Daniel Larison thinks a Tommy Thompson run for the White House is self-evidently absurd, and he’s probably right. But really, it shouldn’t have turned out this way. Imagine if Republicans, in 2000, had run a reformist Midwestern governor with a long record of accomplishment and a reputation for pragmatism instead of political scion and modest political success George W. Bush. ~Reihan Salam
I agree that Thompson was once the Coming Thing among Republican governors and that he, unlike Mr. Bush, had a record of accomplishment as governor that would have been very attractive in 2000 with its emphasis on his welfare reform successes and his domestic policy agenda. Had he run and Bush not run, who knows what might have unfolded at home and abroad? Bush crowded out a lot of more competent and accomplished Republican leaders with his famous name, network of connections and establishment backing. It is understandable why someone with realistic ambitions of higher office did not want to set himself up against that juggernaut. Once Bush won, 2004 was likewise out of the question for any Republican. Thus he was forced to wait and wait and wait until the field opened up to include virtually everybody, his signature reforms were a distant memory and his name, if many voters outside Wisconsin recognise it at all, is today associated with the first Bush administration. Today Tommy can really only say, “I coulda been a contender.” Unless I have missed something important, he certainly is not a contender this time.
In fairness to the former governor and HHS Secretary, 2008 is shaping up to be such a parade of mediocrities that someone with a real record of legislative successes and executive experience might have a halfway decent shot. But here is the burning question: where would he get the money he needs to mount a competitive bid for the nomination? It’s probably all going to be sucked up by the Terrible Trio (McCain, Giuliani, Romney).
But, as I have noted, I don’t think any one of these three breaks through in the primaries, either, and I am having difficulty seeing who it is who capitalises on their failure. Could Thompson be the dark horse who triumphs in the end? Somebody has to win, and so, if not the favourites, why not Thompson? Stranger things have happened, I suppose. Jimmy Carter became President, after all, and that must have seemed as implausible in 1974 as Thompson’s chances of success seem now.
In the end, I think his “brand” has gone cold and he will generate little or no enthusiasm among core Republican voters. The worst and most common response will be, I think, “Tommy who?” My impression of him is that he is also not terribly dynamic. Stable, competent, dependable, I grant you, but not somebody who will be bringing in the crowds and the donors. He is not the sort of barnstorming candidate who will inspire a successful insurgent campaign against the establishment favourites. When those favourites implode, someone not Tommy Thompson will reap the benefits.