Fred On Fire in South Carolina

Wendell Goler: Gentlemen, if we can, let’s move on.

In his second inaugural, President Bush made clear that this country would no longer trade civility for democracy, yet relations with Pakistan seem to test that.

Senator Thompson, would your administration continue to back Pakistani President Musharraf despite polls that show two-thirds of the Pakistani people want him to resign immediately?|

Sen. Fred Thompson: Oh, my goodness, go against the poll?
–Fox News Republican Presidential Debate, January 11, 2008

In a debate format that usually sets the stage for Gov. Mike Huckabee to deliver the biggest laugh line, Fred Thompson was funny and feisty and edgy last Friday. But his answer was honest, and honestly funny.

Thompson was fighting the polls even before he got in the race for president. First, he was the unannounced winner that we breathlessly waited to get into the race. He is a real conservative on every front and a commanding presence. After much too much waiting, Fred Thompson got into the race. He immediately began falling short of media-created expectations, and the sharks began to circle.

Since the talking heads have been right about everything else in the election, Thompson ought to just close up shop and go home to Tennessee, right?. Since Iowa, if you only listened to the reporting on the Thompson campaign, you would think this guy is a few cards short of a deck for even going on another day. But what if the pundits and pollsters are wrong?

For my entire voting life, there have been primaries and pollsters, but there was a time when you talked to your friends and neighbors and you decided for yourself who would get your vote. My parents wouldn’t even tell anyone else or each other who they were voting for in presidential elections because they believed it was a secret ballot for a reason and my mom never wanted my dad to know she didn’t vote the same way he did.

More than once, pundits or pollsters have said, “Fred just doesn’t have the fire in his belly,” or “have you noticed in debates Fred runs out of things to say before his time has run out?” Perish the thought; a candidate should actually answer a question without qualifiers and get to the point. I am tired of hearing candidates go on for three minutes when they’ve been asked a simple question requiring a “yes or no” answer.

The mainstream media and some cable outlets don’t like Fred. Dick Morris said before Thompson announced that he wouldn’t pass muster because when people realize that he’s not that guy on “Law and Order,” they won’t like him. In Iowa on Caucus Day, George Stephanopoulos and his colleagues across the airwaves counted Fred out. They said that he’d be out that night. Instead of being out, he “got a ticket to the next dance.”

New Hampshire was disappointing but Fred’s strength has always been in the South and he’s dancing on to South Carolina. Let’s be honest here: all the candidates are walking on rolling logs right now, trying to stay afloat. This contest has become a race for delegates and may not be determined before “Super-Duper” Tuesday on February 5.

And let’s not forget that this process is less than two weeks old. Many of us in the media didn’t have our usual time off at the end of the year so it just seems like forever. With the delegate counts where they are and the states that are coming up, it is still anybody’s game.

In every Republican debate the candidates have been vying for the mantle of Ronald Reagan comes up and South Carolina was no different. It’s funny; you never hear the Democrats asked how they will carry on the mantle of FDR, JFK, LBJ, “Jummy,” or “Slick Willie.” In this debate, the panel was asked about Ed Rollins statement that the Reagan coalition was dead. Fred Thompson hit the nail on the head on Reagan and on the concerns that conservatives have about front-runner, Mike Huckabee when he said:

“You asked a minute or a minute-and-a-half question of these gentlemen on the Reagan revolution. Could I address that? It’s an important issue, because I think it demonstrates what we’re about here today. I think that Governor Huckabee’s campaign manager said it accurately in terms of what they believe. They believe that it is over. This is a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party and its future. On the one hand, you have the Reagan revolution. You have the Reagan coalition of limited government and strong national security. On the other hand, you have the direction that Governor Huckabee would take us in. He would be a Christian leader, but he would also bring about liberal economic policies, liberal foreign policies. He believes we have an arrogant foreign policy and the tradition of, blame America first. He believes that Guantanamo should be closed down and those enemy combatants brought here to the United States to find their way into the court system eventually. He believes in taxpayer-funded programs for illegals, as he did in Arkansas. He has the endorsement of the National Education Association, and the NEA said it was because of his opposition to vouchers. He said he would sign a bill that would ban smoking nationwide. So much for federalism. So much for states’ rights. So much for individual rights. That’s not the model of the Reagan coalition, that’s the model of the Democratic Party.”

That is Fred Thompson’s message to every Republican primary voter. The Reagan Coalition is not dead, but it is in need of a new leader. The voters are jaded by a Republican Congress who squandered the majority and by an Evangelical President they thought was a Reagan conservative. They are discouraged but they might find what they are looking for in Fred Thompson.

Ronald Reagan said once, “No greater challenge faces our society today than ensuring that each one of us can maintain his dignity and his identity in an increasingly complex, centralized society. Extreme taxation, excessive controls, oppressive government competition with business, galloping inflation, frustrated minorities and forgotten Americans are not the products of free enterprise. They are the residue of centralized bureaucracy, of government by a self-anointed elite.” Ronald Reagan was right, but the self-anointed elite today is the media machine that tells us what to think and who to pick and when we don’t do what they want, they wonder how we could be so stupid.