Saturday, June 30, 2007

This Guy's The GOP Savior?

Actor Fred Thompson has become the darling of many Republicans. Unhappy with the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls, many GOPers look to Thompson as a Reaganesque conservative savior who can enter the presidential race and bring the splintering party together in ways that the flawed candidacy of Rudy Giuliani (pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, Kerik, speechifying over Iraq Study Group), the even more flawed candidacy of John McCain (base hates him, vocally supported immigration bill the base really hated) and the candidacy of Mormon Mitt Romney (suspect to wingnut Jesus Freaks, used to be liberal) cannot.

Yet what has Thompson done in his life other than look the part of a president (i.e., play president on TV and in the movies)? Sure he was a senator for eight years, but he sponsored no major legislation during that time and had a reputation for being the laziest man in the Senate (he reportedly doesn't like to work longer than a few hours a day...can't say I blame him, but does this work ethic necessarily recommend him to the presidency?). Thompson has worked as a lobbyist for twenty years (one of his clients was Haiti's Aristide - the guy who admires when thugs throw flaming tires over the necks of his enemies) and a trial lawyer (how come Repubs loathe Dem trial lawyers like John Edwards but not Repub trial lawyers like Fred Thompson? oh, right, they're hypocrites...) and has a wife trophy wife who's 30+ years younger than he is (yes, this says he has an appeal to the younger generation, but come on.) He also supported campaign finance reform (in fact, he helped write the bill), which the base hates, helped run McCain's 2000 presidential bid (which the base also hates), and is on the record with some pretty pro-choice statements in his distant past (opening him up to Romney flip-flop charges.) He also has chaired the Free Scooter Libby campaign, helping to raise millions of dollars for Libby's defense fund in the CIA leak case (and perhaps serving as a bribe to keep Libby quiet and not divulge to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald what the vice preznut's role in the case may have been.) While Libby has become a cause for many wingers, it remains to be seen how Thompson's defense of a convicted perjurer makes him the "Law & Order candidate" (Law & Order is only for the guys who belong to the other party?).

So if you're paying close attention to the race, you know that Thompson has some serious weaknesses that could easily derail his presidential bid. Nonetheless the as-yet undeclared Thompson leads the GOP presidential field in the latest Rasmussen poll (he beats the tanking Giuliani 27%-24%...Romney and McCain are way behind at 12% and 11% respectively.) But let us note that Thompson strong showing in the polls has come before he's said much publicly. How much support will he retain once he stops teasing and announces he's running for president for real?

Well, three public speeches Thompson has given to the Republican base suggest so far he's mostly a "projection candidate" (i.e., people project what they want to see and hear on him, but are disappointed once the wish-fulfillment bubble is burst by the reality of actually hearing and seeing him.) The first came a few months back when Thompson spoke to the Lincoln Club of Orange County for their 45th annual dinner. Robert Novak wrote a column criticizing Thompson's performance and quoting some members of the club as saying: "It was not Reaganesque." "No red meat." "Too low key." Novak went on to write that:

Lincoln Club members, like many conservative Republicans, have been unimpressed by the existing field of Republican hopefuls and envisioned Thompson as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. They did not get it Friday night.

The excitement aroused in melancholy Republican ranks by the politician-commentator-actor will not be doused by one lackluster performance. Nevertheless, his first speech since his unexpected presidential boom began suggests that Thompson needs preparation if he does take up this daunting burden.

While it is true that Novak has since written that Thompson gave a better performance at a May meeting with conservatives of the Saturday Evening Club in Connecticut, the doubts about Thompson's campaign chops and overall eagerness to run for president remain and Thompson is going to have dispel them before he can really be considered the front runner in the GOP race.

Unfortunately for Thompson, he did not dispel those doubts when he spoke to groups of Republicans in South Carolina and New Hampshire this week. First, here's Holly Bailey of Newsweek on Thompson's performance in South Carolina on Wednesday:

Thompson was careful not to admit as much. In a half-hour speech that seemed almost rambling at times, the former senator never mentioned his presidential ambitions—mindful of the fact that once he officially says he’s running, he will fall under the scrutiny of campaign-disclosure laws. Instead, he focused Wednesday on a variation of what most likely will be his eventual stump speech: a talk about reforming the government and rising above Washington partisanship and a call on Republicans to bring their party back to its conservative ideals.It was a broad speech painfully short on specifics. Thompson talked about Iraq, describing the global war on terrorism as a “war of wills” that must be won. He decried the immigration proposal pending in Congress, citing in particular the number of Cubans immigrating to the United States.


