I spoke with two associates of Fred Thompson, asking their assessment of the Politico story that “Thompson acknowledges his coming-out speech in California last weekend didn’t live up to expectations” and that he is “planning a tighter and sharper message dubbed ‘Stump Speech 2.0’ for a Saturday night event to be attended by key conservative leaders.”
Both suggested that no one should expect an overhaul.
Thompson Associate One disagreed with the buzz that the former Tennessee senator had underperformed last week. “The audience response was great,” TA1 said. “Expectations were absurdly high, the program was way too long and still, Fred managed to hold the audience’s attention from beginning to end.”
He noted that Thompson’s address was not intended to be a “campaign” speech, but a conversation starter with a potential group of supporters. “Fred gave them a lot to think about. At the end of the day, there was no lack of enthusiasm for his potential candidacy – proven by the enthusiasm from several attendees who pledged to raise an enormous amount of money – as in millions – should Fred get into the race.”
Thompson Associate Two also contended the “went rather well, crowd reaction was warm and most lines hit from a down-home, non-overcaffeinated neighborly pol.”
This fan of Fred made the case that “most around Thompson would rather be him than any other candidate, because he’s close[r] to his natural pitch than most others in the race already, who sound off-key, too sharp.”
TA2 contended that in his 1994 Senate run, Thompson demonstrated the ability to “find a groove and stick with it, both to excite voters and bring them to his side–and that will unfold again as he speaks at these upcoming events, which will feature a wide range of audiences.”
This associate urged me to look at the reaction to then-Gov. George W. Bush’s first major policy address, a speech entitled “The Duty of Hope” (!). The comparison to the early reviews of Bush is worthwhile.
Compare columnist Robert Novak’s disappointment with Fred Thompson…
…a performance that was a letdown for the packed audience of conservative Republicans.
“It was not Reaganesque.” “No red meat.” “Too low key.” That was the preponderant reaction I heard to Thompson’s half-hour presentation (leavened by a few favorable comments, mostly by women, that he was more “statesmanlike” and “presidential” than the announced candidates). Lincoln Club members, like many conservative Republicans, have been unimpressed by the existing field of Republican hopefuls and envisioned Thompson as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. They did not get it Friday night.
…to Novak’s reaction to Bush’s first major speech as a candidate:
Why did Bush last week cite Robert H. Bork as the horrible example of Republican negativism? Was it to separate himself from Judge Bork and social conservatives? Or was it just plain incompetence? Almost surely, the latter was the case…
Republicans opposing Bush for president have rolled their eyes… the incident exposes flaws in the rookie candidate and his organization.
The heart of Bush’s speech proposed innovative, conservative school reforms crafted by Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, but contained three rhetorical flourishes decrying negative conservatism – a familiar theme of the governor. The impact of the speech was heightened because it followed, by a few days, an unconnected furor over Bush describing a congressional Republican accounting gimmick as balancing the budget “on the backs of the poor” (though the New York presentation was written weeks earlier).
The Thompson speech reads well, and it’s hard to imagine Fred Thompson, of all people, lousing up the delivery. The reaction might say more about the expectations of an ideal that conservatives have in their heads than the man behind the lectern at the event last weekend.