“My assessment is that at this moment in time it is Fred Thompson’s race to lose,” said Richard Land, Southern Baptist Convention political leader, back in July. “It may be a convergence of the right man, in the right place and at the right time. I have never seen anything like this grassroots swell for Thompson.”
Needless to say, the swelling went down—after a disappointing “last stand” in the South Carolina primary, Thompson put an end to his presidential campaign. Thompson joined the race late, but in spite of that fact that he was going after the same voters as all the other Republican candidates, he started off with strong polling, thanks to the gushing support from Land, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, and other high-profile figures. Given Thompson’s lackluster campaign—in which the candidate developed a reputation for laziness and boring speeches—it seems likely that his run was propped up more by these big-name supporters than by the grassroots.
We haven’t heard from Land yet, but Bauer had some strong words for his former boss, James Dobson—who came out early against Thompson, even saying he “doesn’t think [Thompson’s] a Christian”—and others who failed to recognize the hidden beauty of the senator-turned-actor:
Gary Bauer says Thompson was the victim of identity politics during his White House bid. … “He was a good candidate with a great record on the life issue and on other issues we care about,” says Bauer, “and I’m saddened that some leaders of our movement attacked him and treated him as if he were the enemy when he is much, much better than most of the candidates who have a chance of getting the nomination.” …
“I ran into a lot of Christians out there as I traveled around the country who were for Mike Huckabee, first and foremost, because they saw him as an evangelical like them — and I understand the appeal to that because I am an evangelical Christian,” says the conservative leader. “But I kept reminding people, ‘So is Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton sang in the choir in his church in Arkansas.'”
He adds “it’s nice to know that somebody shares our values, [but] it’s not enough that that be the justification to support them.”
Given Thompson’s extra-special treatment from some well-established religious-right leaders, Bauer’s complaint that the establishment blackballed Thompson rings a little hollow—especially in as much as it echoes that of Mike Huckabee and his supporters, who say leaders like Bauer have been unfairly dismissing him as a real candidate. (“‘Richard Land swoons for Fred Thompson,’’ Huckabee said last month. ‘‘I don’t know what that’s about. For reasons I don’t fully understand, some of these Washington-based people forget why they are there.’’)
But at least one old-guard movement figure is happy to see Thompson out: “Thompson snoozed through the campaign the same way he snoozed through his Senate career. … He did little and left even less of a mark,” crowed Richard Viguerie, who never liked Thompson.