The most mysterious reality of an utterly baffling race for the Republican Presidential nomination (Mike Huckabee is a frontrunner??!) is undoubtedly the failure of Fred Thompson’s campaign to gain any traction.
Take Wednesday’s bizarre debate in Iowa. On a day when almost nothing of note happened, every moment that even passed for memorable was absolutely owned by Fred Thompson and it wasn’t even close.
Thompson had the only laugh lines (three good ones by my count) and his defiance of the lame moderator’s attempt to get a show of hands on Global Warming provoked the largest applause of the event. It was almost reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s “I’m paying for this microphone!” statement at a New Hampshire debate twenty-seven years ago.
Throughout the rest of this “debate,” Thompson was solid, serious, substantive, and sincere. And yet the conventional wisdom among the chattering class (partly thanks to a Fox News Channel focus group that overwhelming came to this conclusion) is that Mitt Romney “won” the joint television appearance.
Why was Mitt deemed the victor? Apparently because he spoke well and has really good hair. The irony that the only paid actor in the race is suffering because he is not as telegenic as some others is symbolic of the still largely flaccid Thompson candidacy.
By any logical standards, Fred Thompson should have a near lock on the nomination. On all the major issues important to Republican primary voters (Iraq, Immigration, Taxes, Judges, etc), Thompson’s views are not only in lock step with the vast majority, but he is the only major candidate who has not conveniently altered his positions to conform to the requirements of a primary challenge.
But it isn’t just the fact that Thompson is, as he likes to say, the only “consistent conservative” in the race, that makes him far more suited to be the nominee than his current poll numbers would indicate. His no nonsense style and somber but yet optimistic authenticity make him nearly perfectly suited to take on Hillary Clinton in a general election debate (assuming the editor of the Des Moines Register is not the moderator). No one else in the field can better take her on for flip flopping on major issues like the war and no one else can get away with voicing truly conservative principles without coming off like a racist or a right wing nut in the view of voting moderates and the liberals in the news media.
So why has the Thompson candidacy failed to meet expectations and fallen almost to the brink of irrelevance? Like most mysteries, solving it requires more than just one explanation. Because there are so many candidates still in the race (who even knew Alan Keyes was “running’?), there seems to be massive confusion and ignorance among the voters. Only those Republicans who have truly taken the time and energy to research the candidates would know that Thompson is the only candidate without a major blemish on his conservative resume. That, combined with a news media that seems set on cheerleading for a more ratings-friendly Rudy Giuliani candidacy, and a campaign that seems to lack energy and direction, has all conspired to place Thompson in the situation of hoping for a third place finish in Iowa.
But more than all that, it may be the specter of Reagan himself that is dooming the Thompson candidacy. We live in a media age where expectations are almost everything and living up to the Reagan legacy is an impossible task for even a decent actor with strong, though low-key, communication skills.
There is no doubt that Fred Thompson is no Ronald Reagan, but conservatives need to accept the reality that there will never be another Ronald Reagan. Just because he is not Reagan does not mean that Thompson is not the best, and perhaps only, person available to carry the conservative banner in what may be the most important election of our lives. There is still time for true conservatives to come to this obvious realization, but not much.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here