CBS 'Early Show': The 'Underwhelming' Fred Thompson

On Tuesday’s CBS "Early Show," host Hannah Storm exclaimed that Fred Thompson "has received a lot of criticism...for being underwhelming so far out on the campaign trail." This just hours before Thompson’s participation in his first GOP debate. The segment began with a report by Nancy Cordes who observed that Thompson’s "...been trying to keep expectations low."Storm then invited on guests Arianna Huffington and Michael Smerconish for political analysis, both of whom bashed Thompson. Smerconish began the attack:

Well, unfortunately, I think the delivery probably matters over substance in this case because he is getting a reputation on the stump so far as being a bit of a dolt. Somebody needs to light a fire under his fanny.

Huffington brought her ususal class to the argument:

And then there are all these stumbles, you know, on the issues too. It wasn't just a matter of being underwhelming in terms of passion and energy...You know, he didn't know much about the Everglades in Florida...he didn't know much about Terri Schiavo. And he thought Hezbollah was in Afghanistan. You know, these are kind of major problems, especially after all these years with George W. Bush. People want a little more competence in the sense of the grasp of the issues.

Just in case Huffington did not make a strong enough suggestion that Thompson is an idiot, Hannah Storm helped her out as she asked Smerconish:

What do you think about this point, Michael, that Arianna brings up, and its quite legitimate, he has had these stumbles along the way. For instance, he called Russia the Soviet Union. Things like that seem to keep happening. Do you worry, are you concerned about a lack of command regarding the issues?"

Finally, Huffington quoted a recent column by George Will:

HUFFINGTON: You know, even George Will, a conservative commentator, compared him to the launch of New Coke in 1985. The question is what's the purpose of this product?"STORM: "Right, is the coke going to be bubbly or is it flat?"

