Half as nasty and twice as fun as that New Statesman sneer I posted in headlines the other day but the gist is the same, i.e., he’s a lightweight with little to recommend him except personal charm and a keen feel for the role conservatives want him to play. Money:

After getting the high sign from Thompson, Ingram began talking up a Thompson candidacy on Capitol Hill, where Ingram now works as Lamar Alexander’s chief of staff. “I was at the Capitol Hill Club at Bill Hecht’s table,” recalls Ingram, name-dropping the presence of a prominent Republican lobbyist. “Congressmen and lobbyists were coming up to me, and they were all really excited. It’s the closest thing to a presidential draft in my lifetime,” Ingram insists. I asked him whether the well-heeled well-wishers were familiar with Thompson from his Senate days. He hemmed and hawed a bit. “Well no, they mostly know him more from Law & Order than the Senate, but Fred’s not acting on the show. That’s exactly the way Fred was in his Senate office.”…

Thompson’s strongest card, his backers say, is his Hollywood-fueled image of strength. “People think that with presidential candidates, you need a lot of information about them,” says Tony Fabrizio, a GOP pollster not affiliated with any of the presidential campaigns. “That’s wrong. It’s all about the concept. He has the Schwarzenegger Factor. Just like it’s impossible to make Schwarzenegger look weak because people see him as the Terminator, voters see Fred as the tough-talking D.A. or the captain in Hunt for Red October. It’s powerful.”

Take advantage of the slow news day to gobble it up, keeping an eye out for the trip to the gun store and the obligatory quasi-zoological conservatives-in-their-natural habitat vignette at the end, where Fred’s laughter at one of Larry the Cable Guy’s fart jokes prompts a sad reflection on how voters prefer likeability to the rich substantive appeal of, oh, say, a Barack Obama. Exit question designed to make you read the piece: To whom did Fred once write, “The speech probably would not have seemed so long to some of us if you hadn’t been putting the wood to us so effectively”?

Update: Considering he’s already ahead in some national polls, I’ve got believe this is less a case of punishing his acting CM than simply making room for an old Washington hand who can run the campaign better.