Editorial by John Ziegler

What We Should Learn From Fred's Flameout

1/22/2008

What We Should Learn From Fred's Flameout

(On a personal note, this is a sad day for me. I truly believe that Fred Thompson was by far the best person running for President to lead us into the future and I think it is a very sad testament to how much trouble we are in that he didn't even get that close to winning. I sincerely hope that if John McCain is the Republican nominee that he sees the great wisdom in choosing his good friend Fred as his VP. Unfortunately, because that make far too much sense, it will probably never happen.)

The first major casualty of the 2008 Republican Presidential wars is Fred Thompson and much can and should be learned from his failed bid.

On the surface, never in modern national politics has there been a more befuddling malfunction than that of the Thompson campaign. How did a man who came into the race with such fanfare and high expectations, never had a significant stumble, and was the only one of the top tier candidates that did not have to change, or apologize for, a past position, not even make it to super Tuesday? Like most mysteries, the explanation is multifaceted. In this case, the lessons of this seemingly inexplicable flameout are as well.

Expectations Are Almost Everything

Many once touted Thompson (partially because of his career as an actor) as the only proper heir to the Reagan legacy. While this created enormous hype and anticipation, it also produced expectations that were totally unrealistic. Even though Fred was doing more than fine in the national polls for most the campaign, because he started off with such high numbers it appeared that he was tanking. Meanwhile, candidates like Mike Huckabee had largely the same amount of support but were perceived as surging. Because there will never be another Ronald Reagan (a reality conservatives should accept immediately), the 'Next Reagan' mantle ended up being an anchor hung from the neck of the Thompson campaign.

The Reagan Revolution is Dead

Based strictly on the issues, if the Reagan Revolution was still alive, Fred Thompson's campaign could not possibly have self destructed, even if it had deserved to (which the facts show, it did not). Thompson was the only candidate who could plausibly claim to fit the Reagan mold and yet it got him almost nowhere. One of the great ironies of the Thompson campaign is that Fred, the actor, was the only Republican who didn't have to actually pretend he was a conservative, and yet he still finished behind all the performers. The Republican coalition of anti-tax, strong defense, pro-life conservatives is clearly fractured, confused, intimidated, and quickly dying out.

Issues, Substance, Consistency and Truth-telling don't Really Help

After the Thompson demise, it appears that much of our political conventional wisdom is based on mythology and wishful thinking. If issues, substance, consistency and truth-telling mattered nearly as much as we would like to believe, then Fred Thompson would have run away with the Republican nomination. Experts of many political stripes lauded his comprehensive plans to tackle illegal immigration and social security and for his willingness to take on tough issues in a serious and honest fashion without pandering for political gain. But all that seemed to matter was that he appeared tired and didn't have Mitt Romney's hair.

Illegal Immigration Is Overrated As a Political Issue

When I was a talk show host at a KFI, which is known for its VERY tough (and I believe largely contrived) stance against illegal immigration, I often scoffed at those who claim this to be the defining political issue of our time. If that is the case, why is it that every single one of the Republican candidates with strong records against illegal immigration (Thompson, Hunter and Tancredo) have imploded, while most of the weakest candidates have (Huckabee, McCain, Giuliani) have survived and even flourished' The apparent reality is that the issue is a VERY strong motivator for a VERY small number of voters.

The News Media Really Do Control the Game

Once the news media labeled Fred Thompson as 'lazy,' that was almost all that anyone would ever report about his campaign. Because Thompson seemed not to place his entire sense of self worth on becoming President, he was deemed to be somehow unworthy, even though many of our best Presidents never would have been elected if that had always been the standard. We have now reached the point where the political system is so broken, our media so superficial, and our collective attention span so short (all of which is, of course, connected), that we are literally only able to absorb one phrase about each candidate in a multi-candidate race. When that became 'tired and lazy' (even with no real evidence to back the charge up) for Fred Thompson, his candidacy was essentially over. I am sure that our Founding Fathers would be so very proud.

Conservative Radio Talk Show Hosts Have No Significant Influence

It is astonishing that the two biggest conservative talk show hosts in the country (Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity) have been allowed to get away with expressing no opinion on the most important issue that their respective programs will ever deal with: who should be the man to take on Hillary Clinton. Their contrived and contorted rationalizations for why they will not endorse a candidate in a Presidential primary don't even pass the laugh test (especially since Limbaugh broke his 'rule' in 2000 to try and stop John McCain). The reality is that they won't endorse because they are afraid of being revealed as emperors with no clothes; hosts with little or no real influence over even the conservative base, and because they are fearful of backing the wrong horse and losing favor with whoever emerges. It was very obvious that both Limbaugh and Hannity thought that Thompson was the best man for the job, but neither had the guts to actually say that in a way that could have mattered. Perhaps that makes them perfect spokespeople for the Republican Party because it is difficult to tell what, if anything, they truly stand for anymore.

The conservative movement (if there still is one) blew a golden opportunity by panning the Fred Thompson candidacy. Even if the lessons of that loss are eventually learned, it is doubtful it will ever fully recover.

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