October 9, 2007

Showtime For Fred

Fred Thompson finally makes his bones today in the presidential race, participating in his first televised debate. Thompson meets the rest of the Republican candidates in Dearborn, Michigan for the second debate moderated by Chris Matthews, potentially unfriendly territory in both senses of the venue:

In an unusual political season that seems to offer up a presidential debate every week or so, the Republican debate tomorrow is expected to offer something new: Fred D. Thompson.

Untested in debate against his opponents until now, Mr. Thompson, a late entrant to the race, chose to skip the last contest in favor of announcing his candidacy on “The Tonight Show” early last month — a decision for which he was roundly criticized.

Many have been wondering how Mr. Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee, will do. By his own admission he is “a bit rusty” when it comes to debating, and he has said he hopes he will be able to “hang in there” with the other candidates, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, the sharp-tongued former New York mayor, and Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, who is known for his polished delivery.

That's generally known as managing expectations, and Thompson probably feels the need to do so. He has spent a lot of time out of the race while his colleagues have honed these debates into the 90-minute snorefests that they generally become. Thompson provides debate-watchers with the first real news that these debates have generated in quite a while, and Thompson wants the analysts to be pleasantly surprised at his performance.

Mike Allen at The Politico believes that Chris Matthews will be lying in wait to find a "gotcha" moment for Thompson. Allen thinks it will come from an economics question, but it could just as well come from a foreign-policy query. Matthews has been accused of having a "man crush" on Thompson by some of his critics on the Left, and will no doubt want to establish some credibility with a tough attack on Thompson. Thompson will have an equal opportunity to pop Matthews' bubble by responding calmly and in the same 30-second generalities as everyone else on stage.

Thompson has to perform well in this debate, and not just to impress Chris Matthews and Michigan. He has to establish that he can campaign well in the field, and no one gets a second chance to make a first impression. Everyone else on stage has been seen too many times for one debate to affect them much, but Thompson will have everyone's attention. If he comes across poorly in this debate, the Thompson boomlet may end just as quickly as it began. If he holds his own or especially if he shines, it will effectively make him the candidate Rudy has to beat.

Some conservatives have demanded that the GOP withdraw from this debate because of Chris Matthews' comments about the "criminality" of the Bush administration. They claim that the comments reveals Matthews as too much of a partisan to fairly moderate a Republican debate. It seems late in the day, however, to claim potential bias from Chris Matthews as a reason for the withdrawal. It would mean arguing that no one knew Matthews was a partisan before those comments, which would be akin to admitting stupidity.

Besides, the Republicans have already had a Chris Matthews debate, and they handled him fine. The GOP does not need to take a page from the Democrats, who ran shrieking from Fox News when the Congressional Black Caucus had control of the entire event. If Republicans want to get votes from the center, they have to address the rantings of Matthews and his ilk at some point. Let's see who can do that most effectively this afternoon. We know that none of the Democrats feel they can do the same in reverse, so the candidate who can push back best against Matthews' potential low blows should be strongly considered for the nomination.

Want to bet Fred practiced at that this week?

Note: Live blogging of the debate will commence at 3:00 CT at Heading Right, followed by a rountable analysis at Debate Central at 5:30 PM CT. Don't miss either!


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FOX says that all eyes will be on Fred Thompson in tommorow’s debates. He’s had a lot of hype, so I agree. People will be watching to see if he can deliver when it matters. Although nine Republicans will take part in the forum, which begi... [Read More]

Comments (16)

Posted by Jazz | October 9, 2007 8:17 AM

Obviously I would never support Fred, but he certainly needs to work on his "patter." Since elections became less about experience, policy positions or doctrine and more about sixty second sound bites and who "plays the best" on television, more rustic types of folks (as Thompson seems to be) are far more likely to be taken as dim witted and slow rather than genuine and folksy.

From the interviews I've seen, and Ed's video questioning, I have to admit that I rather like Fred. Doesn't mean I like his positions or his conservative stance, but he does seem like "the real thing." Strikes me as a genuine, down to earth, real person. Sadly, people like that who lack the media savvy anad quick wit of a network news anchor or Jon Stewart tend to get eaten alive in this type of arena.

Posted by NoDonkey | October 9, 2007 9:03 AM

Heaven forbid we peg Tip O'Neil's former as a "partisan".

I'm really not interested in any debate moderated by the unprofessional, unethical and unqualified Chris Matthews.

Why should I be interested in listening to answers to tired questions about children's health care, etc., and pleadings from Matthews to beat up on the President?

Not interested. Matthews has no business in these debates and I really can't figure out why the Republican candidates are agreeing to appear with him.

I'm interested in questions from real people, not in some self-absorbed, smug clown like Matthews.

Posted by viking01 | October 9, 2007 9:35 AM

Oh, come on. Who doesn't want to hear Chrissy Matthews yelp "Time!" a few thousand more times between giving his talking points for angry Hillary?

