Fred Thompson Debuts at GOP Presidential Debate
ALEX COHEN, host:
And just west of Detroit, in Dearborn, Michigan, the Republican presidential candidates will face off in a debate tomorrow.
The debate will focus primarily on economic issues, and for the first time joining the candidates on the GOP platform will be Fred Thompson. Sure, Thompson spent years in front of the TV cameras as D.A. Arthur Branch in "Law and Order," but how will he fare when he plays himself?
Joining us now as he does every week is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.
RON ELVING: Hello, Alex.
COHEN: Okay. So let's take a review of some of the things that Fred Thompson has had to say. He's admitted to being, quote, "a bit rusty" when it comes to debates, and he hopes he'll be able to, quote, "hang in there" with the other candidates. Ron, this isn't exactly a guy brimming with confidence. How do you think he'll fare tomorrow?
ELVING: I think he'll hang in there, all right. You got to think Fred Thompson is setting up his opponents here, a little bit lowering expectations. You know, like football coaches before the game saying the other team is the greatest.
COHEN: The big fake out, right?
ELVING: Well, a little bit. And when they get on stage tomorrow, I think we'll see some of that Arthur Branch's shtick that he plays on TV. You know, like slightly Southern and a bit folksy, but tough, ready to deal with the bad guys, you know, be they terrorists or just Democrats.
COHEN: Let us not forget Ron Paul, who it turns out was actually able to raise quite a bit of cash. Apparently he took in $5 million in the third quarter and that's only a million behind John McCain.
ELVING: You know, it was an excellent take for a minor candidate and someone who is nearly invisible when you get to the national polls, and also for a party maverick, a libertarian really. The national party would just as soon get Ron Paul off the stage. But Paul is penetrating, he's getting out conservatives who are against spending, against the war in Iraq, and personally libertarian on social issues, and they're giving Ron Paul a hearing.
COHEN: Let's turn now for a moment to the Democrats. And Ron, I'd like to get your opinion on something. Recently there's an issue that's been getting a lot of play with Senator Hillary Clinton, and it's not the war in Iraq and it's not her health care plan; it's her laugh. Journalists are talking nonstop about her laugh. Have they really run out of things to talk about of concern in the world that we have to analyze the way this woman responds to humor?
ELVING: Okay. First off, I have to make this admission. On our podcast last week, Ken Rudin and I had some fun with Hillary's laugh.
COHEN: No, not you too, Ron.
ELVING: We played it several times and I guess maybe it was just the only we could get laughs into the show. So mea culpa, but some of this is looking for ways to talk about Hillary other than on the serious, heavy issues and also other than as the perfect candidate. That's gotten to be kind of an old story and people are looking around for other ways to talk about Hillary.
But there's also something deeper going on. And I call this an attempt, if you will, by the media to get used to the idea of this woman being president, and I think that means the idea of any woman being president. We scrutinize her personal characteristics and her behavior in a way we don't with any other candidate. We're getting used to this idea of a woman leading a major party in America and maybe even being the president, and in that way we may be surrogates for our audience, for the country at large.
COHEN: NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving, thank you so much.
ELVING: Good to be with you, Alex.
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