Mary Katharine Ham

“Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.” -- Adm. Painter, "The Hunt for Red October"

But does Fred Thompson do a debate without one?

Fred’s long-awaited debate debut happens tonight, and a fledgling campaign plagued by hype and the failure to live up to it will find itself center-stage, under the microscope, and a thousand other clichés. Bottom line? We’re watching you, Fred.

The other Republican candidates have had the advantage of participating in five debates before tonight’s. Their gaffes, such as they’ve been, have been spread out over months. Giuliani’s surprisingly unclear abortion answers have drifted away and made way for a more coherent stance. Mitt Romney’s solid performance over several debates bolstered him when he came under serious fire, sometimes flinching, during the last one. And, McCain, though not a front-runner for many Republicans, is undeniably so experienced on the debate stage that he needn’t worry about gaffes.

Fred, as a result, will remain the untested spectacle of this debate, the New Guy standing between Romney and Rudy. The build-up has been so long and expectations so high that the chances of Fred underperforming are perhaps unfairly inflated. But that’s the way he chose to do this. Perhaps he knows something we don’t.

He’s reportedly held between seven and nine practice debates at his campaign headquarters over the past two weeks.

And, Fred’s campaign is doing its best to lower the gargantuan expectations:

''We think that we'll hold our own, but obviously every other candidate on the stage has been going to these debates all year long. They've already gone through their preseason. This is our first scrimmage,'' said Todd Harris, a Thompson spokesman. ''The most important thing for us is for Fred's message and answers to connect with Republican voters, and that's been our focus.''

Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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