Jay Reding.com

It’s About Gravitas

This fan-made ad for Fred Thompson sends exactly the message that the Tennessee Senator needs to get out:

The Thompson campaign should take a good look at this ad, because it suggests a strategy that can distinguish him from the rest of the field. In short, it’s all about gravitas. What is propelling Mike Huckabee into the space that Thompson hoped to occupy is his good-old-boy charm. While most people wouldn’t mind having a beer with Huckabee, he’s a lightweight on policy. He has the same brand of “compassionate conservatism” that while attractive, has already been demonstrated to be neither particularly compassionate nor particularly conservative.

Fred Thompson has a great plan for Social Security. He has a strong plan to deal with America’s immigration concerns. He has a strong tax plan. On the issues—those things that actually matter—he’s head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Not only that, but he’s a principled conservative in a way that Huckabee is not.

Thompson made a mistake in not running an ad like this during the YouTube debate, and if the plan is to win by attacking Huckabee it won’t work. Instead, what Thompson has to do is establish himself as a candidate who is a solid alternative to Huckabee. Huckabee has the advantage of having flown under the radar for months now—now he’s actually being looked at as a serious candidate the skeletons in the closet are beginning to emerge. There’s no need to belabor Huckabee’s problems—what matters the most is being able to distinguish Thompson’s solid conservatism and real policy with Huckabee’s vague platitudes.

This race is completely up in the air. Romney and Giuliani are in trouble, while Huckabee is rising. However, both John McCain and Fred Thompson are well-positioned with voters who are tired of the state of the race now. McCain, while a true American hero and a genuine patriot, has the liabilities of age and immigration. Thompson does not, which gives him an opening.

Realistically, Thompson needs to do better. I’m a Fredhead because I care about policy far more than the average voter—what Sen. Thompson needs to do is show how having real policy positions matters to the average Republican primary voter. If he can do that, competing on substance rather than flash, he can win. But the time is running short.

This country doesn’t need another empty suit. Mike Huckabee is a very compelling figure, and he seems like a nice guy. He’s also poor on policy and his blending of a touch of sanctimony with a dash of big government does not make a great cocktail—when it comes right down to it, “compassionate conservatism” of the Bush/Huckabee style has failed—and this comes from someone who was genuinely receptive to the idea when it was first proposed. The problem is that if people think that government is the solution to their problems, they might as well vote Democratic, since that’s the Democratic mantra. Compassionate conservatism is essentially liberal methods used to try to reach conservative ends—the problem being that conservative ends can’t be achieved that way. Electing Huckabee would be like electing President Bush to a third term, and neither conservatives nor independents have much interest in seeing that come to pass.

Thompson just needs to sell himself more. He’s been campaigning much more effectively than before, but this fight will take money and effort. A decent place in Iowa and New Hampshire and a win in South Carolina could be enough, but even then this race is up in the air. Thompson has the policy chops, but he needs to get that message out. If he does, the dynamics of this race could look very different two months from now.