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Fred Thompson in 2012?

Laying the groundwork for another presidential run.

3:00 AM, Aug 29, 2008 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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IF FRED THOMPSON was the latest entrant in the 2008 Republican primary process, he may well be the earliest in 2012. Not that he will admit it.

Over the course of the past two years, there has been much talk that the Republican party lacks a strong conservative leader. In May 2007, Thompson offered himself up and, on the issues, made a plausible case that he could be the guy. But his late entry to the presidential race, together with his refusal to do the things that successful Republican candidates have done for years, meant that he disappeared from the presidential scene almost as quickly as he'd arrived.

In an interview Thursday, Thompson acknowledged the mistakes of his campaign and conceded that his refusal to play the game the way it's been played for years cost him. "I've gone my own way--sometimes to my own detriment," Thompson says. "I discounted and underestimated the rulebook--Mitt and the Huck were raising money, forming PACs..." he says, his voice trailing off.

Consider those lessons learned. After a break following his withdrawal from the race last winter, Thompson has quietly begun doing exactly the kind of things he did not do enough of last time: solidifying relationships with grassroots conservatives, campaigning for Republicans in local races, and raising money.

Now, in conjunction with the Republican National Convention next week in Minnesota, he is launching FredPac, a political action committee devoted to electing conservatives committed to "first principles." And he is working on a book that sounds a lot like the kind of book a would-be presidential candidate might write. "I'm going to be talking about my views," he said in an interview Thursday. "And it is going to be partly autobiographical--kind of an only-in-America story."

So what's the bottom line? "Where does all of that lead me--in terms of my country, my family, where we need to go?" he asks. Then he answers his own question. "Some of it will depend, of course, on who wins the election."

It's certainly quacking, but is it a duck? Thompson downplayed any suggestion that these moves portend another run for the presidency. "It doesn't have anything to do with my own ambition," he says.

Fair enough. It is, of course, possible to do all of these things and ultimately decide not to run for president. But as Thompson can attest, these are the kinds of steps one must take in order to run and have a chance to win.

Thompson says the PAC will support candidates who are "consistent" and "conservative" on the issues that matter most to him: judges, taxes, trade, and entitlement. "In some ways it will be a traditional PAC," he says, "but it will also be focused on the causes which will endure."

These efforts are not intended as an implicit criticism of John McCain. Thompson, who spent Monday campaigning on behalf of McCain in North Carolina, considers himself a strong supporter of his friend and former rival. Thompson said that while he would strongly prefer that McCain choose a running mate who opposes abortion--"I'd want to see the candidate be pro-life"--he would actively support a ticket that included Joe Lieberman.

Thompson says that the 2008 election will be a contest between a liberal in Barack Obama who is making attractive promises that he cannot keep and a Republican in John McCain who is willing to make difficult decisions on issues that Washington has chosen to neglect. "I don't know what we'd look like after four or eight years of Barack Obama expanding government," he says. "People have to ask the question: Who is this guy?"

Thompson will be speaking at the convention on Tuesday night. If McCain were to win in November, Thompson would almost certainly be one of the names on his short list for Attorney General and perhaps even Director of National Intelligence.

"I'm going to stay involved in the causes and people that I believe in," says Thompson.

"There are many ways to serve, and a real hunger for substance," Thompson spokesman Kevin Kellems said.

Quack.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.