Former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson emerged smiling from his first national debate on Wednesday. Thompson—a late arrival to the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination—didn’t make any gaffes, although some analysts said he appeared uncomfortable. “I’ve enjoyed watching these fellows,” Thompson said at one point, “but I’m glad to be here now.”
What the commentators said
If it’s true that first impressions are “90 percent of politics,” said Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard’s Campaign Standard blog, then “Fred Thompson should have a decent shot at the Republican presidential nomination.” In his first debate, Thompson wasn’t “a dominent figure or a replica of Ronald Reagan, but he came across as likable, knowledgeable on issues but not wonky, and unexcitable.” With that, he “passed the test of whether he could run with the big boys—Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain.”
That's entirely too kind, said Noam Scheiber in The New Republic's The Plank blog. Thompson let the debate "pass him by." The topic was economics, and Thompson "mangled" a question on the falling dollar. His most "cringe-inducing moment" came when Maria Bartiromo asked him about Social Security, and he "filibustered" bizarrely before remembering that he favored indexing benefits to inflation.
Thompson could have done better—way better, said Carla Marinucci in the San Francisco Chronicle. He looked like “more of a lethargic bit player than a shining star amid a cast of GOP” candidates. He “stumbled through the first question, appearing nervous and hesitant—though his performance markedly improved” before the show was over.
Thompson “wasn’t terrible,” nor was he "great," said Roger Simon in The Politico, but he didn't make any goofs, so his candidacy survived.