The EFM Feature

Politics follow patterns — patterns sometimes as predictable as the rising and setting of the sun. Since the advent of the out-of-nowhere primary candidate, we’ve now seen that the press and political establishment, once surprised by the rise of the “outsider” has now completely assimilated the process into the machinery of opinion-making and reporting. And so, EFM readers, here is the life cycle of the outsider candidate:
(1) OUT OF NOWHERE, OUR HERO EMERGES! This is where smart political commentators and reporters can play kingmaker. An attractive unknown candidate sparks their interest, and the insiders start building the buzz. A modest wave of positive reporting builds into something more substantial. Bill Clinton goes from the nobody from Arkansas who gave the most boring convention introduction in history to a centrist innovator who revolutionized education in Arkansas (he took the state from a weak 50th to a strong 50th in the national rankings!) Howard Dean goes from the rich man’s Dennis Kucinich to the “only credible candidate who speaks for the left.” On the Republican side, we saw this with early cover stories about Governor Romney in National Review and the Weekly Standard. All the smart money had the Governor as one of the leading candidates (in spite of nonexistent polling numbers). This is where Fred is now. Out of nowhere, the hero has emerged. No one was talking about Fred Thompson one year ago; now our activists are all a-flutter. But, sadly, phase 1 is all too short. Next comes . . .
(2) HERO? HE AIN’T NO STINKIN’ HERO! What the media builds up, the media tears down. It’s tough to be the hero. We all have our flaws, and it is just so much more fun for media folks to tear down a hero than it is to tear down a nobody. Hero Gary Hart becomes Philandering Gary Hart, Hero Bill Clinton becomes Philandering Bill Clinton, and Hero Howard Dean becomes “too liberal to win” Howard Dean. On the Republican side, “Matinee Mitt” came under sustained attack in the winter as an alleged “flip-flopper,” an attack that continues to this day. Fred is just about to move into this phase. His halcyon days are about to end. He may stumble at a debate or unknown biographical details may emerge. While I’m not sure how he’ll enter this second phase, I know that he will. All of this is predictable, but what isn’t predictable is the outcome of Phase 3 . . .
(3) THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD. Here’s where presidents are made. Gary Hart slinks off the scene, Dean screams, but Clinton bites his lip on 60 Minutes (adoring wife at his side), builds a ruthlessly efficient political machine, and coasts to victory. Governor Romney answered his tough months with $23 million dollars in fundraising, three strong debate performances, and surging poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire. Yet we won’t know for months whether this strong response will ultimately be enough. And we don’t know if Fred can or will bounce back from his inevitable backlash. Will he build the infrastructure and raise the funds to circumvent the fickle media (including the fickle conservative media)? At the moment, that doesn’t seem to be his strategy, and if he neglects the hard work of retail politics for the allure of a pure “new media” candidacy, he’s toast.
The transition from stage 2 to stage 3 will tell all of us whether there will be a President Romney or a President Thompson, and so far — amongst all of the Republicans — Mitt has spent the most time and made the most efforts in this dispositive phase.

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