Fred Thompson’s opening shot in launching his campaign on the Jay Leno show was impressive, but now he has to forget the sound bites and the folksy advice and get down to brass tacks.
To begin with, he has to give the voters in the primary states a good reason to pick him over all the other Republican candidates. He has to tell them not only where he stands on the issues, but also what he plans to do about them.
It’s not enough to say he wants a better America – after all, everybody wants that. He has to spell out how he plans to get there.
What is he going to do to give us the smaller government candidates keep promising but never seem to provide?
What is he going to do to win the war in Iraq and the war against terrorism?
How does he plan to create a fairer income tax system that rewards hard work rather than punishes it?
He needs to answer those questions and be very specific in his answers.
The voters won’t want to know how he feels about issues – they can get all that touchy-feely stuff from the Democrats – they want to know exactly what he plans to do about them, and how he plans to do it.
He has to explain how he plans to deal with Capitol Hill, where the Democrats control both houses of Congress and aren’t exactly enthusiastic about the Republican way of doing things.
For that matter, what would he do while running for the presidency to help his party regain control of the Congress in the 2008 elections if he’s at the top of the ticket? While the media consider that impossible, the utter failure of the Democrats in Congress to do anything worthwhile gives the GOP a fighting chance.
In other words, what would he do to provide the coattails that could carry Congressional candidates into Washington with him?
Does he understand that he needs to reach out to Republican officeholders and candidates all across the nation and help them stay in office or win a seat in Congress in order to build the kind of organizational support he will need to win the various state primaries?
Does he understand that the national polls that show Giuliani ahead and Thompson running in second or third place are meaningless? What does count are what the locals and state polls show, because that’s where he’ll win or lose.
Does he realize how much hard, grueling, boots-on-the-ground campaigning in every nook and cranny of Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida he’ll have to do? Is he ready to develop calluses from shaking hands with tens of thousands of voters, and blisters on his feet from slogging through hot streets or getting his feet cold and wet plowing through snow banks?
The voters don’t want to know how he feels about America; they want to know how he feels about them. Does he see them merely as prospective votes, or as fellow Americans he really wants to serve and protect as their president?
Fred Thompson must realize that Republicans are looking for more than a presidential candidate – they’re hungry for a leader. The GOP hasn’t had a genuine, inspired leader since Newt Gingrich, and before that, my dad, Ronald Reagan.
Given that fact, how does Fred Thompson plan to fill that void? How does he plan to provide the leadership his party craves?
Fred, last night in the debate (which you passed up because you made the judgment that you would rather be watched by six million Jay Leno viewers rather than the mere one million who watched Fox), you allowed John McCain to resurface and tell everybody that a candidate is not elected to manage the presidency, but to be the nation’s leader.
You need to present your leadership vision to the voters in concrete terms. How do you plan to lead your party, and how do you plan to lead America?
Running for the presidency is a tall order. If you’re ready to do all these things in the months ahead, and do them with every ounce of energy and determination you can summon up, you may well be the leader this nation desperately needs.