by Melissa Ryan, Sun Jun 03, 2007 at 07:57:12 AM EDT
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Fred Thompson speak in person. He was the keynote speaker for the CT GOP's annual fundraising dinner and out of curiosity I got a press credential to cover the event. Thompson gave an early version of what will become his stump speech, trying out ideas, and one liners in front of an intimate and largely friendly audience.
The meme of the moment is that Republicans are looking for the next Regan. It's apparent that Fred Thompson would like to play that role. Stump speeches usually contain a laundry list of party values and Thompson made sure to mention taxes, terrorism, Iraq, the DC disconnect, and of course how Democrats want the enemy to win. He made no mention of abortion but since most Connecticut Republicans have pro-choice leanings that makes sense. Actually Thompson went out of his way to be non-offensive heaping praise on Chis Shays, Jodi Rell, and honorary Republican Joe Lieberman.
Seeing Thompson speak was like watching an actor play a candidate in a TV movie. Thompson plays himself well. He knows when to smile, when to sound ominous and, when to pause for laugh and applause lines. On the surface he looks and sounds presidential.
Beyond that who is Fred Thompson? I don't know and I don't think anyone else who saw the speech does either. What I enjoy about early stump speeches is that the audience generally sees more of who the candidate is and less of what their campaign wants them to be. That wasn't the case with Thompson. His speech offered plenty of polish but no sense of who he is as a person.
Considering how much buzz surrounds Thompson I'm left to wonder what Republicans are actually looking for in a candidate. Do they like Thompson for any reason beyond that the other candidates are so disappointing? Is it because like Regan he's an actor? I've been thinking on this for two weeks and I still don't understand the appeal.