Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 30, 2007

THE ACCIDENTAL CANDIDATE....It's not exactly a secret that Fred Thompson's presidential campaign isn't going well. By some measures, that's a surprise -- he's plenty conservative; he's never flip-flopped on key issues; and he's not a member of a religious minority that the GOP base finds offensive. Simply as a matter of process of elimination, this guy should be huge.

There is, of course, a problem: Thompson apparently has no interest in actually running for president.

There's no shortage of stories about Thompson running a lackluster campaign that seems to include avoiding voters at all costs. Here's a good example. Here's another, another and another. It's as if the former senator is allergic to retail politics.

Given all of this, Thompson offered an unusual admission yesterday: his heart's really not into all of this.

"I'm not particularly interested in running for president," the former senator said at a campaign event in Burlington (Iowa) when challenged by a voter over his desire to be commander-in-chief.... "I'm only consumed by a few things and politics is not one of them."

I've seen quite a few reactions that Thompson's candid remarks are a good thing. Overly-ambitious candidates consumed with political gain are somehow unseemly, the theory goes, so Thompson is a breath of fresh air -- he wants to be president, but he has no taste for the silly, often demoralizing process.

I'm just not so sure this is a plus. Isn't there something to be said for a candidate having a "fire in the belly"? Excessive ambition can be unbecoming, but is there really something wrong with a leader stepping up and working hard to make his or her case to voters?

In other words, shouldn't someone who wants to be president be prepared to run for president with a certain enthusiasm? Given the current challenges the next president will face, maybe some passion for moving the nation forward might not be such a bad idea.

Michael Crowley, reporting from Iowa before Thompson's comments yesterday, noted:

[W]hy did [Thompson] flop so badly once he did run? Where to start? He got in too late, didn't sound prepared, lacked the movie-star presence people expected, and suffered from staff turmoil (widely attributed to Jeri). Above all, Thompson never offered a clear rationale for his candidacy -- a curious defect for a star contender, unless you consider what's become increasingly clear of late: On some level, the guy never really seemed to want it.

Proclaiming, "I'm not particularly interested in running for president" a few days before the Iowa caucuses probably won't help seal the deal.

Steve Benen 11:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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I don't know if pretending he isn't really interested in the Presidency is going to wind up helping him, but it appears that Thompson is gaining in Iowa and has broken out of single digits.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 30, 2007 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

These are the observations of a man with a grave disease who knows deep down that he now must retreat to the heart of his family for strength and sustenance.

Posted by: u on December 30, 2007 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

My completely uninformed guess is that the whole run-for-president idea may have been more Jeri's idea than Grandpa Fred's. In any case, I'm sure it's very flattering to have people beg you to come rescue your party from mediocre and phony candidates, but in the end, campaigning for president is much harder work than, say, appearing in a TV show, and those people who urged you to run can do it for you.

Posted by: Jeff S. on December 30, 2007 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

...campaigning for president is much harder work than, say, appearing in a TV show, and those people who urged you to run can't do it for you.

Posted by: Jeff S. on December 30, 2007 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Given how puffed up Thompson was by many insiders and the media, my guess is he thought he was going to get the G W Bush treatment. People keep forgetting that Bush was basically handed the nomination in August 1999 right after the Iowa Straw Poll. Yes McCain provided a slight scare, but the party cleared away everything else and wouldn't let McCain win. Thompson thought he'd enter the party would then rally behind him and he could do nothing until July of 2008.

Posted by: Rob on December 30, 2007 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Thompson's campaign can be described as either 1) the most lackadaisical run for President ever, or 2) the most determined and obsessive run for First Lady ever.

Imagine Jeri trying to get Fred to clean out the gutters, project that struggle onto the national political landscape, and you have the Thompson campaign.

Posted by: lampwick on December 30, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

oh, i suspect grandpa fred was counting on the considerable love of the national political press corps to carry him thru. tweety, margaret carlson, howard fineman, et al, were incredibly jazzed about grandpa's initial entry, but once his dismal public appearances became standard, they quietly backed away and have helped revive st john the tortured as their current fave. although, that's not carved in stone either...

Posted by: linda on December 30, 2007 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Looks like Aqua Velva isn't quite up to the task after all. Maybe Fred should have tried Old Spice.

If nothing else, this illustrates how the comparisons between Fred and Reagan were completely ridiculous. The only commonality between the two guys is that they made a good living in front of the cameras.

Posted by: bluestatedon on December 30, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

I think wanting the job too much is not just unseemingly. It might be an indication that a candidate if elected will be too concerned with his popularity and chances of re-election to do the right thing when what is right for the country, and what is right for the career diverge.

Perhaps Fred based his campaign on not appearing to want it too much, and changing horses midstream is not usually a good idea. I also think there is a lot of merit to the argument that he isn't burning with desire for the job. A lot of Muricans
myself included would take the job if offered, but would not want to go through the dirty process of running for it.

