Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

Last week, Bill O'Reilly laid the identity politics of the conservative base bare to a degree we rarely see from the public face of conservativism:
Bill O'Reilly: But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you're a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right. So I say you've got to cap with a number.
This quote neatly supports a point I have argued extensively over the past two and a half years (see here, here and here). Conservatism is, at its core, a defense of powerful, status-quo or backward leaning institutions. The primary driving force of contemporary American conservatism is a defense of a type of white Christian identity that is an institution unto itself. Still, it is one thing for me to make that argument, and it is quite another thing for one of the most prominent conservative pundits in America to make the point plain.

With less than 40% of Americans age 40 and under self-identifying as both white and Christian, many of those who support this institutional identity perceive it to be under attack, or at least in imminent danger or losing its dominance. (Then again, supporters of the institutionally dominant identity have always viewed that identity, whatever it may be, as under attack. See modern era, backlash against, 1775-current, worldwide.) Looking at the most recent poll data from Pew on the 2008 Presidential election, this demographic shift also holds the potential for groundbreaking ideological shifts within American government. Here are the percentages of Americans, ages 18-49, who indicated there is a "good chance" they will vote for any of the current and potentially leading Presidential candidates, whether Democratic or Republican:

Clinton: 24%
Obama: 22%
Gore: 19%
Giuliani: 15%
Edwards: 11%
McCain: 9%
Thompson: 7%
Gingrich: 7%
Romney: 6%

These are not just teenagers and young kids fresh out of college. These are the standings among all Americans under the age of fifty. Combined, the four Democrats hold a 28% lead over the five Republicans (76%-44%). Further, the five Republicans combined could not even manage 50%, despite the fact that poll respondents could choose more than one candidate. Further, the two Republicans who perform best among Americans under the age of 50 are Giuliani and McCain, who are often lambasted by conservatives for not being conservative enough. There isn't a conservative champion in the double digits in this poll, and neither of the two leaders are white men. In another twenty-five years, the people who were included in this crosstab will make up virtually the entire American electorate.

Consider Fred Thompson entry into the race as the supposed "conservative savior" in the context of contemporary conservative identity politics and the voting predilections of Americans born after 1964. Now, consider that the same Pew poll shows that 70% of his potential supporters are male, and 65% are over the age of 50. In this context, it seems quite reasonable to draw the conclusion that those people urging Fred Thompson into the campaign view him as the savior of what Bill O'Reilly calls "the white, Christian, male power structure." His strongest potential supporters are by far the oldest and most male of any other currently major candidate, even when compared to other Republican candidates. Fred Thompson is the old, male white knight for conservatives in 2008. Among major candidates, he is the ultimate identity politics throwback in this campaign. I'm sure it helps that he is currently best known for portraying a district attorney, and that he recently served as an extended substitute host on Paul Harvey's radio program.

Fortunately, I think it also means he has virtually no chance to become president. If he can't even excite Republican women, then we could be talking about a candidacy that serves as a nice coda on the 44-year electoral run of the conservative movement that started with Barry Goldwater in 1964. I doubt he has any chance to exceed 45% in a general election, no matter who we match up against him.

Tags: Demographics, Fred Thompson, Ideology, Republicans (all tags)

Comments

27 Comments

Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

Still to early for polls, to really mean much!

This election have many differences than normal, even harder to get the polls to mean much other than speculation.

by dk2 2007-06-06 09:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight
"Still to early for polls, to really mean much!"

No, its not. As snapshots of current public opinion, polls mean the same thing all the time, no matter when they are taken. Where public opinion is now makes a difference in where it will be, since it is not created whole cloth a few months before any election. Polls showing Democratic support increasing among young voters are important, because they are in line with polling and election results showing the same for the past few years. Polls showing Thompson's support coming from old guys are also important, because a candidate's major support base invariably influences how that candidate campaigns and governs.
by Chris Bowers 2007-06-06 09:16AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

You may feel that way Chris and that is fine.

I have never been one to rely on any polls, they are made up of questions and can be skewed any which way that the pollster wants to, much like any stats.

I have had pollsters call and the questions are always leading.

Here in TN during the Ford 2006 polls -when they called the questions were always asked in a positive perspective toward Harold Ford. It was impossible to answer the poll without it seeming so. Then, no wonder the view accross the country was, that it was in the bag for Ford for most of the whole cycle. It wasn't until close to the end that people started to see that the state may not go for Ford after all.

Other polls, also when they call they are targeted for Obama and Clinton - how fair is that, if Edwards or any other candidate is mentioned it is a very remote question.

So, my view is that polls are like stats and can be done anyway you want them, and a good pollster can get the results he wants before the first person ever gets asked the first question.

by dk2 2007-06-06 10:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight
OK, if you think there is no way to accurately measure public opinion, that is your business. If you think every poll is biased and manipulated, again that is your business. However, considering that polling averages correctly picked the winner of every Senate election, every Governor election, and every presidential swing state election save Wisconsin in 2004 and 2006, I would recommend you not be so hasty in dismissing their potential as accurate political tools.
by Chris Bowers 2007-06-06 10:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

How far out was the acurate polling done on those that were acurate?

