So Fred Thompson announced last night. On the Tonight Show, which – let’s face it – hasn’t been funny since Johnny Carson made the greatest exit of all time (he left, and that was it. Gone. One crowd-popping cameo on Letterman’s new show and that was it. Class.). Ol’ Fred Dalton Thompson thinks he’s just the guy to pull an Ah-nuld and ride a wave of acclimation all the way to the White House, where he can be a folksy take-no-guff Commander in Chief who can complete the Rednecking of America.
Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.
Believe me. I have two degrees in this shit. Once upon a time, I was a University Graduate Fellow at Vanderbilt, and I was really, really good at this, and the older I get, the better I was, but you can trust me. Ask anyone I know who told them nine months ago to keep an eye on Mike Huckabee.
Anyway, Thompson has no shot. He’s riding a wave of Reagan nostalgia among the True Believers, but there’s no future in that, because Reagan was changing the game; he was unlike any other GOP candidate in 1980 – or 1968, for that matter. Reagan was sui generis. Thompson is sui generic. He is exactly the same as every other Republican candidate; he is in fact distilled essence of 2008 GOP. He’s got a half dozen pat phrases, a couple of sure-fire zingers, and a meaningless do-nothing stint in electoral politics. And that’s all. There is nothing there that separates him from, say, Tommy Thompson or Sam Brownback, other than the name recognition that comes with a handful of mediocre movies and a role on the TV Series That Will Not Die, No Matter How Many Times I Go To Church And Weep Tears Of Blood In Prayer. When nuclear war finally comes, all that will be left is cockroaches, a few Cassidys from Mount Ephraim, and Law and Order. But I digress.
The bigger mistake is that he has completely dissed Iowa and New Hampshire. He has no organization, no ground troops, he’s done nothing to shore himself up in the Big Two states. Now this is not necessarily a bad idea in and of itself – Iowa and New Hampshire are inherently bad for the process, and someday, their power will have to be broken. And the way it will be broken is when one party has a tremendously charismatic candidate, with tons of money and a good staff, who can make himself a contender without bothering to devote any special attention to Iowa or New Hampshire. If, say, Bill Clinton were eligible to run again, and had all of Al Gore’s Google shares sold for liquid cash, he could blow off bothering to campaign ANYWHERE. He wouldn’t, of course, because he needs to campaign more than Dean Martin needed another drink, but he could. If Reagan rose from the grave, and had left instructions in his will to take Boise State, App State and George Mason in a parlay, he would win every primary without setting foot in a single state. The point is, you can only alienate the frontrunning states if two conditions are met:
1) You are a sure thing.
2) There are not so many candidates that pulling 31% counts as a landslide.
Those conditions are not met. Thompson isn’t leading anywhere; hell, he’s not even close to breaking away from the Rudy-Mitt-McCain pack. He’s stayed in it to this point for the same reason that the “Generic [other party]” always looks so good: because people can’t resist the ol’ tabula rasa. When you can dream of your perfect candidate, of course you love him – but when he comes to life, he invariably has bad skin, a phony streak a mile wide, an annoying tic you never noticed, and eventually, a spot of trouble involving a dead girl or a live boy.
So I hope Fred had a grand old night talking to the Mighty Chin last night. Ten years from now, we’ll look back on it as the high-water mark of the Thompson campaign.