Posted by Dr. Mercury | October 9, 2007 10:01 AM

Dear Ed:

My car was running rough, so I brought it to a mechanic. He put a fancy test meter on it and said the timing was "retarded." It reminded me of your column!

(That's an in-house joke, everybody. Ed and Tigerhawk are my two favorite bloggers.)

Ed, I would dicker with you on one small point:

"and no one gets a second chance to make a first impression."

1. As I recall, a number of the top-runners didn't make a very good impression in the first "debate" (using the term it its most generous sense), but I don't hear anyone saying, "Well, he didn't make a very good first impression on me, so I guess I'm voting for somebody else."

2. This thing is being telecast at four in the afternoon. Hey, I don't know about you guys, but that's the time I always look forward to watching TV -- at four in the afternoon. And who's ever heard of CNBC outside of a bunch of financial dweebs? I would suggest that a TV show in the middle of the afternoon hosted by some backwater cable financial news channel will NOT have a major impact on a race that won't be decided for (what feels like) years down the road.

And as far as this statement goes:

"the Thompson boomlet may end just as quickly as it began."

Say, did I mention my car's been running rough lately? :)

It's not a "boomlet", Ed. It didn't just pop out of nowhere. Want proof? Go read any of Hugh Hewitt's recent attacks on Fred! and then read the nasty, vitriolic comments it evokes. And this is on Hugh's own site, remember. People see an honesty and a candor in Fred that hasn't been seen in nigh on twenty years.

May I elaborate just a bit with a recent example?

A week ago, there was a clip floating around of Fred "asking the audience for applause." Both left-wingers and right-wingers soundly criticized it, asking "What kind of loser politician needs to beg his audience for applause??" And, when viewed from that angle, they make a good point.

But I viewed it from a different angle.

A normal politician on the stump panders to the crowd. He or she will make some strong "America's #1!" point, pumping his arms into the air to cue the crowd when it's time to applaud.

"And if you elect me, I will make America..."

(raising hands into air)


(spreading arms wide)


(shoving fists into air)


(the bleating crowd applauds and whoops on cue)

And now we have Fred, speaking at a relatively small gathering indoors. In that lovely Tennessee twang, he merely states that, if he's elected, he'll make America great once again.

He pauses, and everyone realizes that he's just said one of "those lines" where everybody's supposed to wildly applaud -- but they haven't been cued by gestulating arms and a raised voice. Fred realizes what's going on, smiles, and says something like, "Okay, you can applaud now."

Everybody laughs and breaks into applause.

It was really a beautiful moment in American politics. His mockery of the usual blustering politician was exactly why we love the guy, and why it's far, far more than a 'boomlet'. It was the exact same earthy quality that came through in his Michael Moore 'response' last summer.

And, as far as his actual policies go, one word, Ed:


How can any supposed conservative not be behind a true Federalist? While the rest of the jokers are debating abortion and racism and a whole pisspot full of things that don't have the slightest impact on the average person, this guy's actually talking about a restructuring of government. Unlike the usual dribble we're handed, that's meaty stuff.

And as long as I've got the soapbox, may I say one more thing?

Ed, you're to be highly commended for not jumping aboard a candidate's bandwagon as yet. As I denote here, Hugh Hewitt, Dean Barnett, and the rest of those who have already committed themselves are doing the conservative movement a grave injustice, and might very well cost us the election. They are exhibiting a terrible lack of foresight and a basic understanding of human nature.

Keep up the good work, big guy.

Posted by richard mcenroe | October 9, 2007 10:03 AM

"Heaven forbid we peg Tip O'Neil's former as a "partisan"."

Former what? Catamite?

Posted by quickjustice | October 9, 2007 10:04 AM

I saw Matthews at his book-signing in New York. He answered questions from the high partisan Democrat audience afterwards, and made it clear that he thinks the GOP nominee will be Giuliani.

He also made it clear that he himself is a highly partisan Democrat. In answer to a question about Obama's chances, he said that Obama is playing it safe, and that unless he takes off the gloves by going to blue collar Democrats with an overtly anti-war message soon, and relentlessly attacks Hillary for her hypocrisy on the issue, Hillary Clinton will be the Democrat nominee.

Posted by TomB | October 9, 2007 10:06 AM

Fred Thompson got noticed by the SNL (it is Saturday's Night Live). The main point, their perception is that he is not really sure he wants to be a President. But SNL was not really nasty (as they can be), more sympathetic (as for SNL).
Go Fred, go!

Posted by Mike | October 9, 2007 10:12 AM

I understand that this is the primary and many of us have already selected a candidate to support. But as a group, conservatives need to be very careful about bashing our other primary candidates.

The other side is lining up a strong general election effort to elect Hillary. Despite their differences, it is no accident that stories surface touting a Clinton/Obama, or Clinton/fill-in-the-blank ticket. These things smooth the rifts that primary campaigning creates. Once the primary is over, all the left's machine will line up behind Hillary.

