Responding for the first time to James Dobson’s rejection of his presidential candidacy, former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson suggested in a television interview broadcast last night he didn’t think the Focus on the Family founder’s opinion of him was representative of evangelical Christian leaders.
Asked by the Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity whether it would be helpful to have a conversation with Dobson, Thompson replied, “I have no idea. I don’t particularly care to have a conversation with him.”
“If he wants to call up and apologize again, you know, it’s OK with me,” Thompson said. “But I’m not going to dance to anybody’s tune.”
Thompson, who said he has never spoken with Dobson, was referring to two separate occasions in which the evangelical leader expressed skepticism about his candidacy. In March, according to Thompson, a Dobson aide telephoned him to “kind of apologize the first time he attacked me and said I wasn’t a Christian.” As WND reported, Dobson was quoted by U.S. News and World Report saying, “Everyone knows [Thompson's] conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for, [but] I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression.”
A spokesman for Focus on the Family later issued a clarification, explaining Dobson did not mean to disparage Thompson and was “attempting to highlight that to the best of his knowledge, Sen. Thompson hadn’t clearly communicated his religious faith, and many evangelical Christians might find this a barrier to supporting him.”
Then, last month, in a private e-mail to friends reported by the Associated Press, Dobson said he won’t be supporting Thompson: “Not for me, my brothers. Not for me!”
In the interview broadcast last night on “Hannity & Colmes,” Thompson downplayed the significance of Dobson’s estimation of him.
“Don’t read too much into the Dobson thing,” he said. “Frankly, that’s the only one I’ve seen that is like that.”
Thompson said, “I haven’t spoken out publicly and chastised him for that. I’m not going to. I don’t know the gentleman.”
Focus on the Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger told WND Dobson did not have an immediate response to Thompson but might offer one later.
“Dr. Dobson, as he’s made clear, gives his opinion about presidential candidates as a private citizen, not as a representative of Focus on the Family,” Scheeberger said. “That said, Dr. Dobson is a big fan of ‘Hannity & Colmes.’ I know he watched the show last night, and hopefully he’ll have something to say in the next few days.”
The Republican candidate believes he has the support of others in Dobson’s evangelical camp.
“I do know that I have a lot of people who are of strong faith and who are involved in the same organizations that he is in, that I’ve met with – that (my wife) Jeri and I have both met with – and I’d like to think that we have some strong friendships and support there,” Thompson said.
He indicated he discussed his faith with some of the evangelical leaders.
“And we talked about things in some detail, some of which I’m glad to talk about, many things in answer to specific questions, some of which are very personal to me, and I’ve never worn any of that on my shoulder,” he said. “I have my own relationship to the good Lord, as I like to say.”
Thompson said, “In my heart of hearts, I know I’m straight with [God], and I’m on good terms with him, and I’m on good terms with those who love me and those who I love. And the rest of it, you know, just have to work around that.”
In his recent e-mail, Dobson raised questions about the strength of Thompson’s campaign and challenged his stance on issues important to evangelicals.
“Isn’t Thompson the candidate who is opposed to a constitutional amendment to protect marriage, believes there should be 50 different definitions of marriage in the U.S., favors McCain-Feingold, won’t talk at all about what he believes, and can’t speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail?” Dobson’s e-mail said.
“He has no passion, no zeal, and no apparent ‘want to.’ And yet he is apparently the Great Hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!”
The e-mail included a news article referencing Thompson’s comment that he does not attend church regularly and won’t speak about his faith during the campaign. Those remarks prompted Dobson to write that his assumptions “about the former senator’s never having professed to be a Christian are turning out to be accurate in substance.”
When the e-mail was reported, a Focus on the Family spokesman told the AP Dobson wrote the e-mail, but he couldn’t comment because the statements were made by Dobson as an individual, not as a representative of the organization.
Previously, in an exclusive column for WND, Dobson said he wouldn’t back Rudy Giuliani because of the former New York mayor’s “unapologetic” support for abortion on demand. Dobson later said he couldn’t back Sen. John McCain because of the Arizona senator’s opposition to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.