except...he did get them straight. Civil unions are intended to have the same legal effect as marriage, but these civil unions are not marriages. That matters - a lot - to social conservatives. Marriages, to social conservatives, are religious as much as legal. Leaving out "marriage" and allowing civil unions, purely secular relationships, is not the same thing at all.
Getting it straight with conservatives matters a lot. Battleground polls consistently and accurately show that about sixty percent of Americans consider themselves conservative, while only about thirty-five percent of Americans consider themselves liberal. That is why none of the Democratic candidates is campaigning as a liberal, but rather campaigning against the so-called "Far Right." That is also why Fred Thompson, who may soon be the only serious conservative standing, is not only the favorite to win the Republican nomination but also the general election.
Although Republicans respect Rudy, they still have reservations about him. They will vote for him because he is a good guy and because he could beat Hillary. McCain, of course, has longstanding problems with conservatives and Romney just has not caught fire with conservatives either. Brownback and Tancredo have already left the race, and Hunter is probably not far behind. That leaves Huckabee, and the more we learn about him, the more some conservatives are going to mistrust him.
Huckabee appears to have been very soft on illegal immigration as Governor of Arkansas, and his conservatism sounds, often, more like the Populism of William Jennings Bryan than the conservatism of Ronald Reagan. Mike has gotten a bounce, and he has worked hard for it, but the closer inspection he gets, the more conservatives may shy away from him.
Thompson, by contrast, is the real deal. He has taken genuinely courageous stands, like telling President Bush that he should pardon Scooter Libby and raising money for his legal defense or like tackling Social Security - the program that seems to make all Republicans into sheep - and actually calling for a limitation on benefits. Moreover, Thompson is perceived as conservative more than any of the top tier Republicans.
Things actually are working out pretty well for Fred now. Led by state Senator McClintock, a leading conservative, many California Republican state legislators have endorsed Fred and while that might not help Thompson carry California in the general election, it could prove very important in the California primary, which Rudy must win. Nationally, Fred continues to run just about even with Rudy in the Rasmussen Poll, and it is logical that the support which went to men like Tancredo and Brownback will probably end up with Thompson.
Fred has run an unconventional campaign, which has driven the inside the beltway crowd nuts. But it has worked. And Fred is a "finisher." In his race for the Senate in Tennessee, he came from nowhere against a very popular Democrat to win easily. Underestimating Fred Thompson is one of the easiest - and most dangerous - mistakes to make.
For his unconventional campaign, I have an unconventional suggestion: normally the presidential nominee, after winning the nomination, picks his running mate and announces it to the world. No one has voted for this guy (or gal) and so the running mate is up to whoever happens to win the nomination. Fred, why not announce right now who your nominee will be? That would immediately focus attention back on the Thompson campaign and catch all the pundits and journalists off balance.
I would pick John Kasich as my running mate, if I were Thompson. He is well known, well liked, rightly considered decent and down to earth. The name of his Fox News program, "Heartland," conveys exactly the sort of values and persona that those of us in Flyover Country, who will elect Thompson as president a year from now, want.
Kasich could also start campaigning all over the country right now and very effectively. He and Thompson could each start separately campaigning in key states, multiplying the power of campaigning time. Kasich, critically, is also from Ohio and could help Thompson carry Ohio in the general election. Picking Kasich now would make Thompson's unorthodox campaign even more unorthodox, and I bet Americans would love it.