Romney won. Or McCain. Or Rudy. As expected, the supporters of each Republican candidate rushed forward, offering empty rhetoric about why their guy won last week's debate. Most of the detailed, insightful analysis seemed to center on who "looked presidential." But the none-too-fervent support for these candidates was noticeable even while the debate was still underway, and many pundits quipped that the real winner wasn't on the stage. It was clear that none of those participating had come close to capturing the imagination of the Republican Party, much less that of the general public.
To borrow a phrase from Rush -- the Republicans are looking for a Magic Neocon. They don't care if it's Newt the Magic Neocon, or Condi the Magic Neocon. They just need someone to pull out that magic wand and wave off the crushing sense of doom that hangs over the right.
Many are betting that Fred Thompson is the man they're searching for. After all, calling everyone in Hollywood a loon, then fawning over any third-rate actor who will give them the time of day, is a Republican tradition. Sonny Bono, the terminator, the guy who played Gopher on the Love Boat, and don't forget the deified Pharaoh Ronald, in whose golden shrine the debate was held -- ah, for more Republicans like these. They'd crawl all over the guy who played the body on last week's CSI if he'd only mouth the phrase 'pro-life.' On the right-leaning actor scale, Thompson's a prince. Besides, he's already played the president, so he certainly has experience at the primary Republican qualification: looking presidential.
Trouble is, what the Republicans are looking for can't be found in Thompson, nor in arch-hypocrite Gingrich, nor even work-wife Rice. That's because what the Republicans are missing isn't a person, it's a philosophy.
For four decades, the right has been peddling Rugged Individualist Soap. If they just had the opportunity to rip the reins away from the liberals (and all the actors who had not provided comic relief to a chimp), they could Set Things Right(tm). Funny, that's not quite how it worked out. On every front -- every front -- the Republicans turned out to be miserable at turning their points into practice. "Staggering Incompetence" might as well be the party moto. The Republicans' problem now isn't that they don't have the right candidate, it's that they still have the right's talking points. And those talking points are played out. Like a commercial that's run ten too many times, people are simply tired of it.
Fred Thompson fervently backed the Iraq war, railed against an expanding federal government, took stands that occasionally annoyed his party and rarely spoke about his views on social issues during his tenure as a senator from Tennessee or in his writings and speeches since leaving office.
In short, the man some in the GOP are touting as a dream candidate has often sounded like the presidential hopeful many of them seem ready to dismiss: Sen. John McCain.
Sorry, Fred's no Magic Neocon. After all, actors have to have a script. The Republicans don't need more actors -- they need new writers.