Fred Thompson supporters got pretty worked up about me suggesting he should bow out and support his friend McCain, as his best chance to have an influence on the outcome. His wife also explained how wrong I was, although she was nicer about it.
But this new thought occurred to me yesterday morning, when my clock radio came on… NPR was running a bit on the Republicans in South Carolina, and there was a clip of my fellow Memphis State grad talkin’, and he was really pounding on pore ol’ Mike Huckabee from over across the Big Muddy. And in that half-asleep state, I thought: "Is he staying in to help John McCain, by using the soapbox thus obtained to tear down the only candidate with a chance (note the polls) of beating him in South Carolina?" Fred’s no dummy; he can count. He knows either McCain or Huckabee is going to win here.
But I dismissed the thought, on account of its having arisen during the aforementioned twilight state of consciousness. And on account of what’s the point in mentioning it, since it would just make all those folks mad again.
Then I watched the debate last night out of Myrtle Beach. And first thing you know, ol’ Fred comes out whaling on Huck something fierce, just pounding away, using up a good chunk of his allotted time to tear the preacher man down.
After the debate, all sorts of folks commented on Fred’s attack on Huck. In fact, it was probably the most memorable thing about the whole show, one of only three things I still recall 24 hours later. (The other two things were the setting of the new Guinness World Record for saying "Ronald Reagan" most often in a 90-minute period, and the way the group ostracized poor Ron Paul yet again. I don’t agree a whole lot with Dr. Paul, but I believe he’s sincere, and I do hate to see a guy get picked on.)
What struck me as myopic was that so many of those commenting on those attacks by Fred on Huck interpreted them as Fred really, really wanting and needing to win in South Carolina. But he was just attacking Huckabee; he offered only the mildest criticism of McCain on immigration (allegedly the big reason he’s running instead of backing McCain as he did in 2000). Surely Fred knows you don’t win by tearing down just one of the three guys who are beating you.
I’m not trying to goad Fred into attacking McCain — or Romney, either (Romney’s kind a moot point anyway, since he’s deserted S.C. for a live-or-die effort in Michigan). But the facts before me push me toward one of several conclusions:
- Fred and McCain are in cahoots, with Fred playing the Huckabee-bashing heavy (which certainly doesn’t help Fred, because while it might hurt Huckabee, nobody likes the guy who does the beating-up). I don’t believe this for a second, because I don’t believe either McCain or Fred would do anything that underhanded.
- Fred is doing it on his own figuring that if he can’t win, he’ll at least help out his old buddy by taking down the opposition before he calls it quits. Still a doubtful proposition.
- Fred isn’t calculating at all; he just can’t stand Huckabee. Maybe, but it still doesn’t smell right.
- Fred really likes Huckabee, and was trying to trump up some sympathy for him for being picked on. Nah.
- Fred really is, at least on a conscious level, trying to win, but just can’t quite bring himself to pound his old friend McCain — whom he respects personally in spite of their differences — as hard as he’s hitting Huckabee.
That last one sounds the closest to right, but I don’t know. All I do know is that, whatever he intends, what he was doing, to the extent that it hurt Huckabee, was helpful to McCain.