Posted by: bigTom on December 30, 2007 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I hope Fred stays in it for one reason: my hope for some sort of direct confrontation between Jeri and Judy Nathan over their men. Those two make Eva Peron look like Mother Theresa.

Posted by: bluestatedon on December 30, 2007 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

He thought it would be like getting "kinged" in checkers.

Posted by: jojo on December 30, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Fred Thompson,

If you're not real interested in running for President, fine! Don't! WTF are you still doing in the race? Why are all your donors and volunteers wasting their time and money? They must feel like a bunch of fools.

Posted by: Jalmari on December 30, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

he's going after that silent, apathetic majority...

nailed it!

Posted by: tom on December 30, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Thompson is well loved on the rightwing slanderblogs. Where are these people going to go when they can no longer pretend he has a functioning campaign? They hate McCain, the people who do their thinking for them have decided that they should hate Huckaby just as much, and Giuliani is imploding.

Romney? He can't lie convincingly enough to be president.

Posted by: Laney on December 30, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

If Thompson isn't motivated to run for President, then why should his supporters be motivated to vote for him?

There is a relationship.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on December 30, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Thompson is a total joke...nearly a cartoon character. He will soon drop out of the race, if indeed he was ever in it.

Posted by: allie on December 30, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

It's always been my contention that actively seeking the office of President should result in immediate disqualification, on the grounds of implicit megalomania and, very likely, varying degrees of sociopathic or psychotic tendencies.

Computerised selection of candidates at random from the qualified population, followed by something akin to jury member selection, would not, I think, have done the US any great harm.

Posted by: Mike on December 30, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't been following him closely enough to say--how has his fundraising been? And his campaign spending? When he drops out, will he have a nice little profit to show for this embarrassment of a campaign?

Posted by: shortstop on December 30, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

"Sorry, Presidency. He's just not that into you."

Posted by: biggerbox on December 30, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Wasn't he an admiral or something in the Octoberfest video game?

Posted by: Matt on December 30, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Being coy about political ambition may seem to be a superficially appealing quality -- George W. Bush always played that card to perfection -- but where you really have to sell yourself as a shark is to the donors. Nobody wants to bet on a horse that's not in it to win. While I'm sure Thompson has a sizable personal fortune to draw on for this, I can't imagine anyone with the ability to give him more than a $20 token donation taking even the remotest interest in his candidacy any longer. Dead man walking.

Posted by: jonas on December 30, 2007 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

I like Fred Thompson just a little better for not needing the presidency to make his life complete. But there's no way I would pick a QB for my team with such a lackadaisical attitude towards winning.

Posted by: kth on December 30, 2007 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

He's running for Vice President, and doing a good job of it. He won't steal the limelight from anyone who picks him as veep, something every candidate wants to avoid.

And for any candidate with weak conservative credentials he's just the sort of veep they'd be looking for. Romney/Thompson or Giuliani/Thompson or McCain/Thompson. If the Huckster manages to get the nomination, he'll need someone who seems less flakey, so Huckabee/Thompson makes sense, too.

Posted by: bob on December 30, 2007 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Makes me think there's an exercise in idle yammering in this story. That is, how would all the candidates score on the least desire for the job Thompson Index. Say a perfect Thompson scores a zero and the opposite, wanting the job more than anything else gets you a ten. I score each candidate;

McCain, a soul-selling perfect 10;
Hillary and Mitt nines;
Edwards 8;
Obama 7;
Biden, Richardson, Huckabee sixes;
Dodd & Guliani fives;
Everyone else between four and one;

Wanting to change the debate is good too if you're automatically second tier or less, but first tier candidates should actually want the job, though not so much you're willing to sell your soul.

Posted by: dennisS on December 30, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Given the current challenges the next president will face, maybe some passion for moving the nation forward might not be such a bad idea.

Why? Lack of enthusiasm and lack of interest has served George Bush and the country so well! Fred Thompson = George Bush Jr. 2. Or Reagan 2 (but with more of a grumpy Wilford Brimley persona).

I still think Thompson has a decent chance to percolate up to the top, a la Huckabee. Many of the presumptive front-runners on the Republican side like Romney, Giuliani, and McCain are simply toxic to large chunks of the base (Romney is Mormon and formerly pro-choice; Giuliani is Catholic, has supported gun control, is pro-choice tolerant, and from the heart of evil liberaldom, Manhattan; McCain is still hated for his comments about Evangelicals in 2000 and for not always putting loyalty to the Republican party before honesty and what is good for America.

That pretty much leaves you with Huckabee and Thompson. Huckabee's Baptist minister act plays well with the core Evangelical base but scares the neocons and moneycons; Thompson, who doesn't excite anyone except for the older Seniors who think Wilford Brimley shaved his mustache and is running for president, is probably the least disagreeable candidate to all of the various Republican factions.

