Writing about Fred Thompson has always presented a challenge to me as a blogger. The analyst in me is in conflict with the cheerleader – a common conundrum for most bloggers who have a favorite in the race. I must confess there are times when the cheerleader part of me takes control and I become overly enthusiastic about a candidate who many see as no one to get very excited about. And there are other times where I highlight the cold, analytical facts and figures of the race – much to the disadvantage of the candidate – which drives many of my fellow Fredheads up a wall.
Indeed, from a purely analytical point of view, looking at all the polls (not just the select few that seem to give a rosier picture of Thompson’s chances), Fred Thompson will probably not be the Republican nominee for President of the United States. There are few serious professionals I have heard or read that give the candidate much of a chance. Too many lightening strikes would be necessary for that to happen, too many improbable scenarios in too many of the early primaries would have to come true for Fred to survive.
The candidate has little money on hand and with the February 5 Super Tuesday gaggle of 21 primaries a little more than a month away where 50% of the delegates to the national convention will be chosen, it seems an impossible task to raise money in amounts that would allow the candidate to be competitive with Mitt Romney’s bottomless pit of funds or Giuliani’s reservoir of cash.
As I have said before, all of this is beside the point. As long as there is a chance for success and as long as the candidate himself believes he can win, his supporters should back his play to the best of their ability. And in the here and now, Iowa is the battleground where the candidate has chosen to make a stand and where he absolutely must do better than the pundits and pros are expecting.
I was gratified to see yesterday on CNN’s Late Edition that Fred was touting the fact that he thinks he can finish second in Iowa:
BLITZER: OK. Let’s talk a little bit about the chances that you have in Iowa right now. Some of the more recent polls have you coming in at third or fourth. What do you have to do? How do you have to emerge in Iowa in order to justify moving on to New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan and beyond?
THOMPSON: Well, the overwhelming number of polls out this way have me running third right now, and the last couple of credible polls that have come out have showed me in the teens or the high teens and not that far back from the pack.
You know, I think I have a decent chance of coming in second out here, and it’s moving in the right direction.
We’re in the middle of a 50-county, 50-town and city tour out here. And we’re going out, taking the grassroots, the numbers are reflecting that. People who get a chance to hear us, and we’ve had a little chance to spend time with them, it’s resulting in on-the-ground activity, and it’s resulting in contributions coming in and things of that nature.
When the conventional political wisdom dictates the candidate play down his chances thus lowering expectations, Fred once again goes against the grain and ups the ante considerably by giving himself a shot at second place – presumably at the expense of Mike Huckabee who is being turned into hamburger by Mitt Romney’s multi-million dollar last minute negative ad blitz. It is not a likely scenario but is one of those lightening strikes I mentioned above that would have to occur for Thompson to become viable in the eyes of conservatives elsewhere.
In fact, Thompson has eschewed “conventional wisdom” for the entire campaign. From his unorthodox “front porch” campaign in the spring and early summer, to his effective early use of the internet, to his unconventional (and controversial) mode and method of campaigning, Thompson has followed the dictates of his inner voice about how to go about running for president. It has placed him at odds with the media, the punditocracy, and most of the political class – all of whom worship at the altar of conventional wisdom. These gatekeepers love CW because it makes their jobs easier.
Rather than doing any real reporting or analysis, it is much easier (and much more profitable as a writer) if you can take the CW about any candidate and with a clever turn of the phrase that either sticks in the knife or places a halo around their head, simply repeat what every other reporter, columnist, and analyst is saying. It has made political reporting in this country as monochromatic and boring as can possibly be – mostly because the lack of originality is so glaringly obvious. Only on blogs (and a precious few online magazines) does one find the kind of fresh and penetrating analysis that used to be the hallmark of political reporting in this country.
So when a candidate that rejects conventional wisdom about how to run a presidential campaign comes along, there is resistance from the gatekeepers. According to CW, a candidate must run around like a whirling dervish from campaign stop to campaign stop, torturing themselves in order to make themselves worthy in the eyes of of the high priests of politics inside the beltway.
Most forget that this kind of all out, pedal to the metal campaigning is a relatively new phenomena – at least during the primaries. It was Jimmy Carter who began campaigning in Iowa two years before the caucuses in order to grab headlines and gain momentum going into New Hampshire. Since then, CW has dictated that the candidates who flails away the most and knocks themselves out campaigning are deemed worthy of consideration. All others need not apply.
For whatever reason, Thompson has rejected that model and followed his own instincts. And the candidate has also rejected the normal appeals by a politician to people’s fears and emotions and instead tried to engage the voters on an intellectual level. This has led to charges that he is “uninspiring” or boring. To answer that, Thompson has recorded a 17 minute appeal to Iowa voters, laying out his case to support him.
Conventional wisdom says that this recording is a waste of time, that no voter will sit through 17 minutes of a politician talking about himself and his qualifications to be the next President of the United States. I’m not so sure. The video is compelling and revealing. It shows a man offering himself for public service not a politician bragging about and exaggerating his meager accomplishments. There is little in the way of embellishments or histrionics. It is just Fred Thompson being Fred Thompson – refreshing in a way that is not easily dismissed.
It is, as the candidate infers, the anti-sound bite. It is not the background noise of a campaign that floods the airwaves with 15 and 30 second spots with the deep intonations of a narrator talking about some superficial attribute of the featured candidate. This message has meat on the bone and gives a voter who watches it the opportunity to fully take the measure of the man speaking. No artifice. No subterfuge. Simple, straightforward, from the shoulder facts about Thompson, his reasons for running, and his belief that he can win.
But what Thompson’s message to Iowans shows above all is a very serious man talking about very serious issues and the fact that the years ahead will demand a thoughtfulness and a seriousness of purpose from our President if we are to successfully navigate the treacherous shoals of history and bring the ship of state safely through to the other side.
No other candidate that I’ve seen possesses this kind of serious approach to the enormous problems facing this country in the years ahead. That’s why I support Fred Thompson despite his long shot chances and despite all the criticisms levelled against him by the conventional wisdom crowd.