Has the backlash begun? The is-he-or-isn’t-he candidate kabuki, the uncanny sense that he’s playing “the Fred Thompson role” here like he does in his movies, the anxiety that his stature might be little more than some displaced longing for Reagan among conservatives, like a man who loses the woman he loves and then gravitates towards women who look like her — it’s all starting to pile up.
Plus, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t consider a southern accent metaphysical proof of strength, intelligence, and authenticity.
One does not want to be unfair to Thompson, who may have hidden depths. But ask yourself this: If he did not look like a basset hound who had just read a sad story—say, “Old Yeller”—and if he did not talk like central casting’s idea of the god Sincerity, would anyone think he ought to be entrusted with the nation’s nuclear arsenal? He is an actor, and, as a Hollywood axiom says, the key to acting is sincerity—if you can fake that, you’ve got it made…
Reagan greatly communicated ideas and agendas. What Thompson enthusiasts are smitten by, so far, is his manner. His deep-fried Southernness bears a strong resemblance to the Southwesternness of, say, Midland, Texas, and the country may have had its fill of that flavor. Thompson, a longtime lawyer-lobbyist who will run as a Washington “outsider,” lives inside the Beltway, but outside Washington, in McLean, Va.
In their haste to anoint Thompson as another Reagan, the anointers are on the verge of endorsing what Reagan’s disdainers have long argued—that Reagan was 99 percent charm and 1 percent substance. In 1968, when Reagan was 57, one of his disparagers, Norman Mailer, wrote that Reagan radiated a “very young, boyish, maybe thirteen or fourteen, freckles, cowlick, I-tripped-on-my-sneaker-lace aw shucks variety of confusion.” This style of dismissal was common then, before Reagan spent another 14 successful years in demanding executive offices and before the publication of his letters and pre-presidential broadcasts. Since then, Reagan has undergone what Alistair Cooke, speaking of someone else, called “the four stages of the highbrow treatment: first, he was derided, then ignored, then accepted, then discovered.” So far, Thompson is 99 percent charm.
Emphasis on “so far,” I guess. Exit question: Why on earth would Fred consider entering the Iowa straw poll when Rudy and McCain have already dropped out? If he holds to his plan of not entering the race until July, that’ll leave him with only one month to cut into Mitt’s lead. Anything short of a very strong second place will be spun as a disappointment and used as evidence of the Thompson bubble bursting, particularly vis-a-vis Romney, whom he’s supposed to supplant as the social conservative candidate. And what an incentive now for Mitt to really pour it on and drive a stake through the Thompson campaign’s heart by winning big in Ames.
If he does jump in, we’re essentially looking at a social-con primary in August. Awesome.
Update: Mitt really needs to drive that stake.