And, I didn't say that they were all wrong, I am saying the potential is there for them to be faulty.

Sorry if my opinion is upsetting to you, your opinion is not upsetting to me.

by dk2 2007-06-06 10:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight
As I said, polling only measures current public opinion, but future public opinion is built upon current public opinion.

And no, your opinion is not upsetting me. Mainly, I'm baffled that someone who doesn't think polling is worthwhile would bother reading a blog like MyDD. That, and I can't stand lazy thinking.
by Chris Bowers 2007-06-06 10:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

It depends on what you want the poll to tell you. Most people here who criticize early polling seem to think that polls only serve one purpose - to predict elections. No one is arguing that any recent polls are going to match the vote count, but they can tell us so many other things.

by LandStander 2007-06-06 09:35AM | 0 recs
Well...

You seemed to think polls were great in this comment.

by NuevoLiberal 2007-06-06 04:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

Heh. Fred Thompson is Tommy Thompson's evil twin. Or, is it the other way around?

by Michael Bersin 2007-06-06 09:31AM | 0 recs
This is way too strong

a statement: "he has no chance to become president."

has the guy even annnounced yet? He's a skilled pol, one who comes across tough and moderate, and who'll be able to make a strong play for the white working class.

Of course, he basing his entire campaign on a lie, claiming this longtime lobbyist is an outsider, but that's what actors do, play a role, so the prospect of a Thompson presidency concerns me, especially if Hillary is the nominee.

by david mizner 2007-06-06 09:33AM | 0 recs
Agree, Fred is relatively strong

I agree, I see Thompson as the best match-up on their side for Hillary.  Thompson is the only front runner who would not have the fundamentalists sitting on their hands.  

On the other hand, I find his general old looks and sluggishness to be reassuring.   I think he reeks of the past, of old-school politics; for this reason I see him as relatively easy for Obama or Edwards.  

But Hillary is also "old politics" because of her last name, to top off her already coastal/liberal enclave ID (i.e. NY, DC).   I never think of her as from Illinois, I dont' know why she doesn't play that up.   She should have run for Illinois office.  

by Andmoreagain 2007-06-06 10:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

These numbers are staggering. I'm particularly surprised about how much support Clinton gets. Perhaps a lot of us young folks who came of age during the Clinton Administration have- compared to this administration- warm and fuzzy feelings about the Clintons.

by AC4508 2007-06-06 09:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

"Perhaps a lot of us young folks who came of age during the Clinton Administration have- compared to this administration- warm and fuzzy feelings about the Clintons."

Yes, that's part of it, I think, people in general have a nostalgic feelings for the nineties, which look good compared to today, and for Clinton, who looks good compared to Bush. And Dems have fond feelings for Clinton, who knew who to kick the GOP's ass. But these numbers are also a reflection of the lack of a developed progressive movement. Dems are ascendant, and the liberal blogosphere is getting stronger each day, but a true progressive movement is only in its infancy. If it were fully formed, Clinton's candidacy would be DOA. But it's not going to die until she loses Iowa.

by david mizner 2007-06-06 09:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

I think Thompson would be a fairly formidable candidate.  The guy has a style that will appeal to a lot of people in the heartland.  He's not a juggernaut in waiting or anything, but he's better than any of the Reps' current candidates.  He's got the ability to hold the right-wing base and still stretch to the center some.

He's got some skills, which he will need to pull off the "I'm conservative, but not like Bush" act that Reps will need to figure out to win.

I think his acting skills would make him dangerous for Hilliary; he'll play himself as the homespun straight talker in contrast to Hilliary's over-practiced style.  This advantage wouldn't play as much against Edwards and Obama who have effective, although different, communications styles of their own.  Not saying Hilliary isn't articulate, but she "sounds like a politician".

by alhill 2007-06-06 09:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

Damn, it is nice watching demographic realities begin to change the national scene. We've seen this in California. In 1994, the electorate was 81 percent white and 75 percent fearful -- and the majority of state high school students had been black, brown and whatever for almost two decades. Raw white fear re-elected Republican Pete Wilson as governor, running against swarming brown immigrants.

In many ways, statistically, the state is not so different today. Over 70 percent of the electorate is still white ('cuz old people vote) and probably 50 percent is still afraid of the demographic changes in our midst. Latinos are now the largest group, but many can't vote as they are not yet citizens; whites come next. But even a relatively small numerical shift has completely changed the atmospherics. Republicans have been pushed to the margins, because they are fundamentally unrepresentative of the state's future. (Only a cartoon character like Arnold can win statewide for the Reps -- even against very undistinguished Dem leadership.)