We conservatives appear to be preparing for what might best be called anti-unity, and instead of looking to win we appear to be looking for the best plausible excuse for our loss. I say we should all hope and pray Fred does well. Our realization here should be that our worst candidate is better than their best. We had better get over these internal fights or stand ready to explain to our children how we gave them Hillary.

Posted by chaos | October 9, 2007 10:18 AM

SNL's lampooning of Fred was really, really, really soft. It was funny at his expense, but not in a way that made me think less of the candidate. Any other time I watch SNL caricature some pol the pol is made to look like a dumbass or asshole of some kind.

Again, we see that the elites want entertainment, style, not substance. Fred Thompson is not a rock star. He doesn't have the Conventional Wisdom Political Style book in his back pocket. He doesn't campaign the way Those Who Determine Such Things say a candidate should campaign.

He is the best candidate.

Posted by Carol Herman | October 9, 2007 10:51 AM

Is this going to be like the CLASSIC COKE "roll-out?" Big corporate suits thinking they can pull a brand, and substitute another?

What if Fred gets through the boring debate just fine? What if Chris Matthews makes an ass of himself?

What if the best remembered moment would be a tear down of Chris Matthews, worked so well; he loses his "cool." And, falls out of his chair?

I'm really not impressed with "performance art." Sort'a like taking a Cross and sticking it into a bottle of pee. No matter what you call it, it ain't art.

And, this TV formula ain't debate.

But it burns up money.

Isn't that the ultimate goal?

The candidates raise money; and then they have to spend it.

If it was me? I'd do what Abraham Lincoln did. I stick to the fact that I had a national reputation. Then, I'd take the money raised and INVEST IT, big! To show I wasn't a jackass about money. And, knew, in certain amounts of it, you could make a bundle. Without being greedy.

That was a lesson from my mom. When people offered to placate your greed, you were gonna get ripped off. Heck, I'd invest in Treasuries. Can't go wrong.

And, people would see the pot growing. They'd be INVESTING, instead of blowing their money to the winds.

Oh. And, I'd do Friday Cat Blogging.

Posted by Zach | October 9, 2007 10:51 AM

Jazz said: "Sadly, people like that who lack the media savvy anad quick wit of a network news anchor or Jon Stewart tend to get eaten alive in this type of arena."

Thompson is an actor on a major TV show...if he doesn't at least have media savvy, then he is far slower on the uptake than his critics have claimed.

Posted by Monkei | October 9, 2007 12:01 PM

At last we get to see if Fred is dumb as the "rock" that President Nixon claimed him to be or if he is as brilliant as the actor with lines that he wants us to believe.

Posted by Conrad | October 9, 2007 12:29 PM

I look forward to watching this debate. If Fred sticks to what he is about (Federalism) many of the questions he will be asked will probably be irrevelant - and his answer to these questions may seem irrivelant - because many voters do not understand Federalism.

Posted by NoDonkey | October 9, 2007 1:02 PM


I meant to write "Chief of Staff", but your speculation probably describes the relationship better.

I was trying to think of who or what makes me switch channels (.05 of a second) faster, than Chris Matthews? Before a syllable is spoken?

Maybe Hillary herself.

Does anyone actually watch, or if they do, like this guy's show? Does anyone take him seriously?

He's a complete clown. And not funny, "ha, ha", either.

Sometimes if you really look at a guy who is well known and then think about why, you can't come up with a reason. They're not interesting, smart, funny, useful or the least bit appealing.

Should be known as "the Chris Matthews syndrome".

Posted by Dawn | October 9, 2007 2:52 PM

Going to watch and looking forward to it.

I'm still on the fence as to who I like best.

OTOH can't stand Chrissy Matthews or his pumpkin round smushed face.

Posted by KendraWilder | October 10, 2007 3:17 AM

Posted by Dr. Mercury | October 9, 2007 10:01 AM

"...Hugh Hewitt, Dean Barnett, and the rest of those who have already committed themselves are doing the conservative movement a grave injustice, and might very well cost us the election. They are exhibiting a terrible lack of foresight and a basic understanding of human nature."

Indeed, this isn't the first time that Hugh Hewitt has predetermined, in his own mind, what the outcome of an upcoming election should be, and proceeds to browbeat the rest of his perceived Conservative minions into falling in line.

Hugh Hewitt: A legend in his own mind.

Sorry, couldn't resist. I do appreciate how knowledgable he is, and what a wonderful human being he has a reputation for being. But his Conservative political instincts leave an awful lot to be desired, especially when he espouses that we should emulate what the Democrats did to get control back of Congress in order to win it back for the GOP again.

Nothing frightens me more than to hear a supposedly dedicated Conservative offering such mindlessly outrageous advice.

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