It's the end of summer, Labor Day in the year before the Presidential election, and that means the campaigns kick off in earnest.
Many questions remain unanswered: Can Hillary hold on to a lead that appears insurmountable nationwide, yet is so slim (or worse) in key early states that she could be knocked out by early March? Can John finally get some media recognition (it might have helped if you and Elizabeth hadn't been so ham-fisted early on, John)? Can Barack finally put away the question "Is he black enough?"
And finally...can Fred run?
The GOP race is far more interesting than the Democratic race at this point, in my opinion. The Democrats know the players, and since a late entrance by Al Gore is nearly impossible at this point, we can pretty much sit back and let them hammer out policy positions (although there is an interesting wrinkle ahead for Barack Obama...and a mystery to be solved.)
The GOP, though...with McCain falling out of the race (perhaps as early as next month), the front runners are two RINOs who are desperately trying to shore up the right wing vote without actually taking stands on any issues of substance, like Iraq. As the field stands right now, many conservatives would rather stay home on primary day than vote for either Giuliani or Romney.
Ah....but then there's Fred Thompson. The Economist has an interesting article which points out his strengths and flaws:
Some criticisms of Mr Thompson seem well-founded. He has been running a campaign in all but name—which is illegal, since campaigns require adherence to federal rules, like financial disclosure. This was tolerated, for a while, especially by Republicans who didn’t want to look peevish by attacking him over a technicality. But a Democratic activist has given the proto-candidate a shove by filing a complaint, which Mr Thompson has several weeks to answer. He will almost certainly have entered the race formally by then.In other words, Thompson will out-redneck Rudy and Romney as a strategy to win the nomination, a tough path considering his own checkered stances on issues like abortion while a Washington lobbyist.
The pseudo-campaign has also been chaotic, with a heavy turnover of staff and rumours of mismanagement by Mr Thompson’s wife. Political junkies who follow the inside business of politics saw a boss too distracted or lazy to bring order to his team. Accusations of a shoddy work ethic in his senate days (1995-2003) also resurfaced.
But Mr Thompson has begun to answer these criticisms. He claimed recently that he was merely waiting until the traditional coming-out period for politicians. And he points to the polls—usually showing him in second place on the Republican side, behind Mr Giuliani—as evidence that he is doing pretty well among ordinary people whatever the campaign experts think. Some see a potential “rope-a-dope” strategy, in which Mr Thompson leans back while his rivals punch themselves out.
Indeed one rival, Mr McCain, has flagged so heavily in recent months—both in campaign finance and in the polls—that many have predicted his exit from the campaign. It would take a minor miracle for him to recover. And this is good news for Mr Thompson: he would then face a pro-choice, gay-friendly New Yorker, and a Mormon from Massachusetts who recently converted to social conservatism, in Messrs Giuliani and Romney.
Mr Thompson has already taken a potshot at the frontrunner on his website, on a highly emotive issue for conservatives—Mr Giuliani’s record of tight gun-control in New York. Next to the former mayor, the gravely-voiced and towering Mr Thompson seems like he could have been born with a shotgun in his hands. Mr Giuliani’s former friendliness to immigrants will also prove a difficulty for him, and an opportunity for Mr Thompson.
Not that consistency is a hallmark of Republican presidential candidates. Remember, George "Yale" Bush ran as a Texas rancher only a year after buying his pseudospread at Crawford.
Too, his mindless disinterest in all things administrative smacks of more of Bush than a real change in the DC dynamic. It was one thing when Reagan followed one of the wonkier Presidents in American history, Jimmy Carter. People got tired of being preached to, and one suspects, turned to Reagan if for no other reason than he seemed to think things would fix themselves (they practically did, one might add).
Right now, after seven (and soon, eight) years of utter lack of interest in anything but a narrow-minded focus on helping his corporate cronies to a larger share of a "higher pie," it seems pretty clear that independents and even moderately conservative Americans see the cries for help of the nation, and realize that they need someone to get his hands dirty.
This is reflected consistently in polls that show all of the front-running Democrats whip Thompson handily in a general election, ties Joe Biden, barely beats Bill Richardson. In fact, the only candidate Thompson can reliably beat is Dennis Kucinich.
For his part, Thompson will have some catching up to do, not much, but enough that he'll have to take some chunks out of Rudy and Romney in order to win some of the early primaries (particularly Iowa and New Hampshire, where Romney has done yeoman work to position himself). That means the "nasty guns" have to be fired.
We ought to be licking our lips that Thompson is finally going to get off the pot Thursday. Imagine, a thoroughly beatable candidate who's going to do our dirty work for us. Remarkable!