Jonah Goldberg

Similarly, Thompson seems to be what Republicans are yearning for. But there's a key distinction. Wes Clark was a candidate for Democrats who wanted to beat Bush. Thompson's appeal is based partly on a desire for victory, but there's also a desire to get beyond Bush.

First and foremost, Thompson's articulateness can't be underestimated. He shares with Ronald Reagan - another actor-politician - an ability to communicate ideas in folksy, almost conversational ways without losing important nuance or meaning.

Most Republicans won't admit it, but Bush's trouble articulating his views - compounded by a terrible communications operation (save for standout Press Secretary Tony Snow) - is a major irritation on the right. There's a reason that IMAO's No. 1 "Fred Thompson Fact" is "Fred Thompson has on multiple occasions pronounced 'nuclear' correctly."

Bush's sloppy speaking style only serves to bolster the perception of his incompetence. That's why the least discussed but most important theme in the Republican primaries is competence. McCain, Giuliani and Romney are all running as the competence candidates (as would Gingrich, if he jumped in).

And Fred Thompson just seems so darn competent. Whether he's the ideal president or just plays one on TV remains to be seen. He's certainly typecast himself as the cocksure, wise, hands-on type in almost every movie role he's had and as the district attorney on "Law & Order."

There are other important differences between Clark and Thompson. As a candidate, Clark was a dud. He couldn't explain the necessary flip-flops and contortions required to fit his record with the demands of the Democratic Party's base, and the more he talked, the less likable and presidential he seemed. Thompson's record isn't a perfect fit for the GOP base either, but Thompson, unlike Clark, is a very capable politician who won his senate seat by the largest margin in Tennessee history. And the more he talks, the more likable and presidential he appears.

Thompson's approval ratings may never be higher than on the day before he announces. We don't know the man very well, but we know the character. And as long as he stays in character, it's unlikely his ratings will drop anytime soon.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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