Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics

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Is Curtain About to Fall on Candidacy of Confident, Commanding Thompson?

Kristin Johnson and Aubrey Immelman

December 21, 2007

On Monday, St. Cloud Times political reporter Lawrence Schumacher reported on his “Democracy at Work” blog that Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life had joined the National Right to Life Committee in endorsing Fred Thompson for the Republican presidential nomination. Schumacher noted that the MCCL endorsement “could help Thompson in Minnesota’s Feb. 5 caucuses, where success is determined by how many party stalwarts you have in your corner.”

In the face of general dissatisfaction with then front-runners Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney among the conservative Republican base, Fred Thompson first mentioned on “Fox News Sunday” in March that he was considering a run for president. He officially announced his intent to run for president on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno in June.

Thompson’s political credentials are rooted in his being a former U.S. senator from Tennessee, but many know Thompson best for his role as Arthur Branch, a New York lawyer with conservative leanings, on the television show “Law and Order.”

Thompson, like fellow Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan, was an actor before he was a politician. He auditioned for his first role in the film “Marie,” released in 1985. This was a fitting role for Thompson, who played himself in the movie.

Thompson had been the lawyer for Marie Ragghianti, former head of the Tennessee Board of Pardons and Paroles, on whose life the film was based. Following “Marie,” Thompson was approached to audition for a number of roles, ultimately appearing in a score of films. He was described as a natural actor with a special talent for playing strong, authoritative characters.

Thompson had experienced his first taste of politics as campaign manager for former Tennessee senator Howard Baker. It was through Baker that Thompson found himself working on the Senate Watergate Committee as chief minority counsel in 1973 and 1974.

After Nixon resigned, Thompson moved back to Tennessee to start his own law practice. He reached the pinnacle of his political success in 1994, when he came from 20 points behind and cruised to a comfortable win in a vacant U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee.

Commanding presence

Using a standard assessment procedure developed in the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, we constructed a personality profile for Sen. Thompson. The profile reveals that Thompson’s most prominent personal attributes are dominance and self-confidence.

Dominant leaders such as Thompson tend to be strong-willed, commanding, and assertive. In the case of Thompson, those traits are reinforced by his imposing physical stature; at more than 6'5" he is often perceived as imposing and powerful.

Moreover, he has rehearsed and demonstrated this powerful persona in various television and film roles in which he portrayed strong, commanding characters; he played the role of CIA director, chief prosecutor, and naval admiral, to name a few. Off-screen, however, people have questioned whether Thompson’s authority comes from his political experience or merely his polished Hollywood image.

Though Thompson has shown himself to be a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq, he does not believe a long-term presence in Iraq is desirable and has simply left his options open by saying, “What might be necessary in the future, you can never tell.”


Thompson’s psychological profile also reveals a strong dose of self-confidence. Confident leaders are socially poised and assertive. In Thompson’s case, self-confidence has come across in numerous forms during his campaign, such as his stance on such hotly debated, divisive issues as the war in Iraq, where he has been an unwavering supporter of President Bush.

Throughout his campaign, Thompson has boldly proclaimed, “I was a conservative yesterday. I’m a conservative today, and I’ll be a conservative tomorrow.” His self-confidence also extends to an ability to talk to people on a personal level, as he presents himself to voters as a common man with humble Southern roots.

However, with former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee emerging as the new darling of conservative evangelical voters, the presidential prospects of erstwhile Great Conservative Hope Fred Thompson may be heading south — the endorsement of Minnesota’s and the nation’s preeminent anti-abortion groups notwithstanding.

On balance, Thompson has the requisite experience and popular appeal for election to high political office, but on the fickle stage of presidential politics, where the lowly role of extra is but a heartbeat away from stardom in the leading role, Fred Thompson may soon face his final curtain as his star is eclipsed by the meteoric rise of the more congenial, if less forceful, Huckabee.

Note. A slightly revised version of this article was published as the "Your Turn" column "Thompson is a strong presence," in the St. Cloud Times (p. 8B), Dec. 21, 2007.

Page maintained by Aubrey Immelman

Last updated February 25, 2008