Lessons learned in the two months that former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., has been "testing the waters": 1. Having a campaign shake-up does not require having a campaign (though having a meddlesome spouse helps). 2. Folksy observations do not answer questions about lobbying work on behalf of abortion-rights groups (and the flies called "opposition research" buzz really loudly come fall). 3. No one politician can possibly fix all the things that plague the GOP (even if that politician plays a problem-solver on TV). 4. Some actors look better in the middle distance than in tight shots.
As Thompson gets his first of many close-ups today with a federal financial filing, the question must be asked: Did Thompson miss his moment? If Thompson had jumped into the race in late spring, when the GOP was in full angst mode over its presidential field, his announcement would have itself provided a major lift. The storyline: a smooth-talking (conservative) giant-to-the-rescue -- irresistible to the party faithful, and filling a discernable void in the field.
But with officials indicating that Thompson will barely top $3 million in money raised in June -- far less than the goal the campaign let linger publicly -- his fundraising announcement combines with staff turmoil to tell a muddier story. "The amount . . . was less than the $5 million that Mr. Thompson's supporters had hoped for and has met with some disappointment inside his camp, which has also been buffeted in recent days by staff defections and high-level disagreements," write The New York Times' Susan Saulny and David Kirkpatrick.
The Thompson camp contends that the $5 million goal was never real (though they did little over the past eight weeks to knock it down), and say the $3 million they raised in 26 days puts them in a great position. Maybe he's done far better in July, but a slice of perspective: former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., topped $3 million by about 2 pm on his "national call day" in January.
Yes, national and local polls place Thompson squarely in the mix. But add disappointing numbers to Thompson's churning staff and a series of message-free speeches, and this savior may need to rescue himself before he turns to rescuing a political party. "Many Republicans have turned queasy as Thompson has ousted part of his original brain trust and repeatedly delayed his official announcement, which is now planned for shortly after Labor Day, in the first two weeks of September," Politico's Mike Allen writes.
Big political news from Maine to Alaska yesterday -- a chief justice hospitalized after a seizure (and he's the young one!); the first meeting between a new British prime minister and the president (enough with the toothpaste jokes); an FBI raid of the home of the most senior Republican in the Senate; and a push to impeach the attorney general of the United States (though not a serious one). Glad you didn't take a vacation this week?