Fred Thompson and the GOP Ideas Primary

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In today’s Wall Street Journal, columnist Kimberley Strassel points to an interesting paradox. Fred Thompson has begun putting forward some ideas that might actually gain some traction for his candidacy with the Republican base, were it not for a campaign that, as she puts it, “has been as fizzy as day-old cherry Coke.”:

This week’s tax proposal was decidedly fresh, going beyond the run-of-the-mill candidate promise to extend the Bush tax cuts, and calling for the end of the death tax and the AMT, a cut in the corporate tax rate and even a voluntary flat tax. According to a campaign source, in upcoming weeks Mr. Thompson will unveil plans to reduce federal spending by limiting nondefense growth to inflation, earmark reform, and a one-year freeze on the hiring of non-essential civilian workers and contractors.

There’s plenty here to get conservative voters and bloggers and pundits engaged in some healthy, even lively, debate. That is, if they’d heard any of this. Most haven’t, and for that Mr. Thompson has mostly himself to blame.

While it isn’t clear who set the “rules” for this manic election, they’re set. Voters may only pay attention at the end, but having an infrastructure to make sure those voters hear you in the final months is the work of years. By sitting back, Mr. Thompson allowed his rivals to scoop up the well-connected policy wonks, committed state activists and aggressive fund-raisers that oil a campaign. His own refusal to “do” the media and public-event circus has muzzled his message, as the failure of his tax-plan announcement shows.


The campaign simply didn’t have the stuff to pull it off. Worse, its own leader refused to do what is expected. A look at Mr. Thompson’s schedule revealed not a single public appearance for three days after the release, right up to Wednesday’s highly uninformative CNN debate.

She also offers this indictment of the GOP field:

That’s made the race about biography, in particular on issues like national security and immigration, where Republicans hope a Hillary Clinton will be weak. Mr. Giuliani’s campaign is about his past as a New York tough guy who can face down terrorists. Mr. Romney’s, his past as an MBA who can manage our border. Mr. McCain’s, his past as a Vietnam vet who recognized the problems in Iraq. There’s no future in this present, and Mr. Thompson’s lackluster delivery of his own agenda has allowed the front-runners to continue avoiding the big debates.