Is The Arlington Group Coalescing Around Fred Thompson?

After more than a year of fretting, it looks as if many members of the Arlington Group, an informal roundtable of the country's most influential culturally conservative groups, are fast settling around Fred Thompson as their presidential candidate of choice.

Thompson is not an evangelical, but he has, evidently, sounded solid enough in his private meetings with individual Arlington Group members, a series of which have taken place over the past few weeks.

The Group does not endorse as a whole -- that's not how it's set up -- but its views generally reflect the views of conservative, politically active Christians in some early primary states. Or so everyone assumes. We really don't know, but we take their word for it. The loudest voice among evangelicals today remains James Dobson, who, through his Focus on the Family Action and an his informal ties to the Family Research Council.

Dobson dislikes McCain; he won't have anything to do with Giuliani; he does not trust Mitt Romney but was prepared to, for the sake of party comity, swallow his pride and support him. Dobson now has another choice, and since Fred Thompson represents a Blank Slate, he can paint whatever he'd like on the canvass.

Does Dobson move votes? Unclear. Can the Arlington Group alone enhance Thompson's credibility with cultural conservatives? Do they know enough about Thompson to be absolutely convinced that he will aggressively take steps as president to combat abortion, crush the "homosexual agenda," promote Christian principles in government, appoint reliable conservatives to key posts, etc

Many Arlington Group members are pragmatic. I've been told that they realize Mitt Romney does not have longstanding family ties to the conservative establishment and assume that he will govern from the center... that a President John McCain would not care and feed their members' institutional interests at all... that Rudy Giuliani would not align his governing agenda with theirs. Choosing Thompson may be as much about survival as it is about policy.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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