by Rod D. Martin
March 27, 2007

For the thousandth time, it’s too darn early for any of this to matter. Except maybe it isn’t.

The latest USA Today/Gallup Poll is out. And it’s, well, interesting.

Rudy Giuliani, “the prohibitive frontrunner” (as his supporters would put it) just three weeks ago at a whopping 44%, watched his support shrivel by nearly a third, to just 31%. Meantime, the man who isn’t running — Fred Thompson — shot up from zero to 12% just by suggesting he “might consider” a race.

Whoa! And there’s more.

Mitt “the conservatives’ savior” Romney dropped to within the margin of error, from 8% three weeks ago to just 3% (the same as Brownback, which could very well mean that both of them are at six or at zero). McCain picked up a couple points, moving to a respectable 22%; while Newt Gingrich — the other man who isn’t running — came in at 8%, proving that he isn’t star of a major prime-time drama.

Frank Newport points out that Republicans aren’t likely to have a clear idea of what Thompson stands for. But that precisely misses the point. Republicans have no idea what any of these guys stand for: is it really likely that Giuliani could be the early Republican frontrunner if it was well understood that he is a social liberal? And is it not likely that once these guys all start running multi-million dollar ad buys against the frontrunner on precisely that point, his numbers might shrink even more?

Again, this is not a statement against Giuliani: we continue to call for his principled adoption of an appropriate position on abortion and other issues. He wouldn’t be the first convert, and he’d be a very welcome one to many.

But this much is clear: all the buzz about Thompson these past weeks has been that he’s a real conservative who has enough celebrity status to take on a Giuliani or McCain. You hear it everywhere. And immediately, Thompson — who isn’t running — jumps to third, and Giuliani’s support shrinks by a third, while Romney falls off the map.

The frontloaded Feb. 5th primary is designed to mitigate all this by favoring the guys with the most money, and Giuliani has plenty of that. But so did Howard Dean. Our thesis stands that it is far too early for Americans to be paying attention to these polls. But on the other hand, the stirrings within them can be quite telling. And what they tell today is that there’s not only room for a lot of movement within the existing field, there’s room for a Fred Thompson, a Newt Gingrich, or any number of other people we haven’t heard of yet.