At least for the time being, the MSM seems stymied in finding an angle with which to take on the prospective candidacy of Fred Thompson. The MSM found it easy to tag each of the other frontrunners with a negative narrative: Romney the flip-flopping Mormon, Giuliani the social liberal with a dodgy personal past, McCain-the-aged, out of touch with the base on immigration and taxes.
The dilemma was apparent on this morning's "Today." After an anodyne set-up piece by Kelly O'Donnell, it was time for analysis in a segment hosted by Campbell Brown. You would normally expect the guest in these situations to be Tim Russert or Chris Matthews. If ever a conservative were to be on, you could be virtually certain that he would be balanced by a liberal. But, lo and behold, there was Stephen Hayes, who has a major piece on Thompson in the Weekly Standard. And nary a James Carville or facsimile thereof in sight. Nor were Brown's questions of the accentuating-the-negative variety. Among Hayes's observations:
- I would be astounded if he wasn't running. [Hayes begins his Weekly Standard piece with the flat declarative statement "Fred Thompson is running for the Republican presidential nomination."]
- He is positioning himself as the true conservative's conservative. He wants to be thought of as a movement conservative, somebody who can unite economic conservatives, social conservatives, people I would call war-on-terrorism conservatives.
- Opposition research is being prepared. I know the other campaigns are really eager to kind of pop this Fred Thompson balloon before it really floats.
- I think he takes a little bit from each of the three top candidates, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain. But I think at the end of the day he'll probably be trying to occupy the same space that John McCain is occupying.
A solid, straightforward analysis. What made it remarkable was Brown's willingness to play the straight woman, neither accentuating the negative nor saddling Hayes with a liberal sidekick.
MY TWO CENTS:
So how will the MSM take on Thompson? My guess is that, with no obvious toe hold for the time being, the MSM will keep its powder dry. It will bank on the other campaigns uncovering something juicy through their oppo research, and if and when they do, focus on it like the proverbial laser beam.
I do have to disagree with Hayes's suggestion that Thompson will be looking to occupy McCain's space. IMHO, McCain has no space to occupy. His candidacy was shaky from its inception, and his belligerent stance on the immigration bill has driven the last nail in whatever was remaining of his chances. If I'm right, then by definition Thompson hurts either Rudy, or more likely Romney, who has sought to position himself as the true conservative in the race.
Contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org