"Let me ask you a question," said Jay Leno last night to former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. "Would you like the job of president of the United States?"
"I’ve never craved the job of president," Thompson replied. "But I want to do some things that only a president can do. So the answer is yes."
And the Tonight Show crowd applauded.
The path of Thompson’s non-candidacy (and his non-WEBSITE) has been savvily chartered, with myriad high-profile visits to non-threatening interviewers like Leno and the folks at Fred-friendly Fox.
Last week after the GOP debate was broadcast on CNN, you may recall, Thompson emerged after the debate alongside Sean Hannity to offer charming bromides, delivered in his winning, aw-shucks Southern-fried style, a voice like bourbon poured onto gravel.
("I’ve often said if I had his voice, I’d be president of the United States," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has said.)
"We cannot continue down the same road that we’re traveling as far as Social Security, and Medicare, and entitlements are concerned," Thompson said. "We’re bankrupting the programs and pitting one generation against another."
Mr. Thompson was not asked what changes he would propose to these programs.
The strategy has worked well for Thompson — he has vaulted to second place, behind only former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in the latest Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll of Republican White House hopefuls.
This morning on Good Morning America we took a look at Mr. Thompson. (FREE VIDEO CAN BE WATCHED HERE)….Specifically: is it possible that whatever formal announcement comes next will be a letdown?
"Everybody loves a second-string quarterback," said Steve Gill, author of "The Fred Factor. "On the sidelines, everybody looks like a superstar. Can he make that transition from the sidelines into the game without having a fumble, an interception or a sack that causes everybody to say, ‘Hey, put the starting quarterback back in!’"
For instance, despite his star turns on Law & Order and Die Hard 2, Thompson has spent much more of his career as a lobbyist than in any other profession, working on behalf of clients including the Teamsters Pension Fund, a German mining company, and former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide two weeks after he was overthrown (HERE’S A LINK TO HIS ARISTIDE LOBBYING FORM).
He also lobbied on behalf of a firm established by an insurance company to manage its liability related to asbestos. (MORE HERE)
In 1994, Thompson’s Democratic opponent in his race for the Senate brought up his lobbying ties every chance he got, to no avail. And it’s more than possible that the lobbying won’t matter much this time around either, especially considering frontrunner Giuliani has his own issues related to his consulting and lobbying firms.
But it’s just one of many things about Thompson that voters do not know — an ignorance that at this point may be helping him.
What do you think?