Comeback Fred!


Michael Crowley's snapshot of Fred Thompson in Iowa will make you weep. The man no longer evokes D.A. Arthur Branch smirking and barking orders at lawers as much as he evokes Uncle Junior puttering around north Jersey in his slippers and coke bottle specs.

After leaving the coffeehouse, Thompson trudged his way through a snow-covered city park, as aides pointed out patches of snow and ice to prevent a symbolically catastrophic wipeout. He arrived at his next stop, at the town's county courthouse, on his feet, but couldn't summon much enthusiasm. Escorted by the county supervisor, Willie Van Weelden, Thompson popped into a series of dreary administrative offices staffed by a homogenous and somewhat befuddled-looking crew of middle-aged ladies. In the county tax office Thompson greeted precisely one worker. "This lady takes all the property tax money!" Van Wheelen exclaimed with the enthusiasm only a county worker could muster. "Is that right?" Thompson replied, sounding as impassive as he surely was. In the neighboring registrar's office, Thompson delivered a quick round of hellos and then cast a puzzled glance at a shaggy-haired boy scribbling at a table under a sign: "Drivers' Test In Progress." As if that were the final straw, Fred finally made a break for it back through the winter cold and into the warm comfort of his massive bus.

Crowley, in an aside, points out that Thompson's bus is painted with this slogan: "The Clear Conservative Choice: Hands Down!" Does the slogan ring a bell? Right: It's a reference to how he refused to raise his hand during the Des Moines Register debate. For about 15 minutes political reporters chewed over whether this was a Campaign Moment, the start of a Fred comeback.

Thompson is now tied with Ron Paul in Iowa. He's lost half his support since October.

But this has been a campaign of one day stories and Moments that went absolutely nowhere: the news cycle moves so fast that silly, minor events are treated like game-changers. Before the Hour of the Hand there was the hostage crisis in Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire office. You forgot about that, didn't you! Here's what then-American Prospect (now Washington Post) writer Garance Franke-Ruta said at the time:

Certainly it gets Clinton a week of positive and sympathetic coverage, featuring tearful interviews with the young men and women held hostage. But it might also have an effect on the intensity of the Clinton-bashing over the next couple of weeks, as people take a step back and re-evaluate to what an extent the misogyny directed against her by her political opponents can combine with alcohol or mental illness to lead to real violence.

Or, you know, not.

I think the only events that have proven totally immune to "this'll change everything" hysteria have been the Ron Paul moneybombs. Yet more reason for Paul supporters to grumble about the mainstream media.