Mike Allen calls the Thompson campaign so far a “comedy of errors,” and he recounts a number of missteps that have been written about on this blog and don’t need repeating. But despite these perceived bungles, Fred still seems to be doing well in polls, and I think it’s worth expanding on something Jim wrote last Friday about a possible disconnect between the Beltway and the rest of America.
Let us not forget that President Bush was elected despite many stumbles (such as the failed foreign leader pop quiz), a reputation for being lazy, a record as a failed businessman and poor communication skills. One of the reasons was a certain anti-elitist sentiment within the population that produced a backlash against those who criticized Bush. Words such as “misunderestimated” became terms of endearment. This sentiment was heavily concentrated with the Republican base, which remembers how the media also tried to portray Ronald Reagan as lazy and stupid.
The sense here in Washington is that after years of President Bush, there is a desire among Republicans to nominate an executive who is hard working and very competent–something that Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have emphasized in their campaigns. But perhaps we have it all wrong. There may be a lot of Republicans out there who still find Bush’s style charming. Instead, their problems with him have to do with spending, immigration, and other issues on which he has been at odds with the conservative base. Maybe what Republicans really desire is somebody stylistically similar to President Bush, who promises to be more reliably conservative on core issues.
I wonder if Fred Thompson is tapping into this desire, and the more Beltway pundits slam Thompson for being too slow or lazy or unprepared, the more actual conservative voters want to support him. I think there is a certain feeling that the media anointed McCain, Giuliani and Romney as the only choices, and tried to shove them down Republicans’ throats, and Thompson’s candidacy is a rebellion against this. He is a man who refuses to play by the so-called “rules” that Washington insiders have imposed on the nomination process–that somehow you have to run for president since you were in the high school choir, hold a certain number of campaign events a day, etc.
Obviously, right now, Thompson is enjoying a post-announcement bump, and maybe his numbers will drop over the next month or so. But if they hold steady or rise, I think Beltway pundits will have to reevaluate how they are judging his candidacy.