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Fred, Clinton and an unlikely venue

From NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy
LAS VEGAS -- On a stage flanked by a mechanical bull on one side and the "Cowgirl's Restroom" on the other, Fred Thompson addressed a fundraiser for the Nevada GOP this morning and joined in the fray attacking Hillary for waffling on immigration issues in Tuesday night's debate.

"I never thought I'd see Hillary Clinton get pinned down and have to answer a controversial question," Thompson said to laughter and applause. "She finally came around and said that in fact it was a good idea to give illegals driver's licenses. If you can imagine that…We might as well, uh, give driver's licenses, which along with a motor voter law that we have now that says when you register to vote you get an opportunity to uh, I mean when you get your driver's license you get an opportunity to register to vote. So, you know what that's going to lead to.

"But I must say, she scrambled around during the debate and then she came out with a statement the next day, and it took her 12 hours to get the wrong answer for America this time. She usually doesn't take that long to come up with the wrong answer for America, so maybe things are improving a little bit." 

As he has been doing for most of his campaign, Thompson also tried to show this morning that his campaign is about more than just Clinton. But in doing so he made remarks that could be interpreted as feeding the Democratic frontrunner's claims that she is being targeted as the only woman in "the all boy's club of presidential politics."

"Yes [this campaign is] about Hillary," Thompson said, "and we have our fun, but it's also about something else. When our worst enemy sits down at the negotiating table and looks across the table and is trying to size up the United States of America, how much can they get away with? How much, how much of what they're hearing is really true or is it just bluster? Does the guy mean what he says on the other side of the table? The question is who do we want on the other side of that table facing that guy."

At first, it seemed Thompson was saying that if a woman were to sit down across from America's greatest enemies, then they might feel that they can get away with more. Then he clarified his statement, saying that someone who waffles on the issues might give our enemies the impression that America is not serious.

Once again positioning himself as the only "consistent conservative" in the race, Thompson also took shots at some of his GOP opponents from arriving late to Ronald Regan's party. Commenting on the numerous references to Reagan at the recent GOP presidential debates, Thompson said, "count the number of times a guy invokes the name of Ronald Reagan name, and he's probably the guy most removed from Ronald Reagan for his entire career."

Then Thompson invoked Reagan's name, drawing a comparison between America's only actor-turned-president and America's only current actor-turned-presidential candidate.

"[Reagan's] greatness was not because he was a great actor," said Thompson, who often makes references to his own poor acting skills on the stump. "Just like a lot of other people I know he never was given credit for being a very good actor until he got into politics and then they said aw he's just an actor."

Speaking at Stoney's Rockin' Country Night Club south of the Las Vegas strip, Thompson joined the relatively unpopulated club of GOP presidential candidates who are paying attention to Nevada's early caucuses. Maybe it's because Nevada's most populous city is rife with unpresidential venues like this one. The venue chosen by the state's GOP chairwoman for this morning's breakfast was complete with waitresses in tight jeans and low-cut tank tops serving drinks and Wild West wall decorations that included storefront facades like "Doc Lowden's Pistol Repair" shop -- whose motto is "We Shoot Blanks" -- and "Wayng's Chinese Laundry" -- whose motto is "You Cream'em, We Clean'em."