During the Republican debate Thursday night, Thompson -- about whom even his supporters complain of less-than-energetic campaigning -- showed remarkable pep and vigor, attacking Huckabee for having overseen a net tax increase as Arkansas governor, for having pushed merit scholarships for the children of illegal immigrants, and for having suggested he would sign a nation-wide ban on smoking in public places. He took issue with comments Huckabee made that the Bush administration had demonstrated an "arrogant bunker mentality" in its foreign policy.
"On the one hand, you have the Reagan revolution," Thompson said during the debate. "You have the Reagan coalition of limited government and strong national security. On the other hand, you have the direction that Gov. Huckabee would take us in. He would be a Christian leader, but he would also bring about liberal economic policies, liberal foreign policies. .. That's not the model of the Reagan coalition. That's the model of the Democratic Party."
Huckabee didn't respond much during the debate, but appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Friday morning, he took his well-known wit literally below the belt, joking, "I think Fred needs some Metamucil. I think it would help a lot. He was in a bad mood last night."
Campaigning Friday in Michigan, Huckabee went on the attack more substantively.
"It was real interesting hearing Fred Thompson talk about Ronald Reagan last night," Huckabee said. "Because Fred Thompson supported [then-President] Gerald Ford in 1976 and not Ronald Reagan. He supported [then-Sen.] Howard Baker in 1980 and not Ronald Reagan. I appreciate his recent conversion, but some of us were for Ronald Reagan back in the early days; our legacy goes back a little further."
Huckabee also tried to paint Thompson as having been an undistinguished senator.
"Eight years is a pretty long time to get a check from the federal government and not be able to say" he was responsible for any major legislation, Huckabee said.
On Saturday, Thompson called the criticism of his previous support of Ford and Baker as "kind of silly. Howard Baker was my mentor and personal friend in Tennessee for years and years. If you check the record, Gov. Huckabee supported Democrats on a fairly consistent basis in his days in Arkansas politics. I don't think he wants to get into that discussion. We'll see."
Of Huckabee's Metamucil's joke, on Sunday morning Thompson said "his response was to return fire with some potty humor. That's the best he could come up with for the last three days."
He added that he was happy to compare his record to Huckabee's, whom he described as "having raised taxes $500 million more than he cut." He described Huckabee's criticisms of the Bush administration as "blame-America-first comments," and pointed out, correctly, the Huckabee campaign chairman Ed Rollins had called the Reagan coalition dead.
Huckabee, Thompson charged, "talked around the subject and smiled and giggled and told a couple of jokes. When I came back, I said, 'You know, this is about the heart and mind of the Republican Party, because I don't believe it [the Reagan coalition] is [dead].'"