Will it take an actor?

fred thompsonWhy in the world would Republicans ever think that an actor could bring together the religious and economic conservative bases of their party? Oh, wait ... While it's just early rumblings at this point and nothing is concrete when it comes to a Law & Order Fred Thompson presidential campaign, it's worth mentioning if only for the irony of it all. One thing absent from a lot of the coverage, and perhaps this is appropriate, is Thompson's religious beliefs. But will that matter to conservative Christians looking for a chief executive they can support?

For starters, see what former presidential candidate Gary Bauer of American Values had to say about the current crop of candidates and a possible Thompson candidacy in a Wednesday column by The New York Sun's online editor, Ryan Sager:

Republicans, it seems, are dissatisfied with the current field of candidates. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that 57% of Republicans nationwide want "more choices" for president. And given that Mr. Romney has failed to catch on, dogged as he is by an image as a flip-flopper, social conservatives are the primary Republican constituency casting about for a fresh face.

"There is this yearning for somebody else," other than Messrs. Giuliani, McCain, and Romney, a former presidential candidate, Gary Bauer, now president of the nonprofit American Values, told me yesterday.

"With the current field, there is, as of now, some difficulty in getting economic, foreign policy, and social conservatives all on the same page," Mr. Bauer said. "So, in view of that, I would like to see Thompson throw his hat in. ... I think he'd have a reasonable chance of getting support from all three of the legs of the stool President Reagan put together."

While I'm not exactly sure who Bauer represents these days, reporters should note Bauer's failure to mention former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. What's unappealing about them? Perhaps their ability to deliver a victory? Since when were folks on the religious right so pragmatic? Oh, wait ...

What should we make of this situation? We know about Giuliani's closet skeletons and Romney's conservative reformation (note that people aren't talking about his Mormonism anymore), but what's wrong with McCain? Well, The Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti has an answer:

But there's a problem. While Mr. McCain and the conservative activists who compose the Republican grassroots share many positions -- pro-war, pro-life, against waste in government and for low taxes -- a significant portion of those grassroots just ... doesn't ... like him.

For some, the animosity is issue-based. Conservatives recall that during the 2000 primary campaign, Mr. McCain adopted some of the left's pet issues and flirted with the idea of a party switch. Others have become First Amendment absolutists with respect to campaign finance reform legislation, which Senator McCain champions. Many refuse to accept the scientific consensus on global climate change and recoil at Senator McCain's attempts to find a free-market solution to the problem. Others cannot forgive the senator for his votes against the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts.

Another reason for the animosity is personal. Ideologues have long memories. There are Republicans who haven't forgiven Senator McCain for labeling the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance" back in 2000. There are others who bought into the story that Mr. McCain's temperament made him unfit for the nation's highest office. An article in April's Reason magazine, a libertarian journal, calls Senator McCain an "authoritarian." You hear conservatives saying Mr. McCain's turn back to the right seems desperate, or that Mr. McCain seems tired and "old" on the stump.

Could Thompson be the under-covered story of this presidential season? Some are saying why not, but it's far too early to say, especially since Thompson hasn't formally announced. One thing is for sure, conservative Christians aren't settled on a candidate yet and Thompson very well could be their candidate.

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