Posted by: Augustus on December 30, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Is anybody going to want him for veep after that remark? I mean, whoever does win the nomination is going to want some campaigning out of their running mate, and he doesn't sound like he has that much in him. The campaigning season is going to be painfully long this year, too.

Posted by: mwg on December 30, 2007 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Watch out. Reagan said he hadn't been originally interested in running for president, but "some guys" met with him and talked him into it. The ones who needed to hire a figurehead. The rest was history. Remember, he only needs that wife and the Republican troops to run the machine.

Posted by: garberpog on December 30, 2007 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

fred's running the perfect campaign -- by 19th century standards

Posted by: mudwall jackson on December 30, 2007 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

So lethargic is Thompson that medically one would wonder if his thyroid gland was properly functioning. It looks like one big effort for him to simply move about. Makes me sleepy just watching him. Guiliani is diminished, Huckabee is looking divisive, Romney's robotic presentation is downright scary. What a collection of candidates.

Posted by: cwa on December 30, 2007 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Re: Thompson as Veep

I certainly think one activist psycho vice president per century is plenty, but surely the GOP doesn't want a vice presidential candidate who is in an actual coma either.

Posted by: Helena Montana on December 30, 2007 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

Re: Grandpa Fred as Veep - part of the problem the GOP has in 2008 is that the current VP is not a viable candidate to step into GWB's shoes. Why would they want to nominate another guy who would probably slip into a coma sometime in 2010?

Posted by: CParis on December 30, 2007 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

I've been curious about his relationship with Dick Cheney. They go back a long way.

Then, Thompson showed up at Scooter's trial. He's got Mary Matalin and Liz Cheney. Etc.

I'd love the inside buzz on this.

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on December 30, 2007 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm not particularly interested in running for president ... I'm only consumed by a few things and politics is not one of them."

Be sure to try that approach in you next job interview, and see how far that gets you.

Posted by: nemo on December 30, 2007 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

I am not conspiratorial by nature, but Fred Thompson's sleepwalk of a Presidential bid doesn't pass the sniff test of legitimate interest. For some time now, the current (failed) gaggle of Republican candidates leads me to ponder that a brokered Republican convention is strategy by the RNC--even if a late and desperate one--to offer a fresher, less tarnished candidate, say Michael Bloomberg. A man of his means could easily finance his own run, and the opposition, having sized up and fired at the current crop of GOP carnival shooting gallery ducks, would be relatively unprepared to mount a credible attack on the new arrival. A fresh-faced Republican, relatively untainted by the disgraced quackery of neo-conservatism, even if he doesn't win, sets up the party for the kind of clean-sweep reform it so desperately needs. The GOP is already in danger of losing a considerable slice of the Independent voter--perhaps for a generation of more--if it doesn't clean house. The traditional conservative Republican, embarrassed and disgruntled about the abandonment of its limited government perspective and appalled at free-spending policies and a debt-ridden nation, might nod approvingly at such a move.

I hate the thought of any kind of redemptive act by the party that so enthusiatically glad-handed the current Republican administrative scum, but I see the Republicans in the same kind of mess that the Democratic Party faced in 1972 with George McGovern.The Republicans may believe that the best they can do is to minimize the disaster and to recoup their (considerable) losses.

It's either that or the ever-reliable "Scam the Vote" initiative that they have nearly perfected.


Posted by: Chris C on December 30, 2007 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

So Thompson says he doesn't want to be president.

And you believe him?

Sounds to me like he's trying to leverage his laziness.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on December 30, 2007 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

Poor Fred, Law & Order premiers this Weds. with a new Manhattan DA so he not only won't be President, he won't be Arthur Branch either (the best role of his acting career).

Look for him to fire the "Trophy Wife" who talked him into this.

Posted by: Andy S on December 30, 2007 at 11:49 PM | PERMALINK

Well I for one, am someone who believes that the best exercise of power, is to avoid using it until you have know choice.

Someone who is afraid of power is the best choice to have it, they're more likely to use it or not use it, wisely.

But Thompson's just apathetic--and that's PAthetic.

Posted by: MNPundit on December 31, 2007 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

He ran a Mario Cuomo campaign.

We want public servants as opposed to ambitious dictators, but not dyspeptic ones when clones aplenty are available with energy.

Posted by: Luther on December 31, 2007 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

The man lobbies on behalf of abortion rights and is now running on an anti-abortion ticket. That's not flip-flopping on a key issue?

Posted by: Joe on December 31, 2007 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

Thompson is likely at the point in his acting career where he no longer actually needs to read for a part, so he gets upset when he actually has to go out on the campaign trail and "audition" for the role of president. After all, can't the nation just cast him already, and get the show underway?

Posted by: Strannix on December 31, 2007 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

What Tilli said.

Posted by: shortstop on December 31, 2007 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK



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