Yesterday I watched a good chunk of the Republican debate with about thirty-five FredHeads at the North End Diner in
Thompson strode in and owned the room. He didn’t hold his own or get by unscathed, he owned it. This is a Thompson who, had he been released earlier would almost certainly be in a much better position to win the nomination than he is today: Charismatic, funny (“I think I’m going to have a cup of ethanol when I get home”), on message and bristling with enough energy to make his in-tow younger wife look like the one struggling to keep up. “We’re going to enjoy ourselves, have some fun, and talk about things that are important to the future of this country,” he said.
Maybe it was the debate. Thompson snickered with obvious relish as he reminded the crowd (who didn’t need reminding) how he had made clear to the debate moderator he wasn’t going to raise his hand “like a trained monkey reaching for a peanut,” adding about the other candidates, “It turns out you show some leadership and other people follow.” He hammered away on issues of consistency with near-as much fervency as a Jennifer Rubin blog post on Romney, labeling himself a “strong, consistent conservative” without any “bridge to be made or alteration to be had” to close the deal with the conservative base. (This is somewhat open to debate, needless to say.) “Where I stand today doesn’t depend on where I’m standing,” he said, briefly invoking Goldwater after the man who introduced him waved a Goldwater for President bumper sticker and told the crowd Thompson had spent time in college working to get the Arizona Senator elected. (Barry Goldwater’s son, incidentally, has recently endorsed Ron Paul.)
The candidate also tried to put a little distance between himself and his acting career. “Law & Order might have gotten a lot more publicity,” he said, but he’d fielded calls from Condi Rice looking for foreign policy advice during that time period as well. He took a tough question from a activist doctor about a boy who died from diabetes-related trauma, striking a good balance between compassion and defending the free-market approach to healthcare such question are typically designed to malign. Thompson also commiserated with politics-weary Iowans, even as he told them he was en route to a series of fundraisers. “I know your greatest wish for Christmas is to see more politicians on television,” he joked. And then signed an autograph for a little girl. Um, aww.
Finally, on his way out the door, Thompson warned the few reporters covering the event not to discount him or abandon his campaign for other candidates. “You watch, in a couple weeks we’re going to be in pretty good shape,” he said. “Be there or be square, ‘cause we’re going to be everywhere.” As much as it flies in the face of what things look like on the ground here now, the contention seemed completely believable coming out of Thompson’s mouth. Perhaps he’s regained his politician footing. Whether it’s already too late is an open question, of course, but Thompson seems to have turned a corner as far as his personal attitude towards the campaign.
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