Tuesday night’s GOP debate: How will Fred Thompson do?

The next GOP debate, sponsored by CNBC/MSNBC/Wall Street Journal, will be held in in Dearbon, MI (careful, candidates – that can be a crazy place sometimes) tomorrow afternoon. As MSNBC’s First Read blog reports, all eyes will be on Fred Thompson:

All eyes are on Fred Thompson this week as he makes his debate debut at the CNBC/MSNBC/The Wall Street Journal debate on Tuesday from Dearborn, Michigan. It is the first Republican Presidential debate of the 2008 campaign focusing on economic issues, and will be broadcast live on CNBC at 4 PM ET, live streamed on msnbc.com, and re-broadcast on MSNBC at 9 PM ET. CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews will host the debate. So how much detail will he have at his fingertips? Will he show real enthusiasm for winning?

My problem with Fred Thompson is that I think he has been overhyped. He’s someone I wanted to like – I really did. And I don’t use past tense to suggest I never will like him, but at this stage in the game I don’t see him as presidential material, and I say that as someone who hasn’t warmed up to Romney or Rudy, either, although Romney initially sounded appealing. I’m still in the undecided camp.

Thompson’s nice enough and I do believe he is bonafide conservative, but what he offers in speech after speech and interview after interview is little more than platitudes without specifics. Senior editor Quin Hilyer at the American Spectator is similarly frustrated:

Moreover, what your campaign has offered so far has been a themeless pudding. Nobody in the race has done as good a job as you have of identifying basic, fundamental principles. I truly believe that you truly believe, on a theoretical level, the things I believe in: limited government domestically, federalism, a strong defense, time-honored standards of behavior, et cetera. But nobody in the race has done a worse job than you have at giving any idea of how you would put these principles into practice. Platitude follows upon platitude upon platitude, until you start to give the sense that you’re a creature that would look utterly ungainly if you tried to actually implement real policies — a platitudinous platypus, perhaps, unsure if you actually have the right equipment to swim in the rough political waters.

What catalyzes this letter is a campaign phone call I received last night. A bright young woman calling on behalf of your campaign in northern Virginia asked if I would mind listening to a message from you. Well, certainly. And then your voice came on. You said you wanted to return power to the people, to good old regular folks like me. You said it was time to take the power away from the politicians in Washington. You said we needed to return to a government of common sense. You said something about emphasizing our conservative values. And you thanked me for listening.

And that was it. There was as much substance as cotton candy, except that it was like stale, three-week-old cotton candy because the phrases were so pathetically hackneyed.

What also bothers me is the fact that Thompson was essentially drafted to be a candidate, rather than feeling any sense of urgency to run himself.

The Wall Street Journal recently posted about Fred’ gaffes and the NYT reported that Fred had to ask for applause from the audience during a speech in Iowa earlier this month, suggesting that there is not as much enthusiasm for Fred Thompson from the base as we all saw prior to him making his presidential run official.

His pre-candidacy campaign shake-ups had people wondering, and more questions likely will arise as today it was announced by Team Thompson that a national team of well-recognized advisors were signing on:

The day before Republican candidate former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., makes his ’08 presidential debate debut, his campaign has formally announced a national team of senior advisors and surrogates.

Thompson’s team includes mentor and former Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, former Senator Spencer Abraham, former Senator George Allen, and former state department official Liz Cheney, the daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney and Abraham have been advising Thompson for a couple of months, and will officially serve as campaign co-chairs along with Allen.

Baker, who has advised Thompson through much of his political career, will act as honorary chairperson of the national campaign leadership team.

Picking Abraham has alarmed some conservatives, considering his record on immigration while he was in the Senate.

Mary Katharine Ham filed this mixed review of Fred’s speech at the Americans For Prosperity Conference last week. On the other hand, Rob Port was impressed with Fred’s speech, as was Jim Geraghty, who wrote about it here.

He’s continuing to poll well, but how will he do post-debate and beyond? Stay tuned …

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