WASHINGTON There's a vacuum in the GOP, we keep hearing, and Republicans aren't quite satisfied with their presidential choices.
Apparently, neither a veteran senator-war hero, nor a Harvard MBA/JD corporate governor, nor even a law-and-order, 9/11 mayor is quite good enough for the Red Staters. There's just something missing.
And what, one wonders, might that be? Exactly what je ne sais quoi would fill the alleged GOP void?
Thompson that is. The actor who doesn't act, Thompson is tall and big; he talks straight, drives a truck and is wunna-us. A bootstrap American with take-it-or-leave-it charisma, he's got smarts and the kind of steely gaze you'd like to see aimed at al-Qaeda.
His resume otherwise has all the right bullet points: lawyer, chief minority counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee, a U.S. senator who ran hearings on campaign finance controversies while chair of the Senate Government Affairs Committee from 1997-2001.
Like Ronald Reagan's, Thompson's acting career has featured strong manly roles a CIA director, senator, FBI agent, chief of staff and rear admiral as well as head prosecutor on "Law and Order.'' When Thompson spoke recently to the Orange County (Calif.) Lincoln Club's annual dinner, he approached the podium to the L&O soundtrack.
In his speech, he came across as sincere, honest and straightforward all the traits Americans crave in a candidate and he talked folksy: "Even if we won't be going around in the woods trying to find any bears to kill, sometimes the bear visits whether you're looking for him or not,'' he said.
What's not to love about Thompson? Apparently, nothing, which may explain why the former Tennessee senator is polling in the top three among Republican candidates even though he's not officially running for president.
But is Thompson really the GOP savior? And more to the point, does the GOP really need one?
The truth is, the Republican Party has one of its strongest lineups ever. Yet one would think from polls showing that a third of Republicans are dissatisfied with their choices that they were stuck with a roster of has-beens and also-rans. Spoiled and well fed, they're the party of Goldilocks in search of the perfect porridge.
The top three among those who have declared their candidacies Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney are nobody's leftovers. Or anyone's audience. They're all leading men who belong to the thinly populated genre of sui generis one of a kind.
Giuliani, America's mayor, was on Sept. 11, 2001, what Franklin D. Roosevelt was on Dec. 7, 1941. Before 9/11, Giuliani transformed one of the most dangerous cities in America into one of the safest. He cleaned up Times Square and took on Wall Street, the Teamsters and organized crime.
Still, he's not quite hot enough?
McCain is as true a war hero as they come, having been a POW for five years in North Vietnam's infamous Hanoi Hilton. When he was offered an early release because of his family's influence (both his father and grandfather were admirals), he declined, opting to stay with his fellow American prisoners.
As a U.S. senator, he's led a variety of charges for campaign finance and immigration reform that have confirmed his status as a maverick, but also earned him the nickname of "RINO,'' Republican in name only. He supports the war in Iraq even though it hurts him politically.
But, well, he's just a little too hot.
Finally, Romney comes straight from central casting and the Reagan playbook. If government should be run like a business, as Reagan said, then Romney is without peer.
During his single term as governor of Massachusetts (he didn't run for re-election), he lowered taxes and reduced unemployment. His first year, he closed the state's $3 billion budget deficit, filed a balanced budget each year thereafter, and ended 2005 with close to a $1 billion surplus. He also created a market-based reform to provide health insurance for every citizen without raising taxes.
But, there's just something about Mitt. He's beyond just right. He's too right too good-looking, too rich, too successful.
On the other hand, maybe there's something about the Republican Party that it can't stand prosperity. What Republicans have isn't a vacuum, but an embarrassment of riches.
What they need isn't a savior, but a good VP from the South. "Just Fred'' may be just the ticket.