Fred Thompson: The Phantom of the Debate

A phantom stood behind an invisible podium in the New Hampshire Republican debates last night. But unlike the first two debates, no one tried to pretend former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson wasn’t a key player in the 2008 presidential race. It was another Thompson who introduced Fred to the audience by saying he was, “Thompson — Tommy — not the other one.”

Some say the stalling to officially announce a candidacy could be crippling to fundraising while others insist it is downright smart. Nevertheless, the silence was a golden emphasis of Fred Thompson’s near-prominence in the race last night.

He’s been embraced in word by many conservatives who feel alienated by the current selection of blue-tinted Republican candidates, but is he all that they dare to hope for? Thompson has been painted the knight in shining armor, riding in to save the Republican party, but the hype could be watered down quickly if the candidate fails to live up to what may be highly unrealistic expectations.

In a post-debate interview on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes,” the former Tennessee senator refused to reveal when he will officially announce. The anticipation is part of a charming ploy but that hasn’t stopped naysayers from rummaging through his closet. The most recent charge is laziness. Newsweek’s latest issue devotes a segment to this, alleging that “the criticism seems fed by Thompson’s time in the Senate, where he maintained a less rigorous schedule than his colleagues and was known to duck out of late-night debates.”

But Thompson negates these charges with confident rebuttals that affirm his disdain for political theatrics. On “H & C” he said, “We can’t sit back and see people…talking their sound bytes and…going over…lists to get applause lines.”

When Sean Hannity brought up the fact that he had never previously desired a run for the presidency, Thompson was matter-of-fact. “I never thought the price was worth paying at the time — we were in an era of compassionate conservatism,” he said. “Times are different [now], challenges are different, I’m different. Times have to fit the man, and the man has to fit the times.”

In a debate segment that might have been titled, “Jabbing Your Rivals,” —  Thompson’s name bloomed. Former Wischonsin Gov. Tommy Thompson demonstrated irritation that the non-candidate is receiving — most likely — more political talk time than himself, but he was gratuitous in his criticism. “Anyone with a Thompson name should get involved,” said Tommy Thompson. “It’s a great name and it will help Republican party to get in…but if your talkin’ about conservatism…talkin’ about a reliable conservative, it is THIS Thompson.”

Most candidates refrained from commentary on Fred Thompson but the frontrunners must be wary of his looming presence just outside their circle of comfortable leads.

But this is a presidential race like none in history, as the blogosphere has taken over the political arena. Politicians have signed onto blogs, blogger conference calls and created immaculate web sites with interactive features to keep up with the minute-to-minute changes of a 24-hour news cycle that has been severely condensed.

“He’s got something else, he is considered…running as a genuine outsider,” said Fox News contributor Pat Cadell after Thompson’s departure on “H&C.” “The problem with this [presidential] campaign…[is that] American people are very much anti-Washington and you’ve had no one running from outside and he’s doing that…not campaigning so much — interesting approach.”

Fred Thompson is building momentum through a constituent connection in a new way. He writes frequent columns on and blogs regularly at RedState, where he hosts a large following of supporters. In the May 29 issue of The Weekly Standard, Stephen F. Hayes wrote, “Fred Thompson is running for the Republican presidential nomination.”

This seems an inevitable truth. Though he wasn’t on the stage last night, his answers to the same questions following it were solid. Thompson’s strong “yes” to supporting pre-emption if Iran is found to host nuclear weapons and his undeniable support of a pardon for Scooter Libby (were it his choice), rang out powerfully.

Republican/libertarian Congressman Ron Paul (Tex.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), who cooked up wordy sentences but failed to communicate much of anything substantial, should not be invited to the next debate. Fred Thompson’s notoriety and ability to reel in stocks of conservative voters trumps the hopeless campaigns of these two and probably several others.

If nominated, Thompson could run a strong campaign against the Democratic nominee. He wants to secure the borders, lower taxes, fund the troops, change social security and welfare and communicate the reality of today’s global War on Terror to the American people. Those are a real conservative’s issues and Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.), former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. McCain (Ariz.) each lack in some area where Thompson shines.

As for the Democrats, well, the American people recognize the War on Terror as more than the “bumper sticker” former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) says it is. The majority want a President who will protect them first and the Democrat candidates don’t seem to either see that or comprehend how to accomplish it.

“It baffles me that we are facing bankruptcy of nation and the global threat we are and [Democrats] think that,  by not being George W. Bush, they can win this next election,” Thompson told Hannity regarding the Sunday night debate. “They think all they have to do is do this sort of thing and it will fall into their lap — and if we don’t do things better and smarter, it will fall into their lap.”

With a year and a half left before that fateful November day, debates will ensue like those irritating ice skating competitions always clogging up the TV. But unless something odd happens soon, next time Fred Thompson will be there to show off his best triple axle.