Friday, September 07, 2007

Fred '08 - Underwhelming

Freddie K-Street continues to leave 'em snoozing in the heartland.

A campaign speech in Iowa failed to impress.

Fred Thompson’s announcement speech Thursday in Des Moines was underwhelming.

The former U.S. Senator and movie actor formally announced his long-awaited candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination at the Des Moines Convention Complex. It wasn’t very impressive.

The crowd of a few hundred didn’t seem enthused. Thompson’s oratory didn’t soar but was somewhat rambling.


... as the Thompson campaign winds it’s way across Iowa for the next two days, the actor might want to work on his lines. Punch up the message. Lose the note cards. Pump up the volume. Give us a little stump oratory. And how about a specific policy initiative or two?

Otherwise, Republican activists won’t be impressed. They’ll be disappointed. Thompson won’t live up to their expectation that he could be their savior. They’ll start drifting to other candidates.
The expectation that Thompson is the savior of the Republican Party has never been anything but projection. Republicans are so dissatisfied, to put it mildly, with the rest of the field, that they have made Thompson a vessel for their hopes. They are so desperate for something resembling a chance of victory in 2008, that they have created their own reality, in which Thompson is Reagan reborn.

The response to Thursday's campaign speech is consistent with the reviews Thompson has been receiving since he began flirting with the idea of running for president. From the earliest days of the non-campaign, audiences walked away from his appearances wondering if there was any "there" there.

In late July, the reaction to a speech he delivered in South Carolina was similar to the reaction he received Thursday in Iowa.

In a half-hour speech that seemed almost rambling at times, the former senator never mentioned his presidential ambitions—mindful of the fact that once he officially says he’s running, he will fall under the scrutiny of campaign-disclosure laws. Instead, he focused Wednesday on a variation of what most likely will be his eventual stump speech: a talk about reforming the government and rising above Washington partisanship and a call on Republicans to bring their party back to its conservative ideals.

It was a broad speech painfully short on specifics. Thompson talked about Iraq, describing the global war on terrorism as a “war of wills” that must be won. He decried the immigration proposal pending in Congress, citing in particular the number of Cubans immigrating to the United States. “I don’t imagine they are coming here to bring greetings from Castro,” Thompson declared. He warned of suitcase bombs and terrorists sneaking through the border. America is “our home,” he said, “and we get to decide who gets to go into our home.”

Thompson’s speech was littered with his trademark down-home talk.
In May, Thompson received what can only be described as mixed reviews for a speech in Orange County, CA.

"It was not Reaganesque." "No red meat." "Too low key." That was the preponderant reaction I heard to Thompson's half-hour presentation (leavened by a few favorable comments, mostly by women, that he was more "statesmanlike" and "presidential" than the announced candidates). Lincoln Club members, like many conservative Republicans, have been unimpressed by the existing field of Republican hopefuls and envisioned Thompson as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. They did not get it Friday night.


Surprisingly for such an experienced performer, however, Thompson had trouble with the podium microphone as his low, conversational tones faded in and out. He ended his speech on a down note by reporting a recent visit to 6-year-old schoolchildren and what they had told him. Thompson worried that the long Lincoln Club program preceding his speech may have turned off the audience, but he may have been the one who lost his enthusiasm.

The Fred Thompson whose vigorous style has led many prominent Republicans to await his announced candidacy was not present at the Balboa Bay Club. He wants a touch of "populism" in the GOP, and he is sure Republican corruption and profligate spending in Congress caused the 2006 election defeat. But there was none of that in what he said here.
Indeed, Thursday's speech is not even the first time that Thompson's effect on an audience has been described as "underwhelming."

Since many Republicans are unhappy with the current crop of 10 announced presidential candidates, there's a lot of buzz about whether Thompson will actually enter the race. He is conservative, has a proven record of electability in the key state of Tennessee, and is an effective movie and TV performer. Thompson currently plays District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC's Law and Order, reminding many of former TV and film star Ronald Reagan. And he is openly considering whether to run.

But his much-analyzed address Friday night at the Lincoln Club in Orange County, Calif., seemed underwhelming. He talked about the need for lower taxes, smaller government, and a strong national defense–surefire conservative talking points – but he didn't convey the excitement that Republicans are looking for. Media reports suggested that the attendees liked his message but were surprised that he didn't have the charisma they had been expecting.
The more we see of him and, more importantly, the more we hear from him, the more it becomes apparent that Fred Thompson is not running for the presidency so much as he is auditioning for it. He appears, literally, to be playing the role of a presidential candidate. The GOP's desperate need to see him as its savior indicates the sheer panic Republicans feel about their chances to hold on to the White House in 2008.

The ineptitude with which Thompson has conducted his campaign so far indicates that panic is completely justified.