The Times and the Man

Jay Cost makes a sharp point about Tommy Thompson's hopeless, embarrassing campaign for the Presidency:

Sixty years ago, before the rise of television and before the rise of the primary as the principal tool for selecting presidential candidates, a man with Thompson's record would have been a very strong contender for the GOP nomination. This would have been when state party leaders were in charge of selecting nominees for the White House, back when the conventions were actually the convening of these leaders for this purpose and not to bump temporarily the pre-determined nominee's poll position by a half dozen points. These leaders would probably have been very attracted to Thompson. Four terms as governor and a successful stint in an important cabinet-level department -- these are impressive accomplishments. And he is from Wisconsin. Conceivably, he could swing not just the Badger State to the GOP column, but also Minnesota and Iowa.

Unfortunately for Thompson, it is 2008 and not 1948. We have a new way of nominating presidential candidates today. It requires a candidate to come off as competent, honest and likable on television. So Tommy Thompson is a non-starter.

When the Fred Thompson boomlet started up, I batted around an idea for a piece called "The Wrong Thompson," or something like that, all about how Tommy and not Fred ought to be the dark horse candidate for the GOP nomination. After watching the former Wisconsin Governor in two debates, though, it's clear that making the case for Tommy Thompson is rather like making the case that the town meeting and direct democracy ought to take over all the federal government's functions because you get better governance that way; it's an idea that has merit in the abstract, but not in the world we actually inhabit. In an era without television, Tommy Thompson might have been a fine Presidential candidate and as effective a Chief Executive as he was a governor in Wisconsin. But in a world in which a national politician's effectiveness - his ability to rally support for his agenda, in particular - depends on his ability to communicate through mass media, a Thompson Presidency would be an epic disaster.