The transition to a genuinely multi-racial nation will be fraught. There will be future atrocities against vulnerable black and brown populations committed by those trying to hold back the tide of change. But the old and white can't forever suppress reality. Get used to it. (That holds for Dems too!)

by janinsanfran 2007-06-06 09:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

That's interesting commentary, janinsanfran. In CA, they've also negun to stop using the term "minorities" because the term means something very different there. This is a good piece and I agree that Dems would do well to acknowledge and understand the growing advantage of their changing constituency. Lest the GOP get wise out of desperation and shift their strategy towards skimming off ethnic groups that feel unheard, underserved or taken for granted from Dems.

by Jill Tubman 2007-06-06 09:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

That Reilly line's pretty funny. Yeah, the NYT REALLY wants to break down white, male power structures.

by sb 2007-06-06 09:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

In the common parlance, wouldn't this make him more of a "white horse candidate"?

by mcc 2007-06-06 09:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

Romney is at the bottom of the list.  All of a sudden, TV advertising in Iowa and New Hampshire makes him the heavy front runner.  Yes, he's smarter and works harder than W but he comes across as stiff as a board on the TV debates.  Bush was a jerk but at least a somewhat personable one.  

This matters.  We are only 2 months and five days away from the most important event on the Republican calendar (at least in 2000) the pay-to-play Iowa straw poll in Ames.  Ten thousand bought and sold votes buys this thing and Rudy and McCain are acting like they have no shot against the Romney juggernaut; so is Fred Thompson.  About half of Republican caucus voters went for extreme right wing candidates in 2000 (Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer, Allan Keyes).  I'm just hoping for 1964 all over again.

by David Kowalski 2007-06-06 10:16AM | 0 recs
I'm not a white, Christian male

nor do I belong to this so called "power structure" but I have no major qualms with FT becoming president. O'Reilly is a buffoon...is was and always will be...but please don't take his warped view about the state of affairs as indicative of who a candidate is or is like when elected. We've elected Democrats & Republicans who were all white, Christian, males some of whom like LBJ and FDR did so much to weaken that power structure by giving power to racial minorities, women and non-Christians in times when this so called white, Christian male clique was much more dominant.

by dantata 2007-06-06 11:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

Chris,

I hope you are correct.  FT worries me since the electorate has shown far too great a propensity to vote for Republican lightweights who have limited political experience or much of a record governing over serious, experienced leaders.

by Monkey In Chief 2007-06-06 01:05PM | 0 recs
His Wife Looks Like A Slut

I know we're the reality-based community, and we love to talk about issies, ideas and facts.

But the fact is, his wife looks like a slut, and if we want to beat the snot out of him, we should just find us the best possible 10-second clip of the two of them walking with him at his dodering off-kilter best, and her looking as much like Paris Hilton as possible.

Then play that clip over, and over, and over, and over on every platform known to man, woman, child or fairie.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-06-06 05:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

"Conservatism is, at its core, a defense of powerful, status-quo or backward leaning institutions."

Or "a defence of established, familiar, traditional institutions." It's a matter of framing.

by Senori 2007-06-06 08:39PM | 0 recs
Thompson less than he seems

I've said this many times before and I'll say it again. Fred Thompson is a weak candidate. He has some obvious positives: media-savvy, tall, Southern. But he doesn't even pretend to offer a vision for the country, other than recycled Reaganisms and neocon fearmongering. Sorry but that approach will not work in 2008. What's more, the man is lazy and will not do the hard work of campaigning necessary for the job. Why is he so vague about his plans and vision? Because he doesn't have one. Why does he want to run an "untraditional" campaign? Because he's too lazy to do the hard work of retail campaigning. Fred Thompson is an empty vessel candidate onto whom Republicans can project all their ideals. But that's all he is.

I say this living in heavily Republican East Tennessee. I have neither heard nor seen any evidence of real support for Fred Thompson, even here in what should be his base of support. The politicians here are lined up behind him, and the media has mentioned him a ton. But nobody I've spoken with cares about him. I'm sure they'd all vote for him in the end, but it's important not to confuse Washington insider and GOP online enthusiasm for Fred Thompson with genuine Republican base enthusiasm.

by elrod 2007-06-06 10:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Thompson less than he seems
he is no weaker a candidate that Reagon or Bush,  if Hillary is our nominee he will destroy her among white male indies so badly she will have to
overperform Gore and Kerry's mumbers among other indies dramatically to win the race, Obama would kill him but our party still has way too many who think that position papers and experience are more important than ability to connect with average swing voters, so be it.
by nevadadem 2007-06-06 11:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Thompson less than he seems

Why won't that tactic work in 2008?  It has for every election since 1980.  And before you Clintonistas get on me, I have four words:

"It's the economy, stupid"

by Valatan 2007-06-07 07:41AM | 0 recs
Re: Fred Thompson: Old, Male White Knight

Were going to nominate Obama - People just like Hill cause they know her

by gb1437a 2007-06-06 11:27PM | 0 recs

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