Luckily, the media avoids carbonated drinks and just sticks with Kool Aid.Here is the full transcript:HANNAH STORM: "Fred Thompson is about to have his first big test of Campaign 2008. This afternoon, he shares a stage with other Republican presidential candidates at a GOP debate in Michigan. As CBS News Correspondent Nancy Cordes reports, up to now, Thompson's been out on his own. "JAY LENO: "Please welcome Fred Thompson."NANCY CORDES: "The last time all the Republican candidates gathered for a debate, Fred Thompson chose instead to appear on "The Tonight Show." FRED THOMPSON: "I'm running for President of the United States."LENO: "All right!"CORDES: "His opponents wasted no time in mocking his decision."Mike Huckabee: "And maybe Senator Thompson will be known as the no-show for the presidential debates."CORDES: "No-show no more. Later this afternoon, Thompson will join his eight Republican opponents in Dearborn, Michigan, for his first presidential debate."THOMPSON: "When I see five of the nine justices --"CORDES: "Best known as a television and movie star, Thompson spent eight years in the U.S. Senate. In advance of the debate, he's been trying to keep expectations low."THOMPSON: "These other guys are polished, and they're very smooth in their responses. They've had a lot of practice. So, I just hope I'm able to hang in there with them."CORDES: "The polls indicate he's hanging in just fine. The latest "Des Moines Register" poll shows Thompson in second place in the key kick-off state of Iowa. And the latest CBS News poll shows Thompson well ensconced in the top tier nationwide. That's after just one month of official campaigning, even though the critics have jumped on Thompson's occasionally low-key style on the stump."THOMPSON: "First of all, could I have a round of applause?"CORDES: "Bypassing on previous debates, Thompson sought to set himself apart. Today, he'll be one of nine on stage, and he'll have to rely on a strong performance to distinguish himself from the pack. Nancy Cordes, CBS News, New York."STORM: "And we want to hear from both sides now on Thompson's debut. Syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington is co-founder and Editor in Chief of the blog "The Huffington Post." And Michael Smerconish is a radio talk show host and a columnist for the "Philadelphia Inquirer" and "Daily News." And good morning to both of you."ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: "Good morning."MICHAEL SMERCONISH: "Good morning, Hannah."STORM: "Alright, let's start with you Michael, because he enters the campaign race late, so no time to work out the kinks here. He's got to be in mid season form, right? What does he have to do to make an impact this afternoon?"SMERCONISH: "Well, unfortunately, I think the delivery probably matters over substance in this case because he is getting a reputation on the stump so far as being a bit of a dolt. Somebody needs to light a fire under his fanny. He's got to show some spark and show that he's got the will, the fire in the belly, that he really wants this job. I think, Hannah, he's the victim of his own delayed announcement. He waited so long and was overly coy, and that finally, when we saw the goods, some of us weren't all that impressed."STORM: "Alright so that's the conservative standpoint, and he has received a lot of criticism, Arianna, for being underwhelming so far out on the campaign trail. What are the Democrats looking for? What's the other side going to be keying in on this afternoon?"HUFFINGTON: "Well, there are all these high expectations before he announced that he was going to be the conservative savior of the GOP. And then there are all these stumbles, you know, on the issues too. It wasn't just a matter of being underwhelming in terms of passion and energy. You know, he didn't know much about the Everglades in Florida --"STORM: "Talked about drilling for oil in the Everglades."HUFFINGTON: "Exactly, he didn't know much about Terri Schiavo. And he thought Hezbollah was in Afghanistan. You know, these are kind of major problems, especially after all these years with George W. Bush. People want a little more competence in the sense of the grasp of the issues. So, right now, though, there's been this lack of any kind of expectations. So, maybe he can exceed these incredibly low expectations at the debate tonight."STORM: "What do you think about this point, Michael, that Arianna brings up, and its quite legitimate, he has had these stumbles along the way. For instance, he called Russia the Soviet Union. Things like that seem to keep happening. Do you worry, are you concerned about a lack of command regarding the issues?"SMERCONISH: "Oh, absolutely. I mean, how in the world in Florida of all the 50 states could you profess a lack of knowledge of the Schiavo case? Or I'm troubled by the fact that someone would say that Bin Laden today is not a literal threat, that it's more symbolism. I think Bin Laden's a threat, I think Ayman al Zawahiri is a threat. What I rather he said is 'I will go find Bin Laden and do what this administration hasn't done, I will kill him.' But that's not what we heard from Thompson. And I think that what's transpired here, Hannah, is that there's a transference. People ascribe to certain of these candidates, when they don't know much about them, positions that they hope they will hold, and then ultimately they're disappointed. And so far, you can tell I'm underwhemed with Fred Thompson."STORM: "So, Arianna, how is he perceived on the other side, then, as dangerous threat or not? Because conservatives are not jumping on board with Thompson the way that people thought that they might."HUFFINGTON: "Well, he's doing relatively well in the polls."STORM: "Second place nationally and in Iowa."HUFFINGTON: "Yes, I think the question is he's very good when he reads or performs, somebody else's lines on "Law and Order." The question is how good is he going to be tonight when he has to actually add his own lines. You know, even George Will, a conservative commentator, compared him to the launch of New Coke in 1985. The question is what's the purpose of this product?"STORM: "Right, is the coke going to be bubbly or is it flat?"HUFFINGTON: "We'll find out tonight."STORM: "Maybe that's the question tonight. And do we have to worry, Michael, because he's going to be positioned between the very smooth Romney and the very sharp-tongued Giuliani? This an economic debate. They've already been going back and forth. Could he possibly get lost in the crossfire this afternoon?"SMERCONISH: "Well, Hannah, you raise a good point. Look it's hard to get hurt in a nine-candidate field, because all told, he won't have that much time to offer his views. But to use a baseball analogy, for Fred Thompson, this is spring training and he's getting into it at a moment when everybody else is playing October playoff baseball. So, they are on top of his game, and you heard from your setup package that he's trying to lessen expectations. But because of his television package and persona, I don't think he can lessen those expectations."STORM: "Alright. Michael Smerconish, Arianna Huffington, thank you both so much for being with us. We appreciate your time this morning."HUFFINGTON: "Thank you."SMERCONISH: "Thank you."  

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC