After six months of political strip tease, Fred (né Freddie) Dalton Thompson, the ex-lawyer-lobbyist-senator-actor from Tennessee, finally launched his official campaign for President this week from the safety of Jay Leno's Tonight Show couch, passing up the Republican candidate debate in New Hampshire and ducking the questions of reporters. But there was no escaping the gaze of those ornery bloggers, who were quick to pick at his style, his age, his record, and his political judgment.
"The guy definitely knows how to connect with the camera," Todd Beeton writes at MyDD about Thompson’s webcast announcing his candidacy, "but man, what is up with the whole head bobbing thing?"
Taking note of comparisons between Thompson and Ronald Reagan, Pieter Dorsman of the Moderate Blog Network argues that "Fred is no Gipper. The latter became a conservative through a lifelong political journey in which direct experience — notably as a union leader — helped frame his views in such a way that they formed a solid platform for a visionary campaign in a time when the electorate wanted change. … That combined with the quality of being an outsider helped propel Reagan into Washington. None of these qualities are part of the package offered by the former Senator and lobbyist from Tennessee. … And man does Thompson look old and worn at 65. In comparison Reagan looked boyish when he was first elected president at age 69."
Somewhere John McCain must be smiling.
Thompson's statement that he can't remember the details of President Bush's Social Security privatization plan leads liberal blogger Ezra Klein to the age theme, too:
"Shouldn't the aging Thompson choose something a bit less risky than 'I can't remember' as an excuse to avoid talking about policy? 2005, after all, was only two years ago. And Fred, you may not remember whether you support Social Security privatization, but the internets do. The answer is yes."
Similarly on the right, Marc Ambinder at TheAtlantic.com takes issue with Thompson's claim to be "a consistent supporter of conservative immigration proposals," noting his Senate votes against limiting public services to illegal aliens and creating an employer verification system to filter out undocumented workers.
But Thompson's most serious first-week problem may be his campaign's affronts to the practiced president-pickers of Iowa and New Hampshire. Jay Wagner of Iowa Independent catches Karen Hanretty, Thompson's deputy communications director, dissing Iowa's cherished ethanol subsidies and its untoward influence on national policy: "Perhaps it's time to put America first and make Iowa go last," she recently wrote.
Writing from New Hampshire, Monday Morning Clacker at Green Mountain Politics hits the ceiling over spokesman Todd Harris' explanation that Thompson chose Jay Leno over the New Hampshire debate because it will let him reach "everyday normal Americans who don't live in the 202 [Washington, D.C.] area code." "Does Todd Harris think that New Hampshire voters aren't going to watch a New Hampshire debate?" he asks. "Or is he lumping Granite State voters into the same crowd as the 202 beltway crew?"
Memo to Team Thompson: Late night TV may be hip, the Internet may be trendy, but all politics is still local. Especially in Iowa and New Hampshire.