Former senator Fred Thompson kicked off his long-anticipated presidential campaign with a swing through Iowa yesterday. The former actor, who played a prosecutor on NBC’s Law and Order, cast himself as a lifelong conservative, in what appeared to be a jab at moderate positions on social issues expressed by the Republican front-runners—former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Thompson’s talent for stagecraft served him well on Day One, said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration required). By announcing his candidacy on The Tonight Show, he managed to generate “buzz” that was more “boffo than any possible substance from the G.O.P. candidates’ debate” held the same night. But the campaign season is long, and voters will soon get “hungrier” for substance.

For a man with Hollywood experience, said Christopher Orr in The New Republic’s The Plank blog, Thompson’s performance so far has been “surprisingly amateurish.” His opening speech was “a peculiar laundry list of disparate and frequently not-all-that-impressive accomplishments.” He actually mentioned that he chaired a Senate Government Affairs Committee investigation that produced a report. That’s supposed to earn him votes?

Appealing to conservatives longing for a return to the party’s 1994 “glory days” won’t be enough, said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post (free registration required). Republicans are more conservative than ever, but in ways that get more complicated every day. Thompson “needs to show where he will lead a movement shrewd enough to know that it is now in the wilderness.”