Jonah Goldberg

Mitt Romney, who's been running since dinosaurs ruled the Earth, thinks so, though he is more threatened by Thompson than his better-known rivals are. In response, Romney is running ads touting his "energy" and is whispering through surrogates that Thompson's lethargy is his Achilles' heel.

I'm not so sure. The laziness charge was always an inside-baseball criticism among politicos. Thompson doesn't have a lazy man's resume. Moreover, he can easily rebut the charge by simply reminding primary voters "that's what they said about Reagan."

And, like Reagan, Thompson can use his personality to his advantage. His charm stems from his persona as the anti-candidate. Like his Arthur Branch character on NBC's sagging "Law and Order," Thompson's appeal is that he doesn't say 10 words when eight will do (as opposed to, say, Sen. Joe Biden, who says 38,000 words when eight will do).

Romney wants to bring the slide rules and PowerPoint projectors of Wall Street to the White House. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani wants to re-create his whirlwind transformation of the "ungovernable city" on a national stage. And John McCain, at least rhetorically, promises to bring Teddy Rooseveltian vigor to the White House.

Meanwhile Thompson seems content to sit on his porch whittling a piece of wood with his pocketknife while offering pearls of wisdom out of an old Bartles & Jaymes commercial. It's all a bit hokey and canned, to be sure. But if Thompson's back-to-basics rhetoric proves to be more than schmaltz, it could be very popular with conservatives.

Activism and energy in the Oval Office have not always been conservative priorities. Applying the best practices of the private sector to government, as Romney wants to do, is certainly one kind of reform. But trimming the responsibilities of government to a few important and constitutional functions would also constitute real reform. Right now, the only bandwagon for a message even remotely like that is the Ron Paul campaign, and unfortunately, that bandwagon has no brakes. It long ago barreled past conservatism to swampy territory outside the borders of common sense.

Thompson could be different. While all the other candidates have a "can-do" personality, Thompson has a "won't-do" personality. And that's something many of us think has long been missing from the White House.


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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