Thursday, July 19, 2007

TNR on Thompson's Masculine Mystique

The New Republic has a cover story about Fred Thompson in this week’s upcoming issue. They say that Thompson’s secret weapon isn’t the Scots-Irish connection, but instead his “masculine mystique.” Naturally, they give Fred the Leader short shrift and Fred the Actor kudos:

To watch Thompson work a crowd like this is to glimpse the primordial roots of the Fred Fever currently gripping the GOP. Part of the appeal is obvious: A well-known actor, Thompson carries with him an inherent star quality that cannot be overestimated in our celebrity-obsessed culture. Moreover, after years of portraying a particular type of folksy authority figure, Thompson gives voters the sense that they already know who he is and what sort of leader he would be. Conversely, as a still relatively unknown political commodity, the candidate has a touch of the blank-slate phenomenon working for him, allowing savior-hungry Republicans to project onto him whichever personal and ideological traits they most desire. Underlying all of this, however, is an even more primal allure: In any given situation, Fred Thompson fundamentally seems like more of a man than anyone else around him.

If there's one thing conservatives are obsessed with these days, it's manliness. Saddled with a president they once cheered as a kick-ass cowboy but have come to scorn as weak on everything from immigration to government spending, Republicans are desperate for a competent, confident champion to make them feel good about themselves again. As Rudy Giuliani recently told a crowd of Delaware supporters,
"What we're lacking is strong, aggressive, bold leadership like we had with Ronald Reagan."

Enter Fred Thompson. More than anyone in the field--more than Giuliani, more than John McCain, and certainly more than the altogether-too-well-coiffed Mitt Romney--Thompson exudes old-school masculinity.
Along with the burly build, he has the rumbling baritone, the low-key self-assurance, and the sense of gravitas honed by years as a character actor playing Important Men.
In Thompson's presence (live or on-screen), one is viscerally, intimately reassured that he can handle any crisis that arises, be it a renegade Russian sub or a botched rape case.

Here is TNR’s conclusion:

[T]he lure of [Fred's] manly charms should not be underestimated. As Bob Davis, a former Thompson staffer now chairing the Tennessee Republican Party, puts it, "When you put your children to bed at night, and you're laying your head down on your pillow, this is a guy people would trust to protect their backside no matter what happened."

This is an especially potent lure with the Republican Party feeling so lost and fragile. Just last month, former Thompson sweetie Lorrie Morgan predicted to the Sunday Times of London that Thompson will prove irresistible to women voters: "He's majestic. He's a soft, safe place to be, and that could be Fred's ticket. Women love a soft place to lay and a strong pair of hands to hold us." Team Thompson is betting that, these days, the same may be said of the entire GOP.

Ed. note: There's a bit of Michelle Cottle's backhand in her compliments, but I think she's probably on to something. I was particularly struck by Lorrie Morgan's comments.