On the Republican side, former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson shook up the field with his announcement that he would consider getting into the presidential race. Thompson is familiar as the actor who plays District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC’s Law and Order.
Chosen by 12% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters, Thompson is third in the Republican field. He trails former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, at 31%, and Arizona Sen. John McCain, at 22%. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is at 8%.
Thompson’s support seems to come largely from voters who had supported Giuliani. In the USA TODAY poll taken March 2-4, Giuliani’s standing had been 13 percentage points higher, at 44%. McCain’s support had been 2 points lower then.
Backing for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, widely considered a leading contender, has dropped. He was chosen by 3%, the same as Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. Romney’s support in early March had been 8%. ~USA Today
So we have managed to determine that some guy most people have never heard of (Thompson) pulled away support from someone most people have heard of (but about whom they know virtually nothing-Giuliani), while some guy nobody has heard of and knows nothing about (Romney) lost support for reasons unknown. It is on the basis of such “evidence” that the entire world of political commentary is operating in making their bold pronouncements. It will not be shocking to hear that I think all of this is pretty meaningless, and if anything could have confirmed that the Giuliani boomlet really was an airy bubble just waiting to be popped I think Fred Thompson’s sudden burst of support proved it. I would love to say that this is proof of how pathetic the Terrible Trio are, but I just don’t buy any of it now. Strangely, Tommy Thompson’s actual announcement of candidacy did not catapult him to the head of the field–how could that be? His candidacy was always so compelling.
In fairness, I laughed at people who said that Fred Thompson would be in third place if he entered the race–but here he is, already in third, and he hasn’t even held a press conference at which he defers his announcement! I acknowledge I will have to eat those words now, though I might still quibble with the idea that he could be in a “strong” third place when he declared. Anyway, I am eating those words–I obviously underestimated the ease with which a TV actor could become a “credible” presidential candidate without making any effort at all. This is America, after all, and one of the only people more likely to vault to the front of the presidential field than Fred Thompson (if this man were a U.S.-born citizen) would be Simon Cowell from American Idol. Yes, voters are horribly irrational and ill-informed–behold the total arbitrariness of the demos and be very afraid.
I could note that the poll is one of general adults and does not take their status as either registered or likely voters into account, but that would be to give it far too much credibility as a measure of actual future voting intentions of the people who will be doing the voting. However, I hope that the sheer absurdity of a relatively politically unknown, retired Senator (whether or not people know his name from Law & Order, no non-Tennessean outside the chattering class knows anything about him) bursting onto the scene with 12% support in this poll will demonstrate beyond any doubt that polls approximately nine months from the first voting are so meaningless that they probably shouldn’t even be taken. This sort of poll-taking rewards and reinforces celebrity and punishes the real candidates who have made significant efforts to build organisations and actually do hard work campaigning by talking to voters and giving speeches and traveling hither and yon. Fred Thompson’s sudden prominence in the presidential field is an insult to the democratic process, all of the real, declared candidates in the race and to everyone who cares a whit about anything resembling serious political thought. For those who yearn for the coming of President Camacho from Idiocracy, your dream has just become that much more possible.