Captain Ed has an interesting look at the potential campaign style of Fred Thompson. Of all the candidates in the Republican field so far, it’s my opinion that Sen. Thompson is the one to watch. The reason is that Thompson seems to have the right feel for the political situation in America, and isn’t afraid to stake out some difficult positions. As The Washington Post‘s David Broder explores:
Thompson, like many of the others running, has caught a strong whiff of the public disillusionment with both parties in Washington — and the partisanship that has infected Congress, helping to speed his own departure from the Senate.
But he says he thinks the public is looking for a different kind of leadership. “I think a president could go to the American people and say, ‘Here’s what we need to be doing. And I’m willing to go halfway. Now you have to make them [the opposition] go halfway.’
There have been few times in recent history where there was such wide distrust in government in this country. Both the Bush Administration and Congress are widely seen as corrupt, incompetent, and unfitting. The biggest issue in the 2006 election wasn’t Iraq — it was corruption. People are sick and tired of $200 million bridges to nowhere, pork barrel politics, empty promises, partisan gunslinging, and the infantile way in which our political classes conduct themselves. That general feeling of disgust is going to play just as big a role in 2008 as it did in 2006, and the anti-incumbent sentiment that killed the GOP isn’t going away under the Pelosi/Reid Congress.
The reason why Thompson is so strongly situated is that he has a strong anti-corruption message — he was the one responsible for taking down corrupt Tennessee governor Roy Blanton in the 1970s. He’s one of the few candidates who is seriously talking about key issues such as entitlement reform. His leaving the Senate actually plays well for him — the country is looking for an outsider, someone who is not tainted by the partisanship and incompetence of the last few years. His position on campaign finance reform puts him in the reformist camp, although it may grate on conservatives.
Granted, Rudy Giuliani shares many of those same traits, but Thompson has the benefit of having fewer issues with social conservatives. Thompson seems to be the candidate that presents the clearest threat to Rudy’s current front-runner status, and if he can build momentum, that race will undoubtedly heat up.
Sen. Thompson isn’t a shoo-in for the nomination, but he is the candidate to watch. Mayor Giuliani still holds the lead, but even without a formal announcement, Thompson is already in a strong second place in many polls in key states. If McCain were to drop out and endorse Thompson, that could shift the balance completely — although Rudy could also get that support. It all depends on whether Thompson can differentiate himself from Giuliani enough to get an edge — and that will likely mean reaching out to evangelicals and social conservatives while continuing to push his reformist message.
In terms of actual policy chops, Thompson is assembling a rather impressive resume. Those who paint him as just another actor play into the same mistake the left made with Reagan — like Reagan, Thompson’s commanding stage presence is matched by his commanding knowledge of policy issues. He’s no intellectual slouch, and behind that folksy style is a calculating political mind that could easily outclass the less prepared Democratic contenders like Obama or Edwards.
Thompson does have some negatives — his campaign has had a rocky start, and starting this late puts him at a large disadvantage in terms of fundraising and support. However, there’s also some advantage into a late start — it gives time for some of the smaller candidates to drop out, for the others to make mistakes, and has given him much free press.
Thompson is the candidate to watch in this early race, and he is certainly strongly in the running for the nomination. While Giuliani remains the frontrunner, that can change, and Thompson seems uniquely positioned to be the candidate that has a broad appeal with the political disaffected as well as the Republican base.