January 12, 2008


A Combative Thompson Sways Voters (PAUL VITELLO, 1/12/08, NY Times)

Whether this was a new Fred Thompson, or just a sign of mirage-inducing campaign fatigue among voters, many people attending Mr. Thompson’s campaign rallies here on the day after the debate reported having similar revelations.

Mr. Thompson, who remarked Friday that he had “always been laid back — laid back when I became a U.S. prosecutor at 28, laid back when I became staff counsel to the Watergate committee at 30, laid back when I ran and won election twice to the United States Senate” — was clearly more combative on Thursday night than he had been in past debates.

He attacked former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, accusing him of stealing his tax plan, tagged Senator John McCain of Arizona as soft on illegal immigration and jabbed repeatedly at former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas for taking what he called “liberal” positions. Mr. Thompson scored one of the more crowd-pleasing remarks of the evening when he said about a recent encounter between a Navy ship and several Iranian speedboats: “I think one more step and they would have been introduced to those virgins they’re looking forward to seeing.”

In an official statement, a campaign spokesman, Todd Harris, said Mr. Thompson’s performance showed that he was the only candidate that voters in the Jan. 19 primary here should trust “to be a strong, consistent conservative.”

Mr. Thompson has made all the same points during campaign events throughout the state, aides said. But many voters who flocked to his rallies on Friday had never heard him make them until they heard him in the latest debate on the Fox News Channel.

Jim Sickles, a retired corrections officer; Natalie Bankowski, an office manager; and Maryanne Gasper, who said she was “a waitress, with two other jobs,” were among a dozen people randomly interviewed who said they had been undecided or leaning toward other Republican candidates — mainly Mr. Huckabee — until Thursday night.

In person, Mr. Thompson, who is a television and movie actor in his life outside politics, conveys a message that perfectly matches the medium of his slow, well-paced, deep-baritone voice: He says the problems facing the next president “cannot be fixed overnight,” and admonishes voters not to believe candidates who say they can.

At some events, he prefers to talk sitting down rather than standing up, and has a habit of rocking on the back legs of his chair. In answer to questions, he tends to give long, discursive answers that start with “let’s go back to where this all started.”

In matters of foreign policy, economic policy and military affairs, he usually ends up with an endorsement of the way things have turned out. In answer to questions about Social Security, social programs and morality, he most often draws the conclusion that things need to change.

With a well-worn face atop an angular, 6-foot-4 frame, he looks like the smartest man in town holding forth at the county courthouse.

When I worked on the NJ Gubernatorial in 1985 the candidate had just three issues he talked about constantly: reducing property taxes, reducing auto insurance rates, and getting the long-delayed clean-up of the state's Superfund sites going. He talked about the same issues at every event and every single radio and tv ad mentioned some combo of the three, but only the three. When people would ask him, the campaign manager and/or the media team why that was and why they just ran the same ads over and over again they'd patiently explain that at the point where you think you've heard the message hundreds of times--because you're paying attention to the process--normal folks have barely noticed it once or twice.

One premise of Fred's candidacy was that with his tv profile folks would "know" who he was and he'd be able to generate free media pretty easily. That turned out not to be so true. But, even if it had, he needed to have a very few consistent points that he just hammered home constantly--the textbook example being W's 2000 campaign. The days of a discursive front porch campaign are long gone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 12, 2008 9:05 AM

I think you are suggesting Thompson be something that he is not, and faulting him for it but it is precisly for that reason he is the better man and would be a better president than McCain who has shown many time the propensity to slip into all forms of liberal induced political qackery from global warming to Guantanamo bay and back.

Posted by: Perry at January 12, 2008 10:12 AM


OJ's analysis is likely accurate. It is too bad that the American voter isn't 'something they are not' - people who would elect a Thompson based upon "discursive" campaigns.

If some strange alignment of the stars (Providence?) grants Thompson the nomination, it would serve America well.

He is a better man than McCain - at least for the presidency.

Posted by: Bruno at January 12, 2008 10:59 AM