9/23/2007

The Fred Thompson Disconnect: Part III

Shortly after writing this post about how unprepared Fred Thompson seemed to run from the presidency, I found an article by The Politico's Mike Allen addressing this exact same point. While Allen's article included a few trivial gripes, such as criticizing him for his choice of which football team he claimed to support, the overall point of the article cannot be ignored. I'm not sure if it's a lack of campaign discipline or a genuine unfamiliarity with some of the major news issues of the day. But whatever it is, Fred Thompson had better right his ship before these types of media stories submarine his campaign. Once voters make a connection between Thompson and Bush in terms of competence and awareness of what's going on in the world, I strongly doubt he could ever recover from that.

However, as damning as this type of coverage may be, it does offer Thompson a potential advantage. The very same media that once helped him become the mysterious larger-than-life figure he came to be over the course of the summer could potentially be turned into an effective foil. If the media continue to beat up on Thompson by writing stories that are unflattering to him and his campaign, he can attack the media's credibility and motives. Ronald Reagan's "there you go again" quip might be an effective retort to use in a debate or an interview in which the questioner (a media member) asks him a question about a previous gaffe of some sort. This retort would conjure up images of the Republican-revered Reagan while attacking the Republican-hated media at the same time. So basically, attacking the messenger while ignoring the message may work to Thompson's benefit.

Interestingly, some of Thompson's "gaffes" are not really gaffes at all. I believe they are considered "gaffes" only because they could stall his momentum among the voters in the wing of the party he's trying to cultivate, rather than the electorate as a whole. For example, when he was asked if Osama bin Laden should be killed immediately upon capture, he said bin Laden was entitled to due process. This is actually a rational response based on the workings of our justice system. However, conservative voters who want their politicians to be tough on terrorism and terrorists may find this rational response to be unacceptably weak.

Do you remember how the other conservative candidates were almost tripping over themselves to appear the toughest on terror? Mitt Romney claimed he wanted to "double" the size of Guantanamo. Tom Tancredo said "he was looking for Jack Bauer," a remark that suggests torture is an option under a Tancredo administration. This is the kind of red meat conservative voters want to hear. Instead of echoing the sentiments of those candidates addressing the right wing of the Republican Party, Thompson instead echoed Howard Dean, who made a similar statement in 2003 and was ridiculed for doing so. If Thompson were trying to win the votes of moderate Republicans, his "due process" remark would have been a politically savvy move because it would have allowed him to position himself as a level-headed conservative who was tough, but fair.

However, Thompson is boxed into the right wing of his party. And in light of his recent remarks about not going to church regularly, his federalism approach to gay marriage, his lobbying for Planned Parenthood, and his links to defending the Libyan bombing suspects of Pan Am Flight 103, he does not seem to be a good fit for the niche his candidacy was supposed to represent. Is Fred Thompson more similar to Rudy Giuliani than to Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney?

Thompson doesn't really have the ability to reposition himself towards the center because Giuliani already occupies that piece of political real estate and both the media and Republican voters have identified him with the conservative wing of the party.

As a result, perhaps more than his gaffes and his apparent lack of preparedness on the campaign trail, identity confusion may be Fred Thompson's biggest problem.

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