I saw Fred speak for the first time on the trail on Friday and was underwhelmed. When I wrote that I was underwhelmed, I was accused of gratuitous Fred-bashing by some, but I’m rooting for the guy tonight.
What can he do to ward off the underperformance?
There’s a name for a folksy, Southern candidate who radiates malaise. It’s Jimmy Carter. Don’t be that guy!
Fred’s ultra-laid-back speaking style could be an asset. He has the personality to be cool under fire and parry opponents’ attacks with a wry raise of the eyebrow and a dry joke. Too often, however, during the campaign “relaxed” has ventured into “bored” territory.
Fred should look for a couple of opportunities to interject tonight, take issue with an opponent’s characterization, and speak beyond his allotted time if he’s on a roll. Any of them—better yet, all of them—would go a long way to showing he truly cares about the issues and the presidency.
Remember, optimism always wins!
It’s an oft-quoted fact of American presidential politics that the optimistic candidate always wins. That little nugget comes from a study by University of Pennsylvania psychologists that found that Americans voted for the most optimistic candidate in both primaries and general elections from 1948 to 1988, with only one exception.
I saw both Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani address a crowd of fiscal conservative activists in Washington Friday. Rudy got rave reviews while the much-anticipated Fred speech—everyone was rushing to the ballroom to hear him—fell a little flat.
Part of the reason, undoubtedly, is that Rudy telegraphed inspiration while Fred telegraphed exasperation. Fred’s head-shaking at the federal government’s excess and the failures of Republican leadership is understandable. In fact, his attitude is a perfect reflection of the morale of the Republican base, but I have a feeling the base is a little uncomfortable seeing that reflection held up in front of it.
When the American people are discouraged, they like encouragement from candidates, not commiseration. The contrast on Friday was that Rudy knew how to communicate his exasperation by poking fun at the federal government’s absurdity. He did it with a smile on his face and a promise to make things better. Fred could stand to add a little of that New York sunshine to his Smoky Mountain act.
When I first heard Fred Thompson was considering getting into the race, I was looking forward to having a guy so self-assured on our side. He seemed to have a Cheney-esque toughness about him, the kind of supreme confidence that withers doe-eyed vice-presidential candidates from North Carolina with a single gruff word.
Thompson’s performance on the trail has shown him to be more gaffe-prone than I had expected, so I’m hoping a prepared performance tonight could restore my confidence in his confidence. When he’s on the trail, Fred has been vague about policy plans—Friday, he touted a plan to get a bunch of smart people together and solve problems—but a few specifics would help tonight. An entire debate without any is too reminiscent of John Kerry’s famous “I have a plan, have you heard about my plan, let me talk about my plan” debate performance of 2004.
The two-hour debate is today at 4 p.m. on CNBC. It will be replayed at 9 p.m. on MSNBC. Here’s hoping by the end, we can say, “Fred Thompson don’t do a debate, son, without a plan.”