Monday, June 11, 2007

Fred Thompson closing on Guiliani

The latest LA Times/Bloomberg poll shows that Rudy Guiliani's lead in the polls has narrowed, with the only thing having changed being the entry of Fred Thompson into the race. Guiliani has 27%, Thompson has leaped to 21%. McCain is eating dust at 12%, with George Will's baby -- Mitt Romney -- eating even McCain's dust at 10%.

Thompson has still to spend a dollar.

George Will, who can be a good columnist when he wants to be, did a recent highly publicized sniffing dismissal of Thompson's candidacy -- a piece that drew some choice comments from Ramesh Ponnuru over at National Review. Ponnuru muses that he doesn't "see anything that justifies Will's hauteur," but anyone who is aware of the fact that Will has a thing for Mitt Romney knows exactly what Will is miffed about. It isn't about who Thompson is -- it's about whom Thompson will most immediately and directly hurt.

Some time back, Montana Headlines made the observation that it was a good sign that Thompson was getting hit from both left and right. Someone over at Enter Stage Right has the same thoughts:

Lefties want to quickly define him for voters as either a Bush lackey or the Genghis Kahn of tyrannical conservative values. They don't care why he loses, so long as he loses. Any losing ID will work. They just need to paint fast before people can judge Thompson for themselves!

Righties are equally quick to cast doubt on his "conservative" credentials, working harder to disqualify Thompson's clear grassroots advantage than to chronicle Obama's missing resumé or Hillary's criminally Marxist resumé.

We might have used some slightly different language (for starters, how does one "disqualify an advantage," -- and if Hillary is "Marxist," what epithets remain to describe John Edwards?) but the observations are spot-on. Thompson has a lot of people worried.

What is particularly interesting is that even those who are backing Thompson strongly aren't making any excuses for him. This is partly a factor of how skittish we all are, partly an honest appraisal of the fact that he is a very unproven commodity on the presidential campaign trail, and partly a reflection on Thompson himself, who is so obviously comfortable in his own skin that no-one is worrying that he's going to throw a temper-tantrum if he doesn't get his ego stroked by everyone.

The folks in the Republican base (you know, the people who give the money, knock on doors, and crawl over broken glass to vote Republican) have been making it very clear just how unhappy they are with the currently available choices. They've decided that Thompson is the first viable candidate that they've come across, and the "Draft Thompson" movement seems to be the real deal.

The fact that Thompson is being drafted should also tell people a few things about the core of the Republican base.

First, being religiously right isn't the main thing -- if so, they would have rallied behind Brownback -- instead, he has had trouble breaking 1% in most polls.

Second, being an extreme hawk on the "war on terror" isn't everything -- Rudy and McCain lead the field there.

Third, immigration reform is a big deal, but not the only deal -- otherwise Tancredo would be tearing up the field.

Fourth, ideological purity isn't necessary -- otherwise Duncan Hunter would be leading the pack.

If appealing to the base were a matter of checking off purity boxes, no-one would be considering a man who voted for McCain-Feingold, who voted against several federal tort reform measures, and whose pro-life stance is firm and heartfelt, but realistic and grounded on principles of federalism and the right of states to make their own laws (Roe v Wade, no -- federal Constitutional amendment, also no.)

But everyone is saying the same thing about Thompson's candidacy -- to use a baseball analogy (for George Will's benefit -- we imagine he's a regular reader of Montana Headlines,) Thompson has been handed a bat and invited to the plate. Now he has to prove that he can smack it over the fence. A whole lot of people are rooting him on. But only he can do it -- and nobody, not even his biggest cheerleaders, knows whether he can do it or not.

In the most recent dead-tree issue of National Review, David Frum put it well in an article entitled "Memo to GOP: Get a Grip." The upshot of his article is what Michael Reagan has been saying for years, and what one hopes more Republicans are going to wake up to -- Ronald Reagan was right for his time, and now what we need is not a Reagan clone, but rather a conservative who is right for our time. The old line-up of principles haven't stopped being true -- but what problems Americans are most concerned about has certainly changed. What a country is concerned about always changes.

Frum aptly observes that Republicans are going to be about as successful keeping the GOP vote coming just because it was Reagan's party as Tip O'Neill et al were in keeping Democrats loyal to their party out of gratitude for the New Deal.

Thompson's punditry over the last year or so shows that he has his finger on the pulse like no other Republican candidate -- whether he has the ability to translate that sense into a message, policy positions, and the nomination is unknown. The fact that the GOP base is latching onto onto Thompson, and not someone else, is probably an indication that maybe the GOP is, indeed, starting to get a grip.


Postscript: What is really going to be interesting is if Al Gore gets into the race (he'd be stupid not to, and the Dems would be stupid not to nominate him given this year's choices.) Forget the Electoral College -- the question is, who would win Tennessee in a Gore v. Thompson matchup?

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