Thompson seemed more enthusiastic than he had in previous speeches (especially a widely panned talk he gave in California last May). Still, he struggled at times to stay on message. He’s a guy who enjoys talking more than sticking to a speech. Some in the audience seemed disappointed not to hear more specifics on what he’d do as president. But Wednesday’s stop—as well as a speech scheduled for Thursday night in New Hampshire—are being billed as mere warm-ups to a potential candidacy, and Thompson admitted as much yesterday.

Now Steve Thomma of McClatchy on Thompson's lackluster performance in New Hampshire on Thursday:

BEDFORD, N.H. — When Fred Thompson made his debut on the presidential stage here this week, he left some Republicans thinking he needs more work before his nascent campaign matches the media hype it's gotten in advance.

The former Tennessee senator with the baritone drawl showed up Thursday in New Hampshire, the site of the first primary voting, and gave a speech that lasted only nine minutes, skipping over hot-button issues such as Iraq and immigration to invoke platitudes about freedom and strength.

He left more than a few Republicans disappointed.


``I plan on seeing a whole lot more of you,'' Thompson told about 200 New Hampshire Republicans who paid $50 each to hear him — and to benefit state Republican legislators.

He'd better, because many present came away decidedly under-whelmed.

``It was short,'' said Richard Heitmiller of Nashua. ``He's got a nice voice. But there was nothing there. He's for apple pie and motherhood. He's going to have to say what he's for.''

Heitmiller said he hadn't made up his mind about whom to support — way too early — and had come to learn more about this man he'd heard about but never seen.

``People want to get to know him. He hasn't been here, and he gives a nine-minute speech,'' he said dismissively. As Thompson exited, people started making their way to the doors midway through a reception.

``I told my wife we'd get home by 8. We'll get home a lot earlier than that,'' Heitmiller said.

``He looks good onstage, but I don't know if he has the gravitas,'' said Kathleen Williamson, a conservative Roman Catholic from North Weare. ``It seems like he's trying to win over conservatives, but I'm still not sure he has the credentials. I'm worried he's trying to get by on his celebrity.''

While Southerner Thompson got better reviews in South Carolina than New Hampshire, both performances suggest that the work Novak thought Thompson the Candidate needed to do on himself after bombing at the Lincoln Club of Orange County in early May still hasn't been done. As the New Hampshire state Republican chairman Fergus Cullen told McClatchy "It's easy to like a candidate in the abstract...We'll see what happens if he starts campaigning here."

So far, the evidence suggests Thompson is a better candidate in the abstract than a real, hard-working candidate with a shot to win the nomination. The fact that so many in the news media have man crushes on Thompson certainly helps his candidacy for now, but let me remind you that the media have also had man crushes on John McCain and Rudy Giuliani in the past too. Media man crushes and GOP desperation are no guarantee for campaign success when the candidate himself seems unable or unwilling to work hard enough to improve as a candidate.

I don't know if Thompson's popularity is due more to Republican desperation or American shallowness. on dude..sickening ain't it? Lordy, you quoted the idiot Novak..theres a tool if I ever saw one. talk about a lap-dog for the reichwingers.
The Republicans better do something. If their front runners keep slipping in the polls, Newt Gingrich might jump in, and we don't need his stripe in the campaign.
abi - both!

true, dusty, but novak usually gives good assessment for what's going on in the conservative movement - if he hates a particular candidate, then you can bet other wingers hate him/her too. That he thought Fred needed work said something, because you now that Novak was dying to write that fred was the second coming of reagan.

Lew, I see that Newt says he'll only jump in if Fred tanks. Interestingly, Newt ratcheted down expectations for Fred, saying he may not be another Reagan but rather another Ike - minus the military service and war combat experience of course!
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