The BIG story out of last night's GOP debate in South Carolina is that actor and former Senator Fred Thompson finally morphed into the Fred Thompson many conservatives had hoped to see: energetic, witty and aggressive. Will it serve Thompson - or will he be the candidate that could have been? The New York Times story sets the scene:
Fred D. Thompson tried to salvage his faltering presidential campaign at a debate Thursday night with a barrage of sharp attacks on the "liberal" policies of Mike Huckabee, the fellow Southerner whom he clearly sees as a rival in the South Carolina primary. The performance by Mr. Thompson, which including several pointed one-liners, capped a debate that showed the altered terrain of the Republican field as it moved beyond contests in Iowa and New Hampshire...
But it was Mr. Thompson's performance, in which he shook off the laid-back style that has defined his candidacy, that provided some of the liveliest moments of the debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C.. "This is a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party and its future," said Mr. Thompson, who has staked his run on a strong showing in South Carolina. The primary there is Jan. 19.
"On the one hand," he said, "you have the Reagan revolution, you have the Reagan coalition of limited government and strong national security. And the other hand, you have the direction that Governor Huckabee would take us in. He would be a Christian leader, but he would also bring about liberal economic policies, liberal foreign policies."
That effectively summarized the choice facing the GOP from the standpoint of conservatives. But what happened next is what they were talking about on all the cable shows afterwards:
Mr. Thompson then lit into Mr. Huckabee, the former Baptist preacher and Arkansas governor who won the Iowa caucus, for wanting to close the prison at Guant namo Bay, for supporting what he called "taxpayer-funded programs for illegals" and for wanting to sign a law restricting smoking. "That's not the model of the Reagan coalition, that's the model of the Democratic Party," he said.
Mr. Huckabee, for his part, responded with trademark humor. "The Air Force has a saying that says if you're not catching flak, you're not over the target," he said. "I'm catching the flak; I must be over the target."
The bottom line is that Thompson finally lived up to what many GOPers felt was his potential.
Posted by John Ray