Some on Right Wary of Candidate Thompson

While Fred Thompson’s presumptive candidacy for president has been bolstered by right-wing activists dreaming of finding a perfect match in the “Law & Order” star, some in the conservative movement are taking a skeptical look at his political career, and chinks in his image are emerging to match those of the other leading Republican contenders.

First, James Dobson came out early on to say of Thompson that “I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression” (a statement he later tried to back away from). Then, a video clip from his Senate campaign was released in which he appears to show support for abortion rights. And the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down a provision of campaign finance reform – FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Lifereminded many anti-abortion activists of his critical role in passing the legislation that they strongly oppose, as well as his investigative subpoenas into the finances of interest groups, which raised hackles among religious-right groups targeted.

On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times reported that, when he worked as a lobbyist in Washington, Thompson took a job from a pro-choice group to convince the first Bush Administration to lift the “gag rule” on federally-funded clinics mentioning abortion. A former colleague called Thompson’s denial of pro-choice lobbying “absolutely bizarre.”

And yesterday, the Times reported more on right-wing outrage at Thompson during his campaign-reform days, not only from McCain-Feingold and his subpoenas – which James Bopp, a lawyer who represented the groups back then and who now works for Mitt Romney’s campaign, called an unconstitutional “fishing expedition” – but also for failing to dig up dirt on a supposed fundraising scandal involving President Clinton. Larry Klayman – founder of Judicial Watch and a key figure seeking Clinton’s impeachment — put the Tennessee senator on a “wanted” poster.

Longtime conservative movement activist Richard Viguerie is calling on the Right to “Beware Fred Thompson”: “Fred Thompson plays a tough guy in the movies and on television, but in real life he is a marshmallow who would pose no threat to the Big Government Establishment that continues to dominate Washington.”

At the same time, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins has come to Thompson’s defense on the lobbying charge, and he received an enthusiastic response at a Young Republicans this weekend.

“With all the [candidates] who keep changing their minds on abortion, that’s got to be unsettling,” Paul Weyrich said of these reports on Thompson and abortion. But Thompson’s star power and personality will likely allow him to keep pace with the other leading GOP candidates, who have their own issues with the finicky right-wing base. For example, while John McCain’s campaign reform work has apparently made him a permanent enemy of the Religious Right, former Sen. Rick Santorum said that he and others might forgive Thompson for the same because, unlike McCain, Thompson has not “made a career of poking conservative colleagues in the eye.”