Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fred Thompson's Slow-and-Steady Strategy

Fred Thompson's campaign for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination has been one of the biggest flops of the season.

It's beyond comprehension to me to formally enter the race less than six months before the first contests in the most frontloaded nominating season in the history of the post-1972 primary system.

What explains it?

This morning's New York Times offers an analysis of Thompson's "slow-and-steady" strategy for the Republican primary race:

The presidential candidate known as Fred moseys into Whiteford’s Giant Burger, possessing that La-Z-Boy manner and a fistful of conservative principles.

Applause washes over him and he smiles faintly at the crowd of 100 or so and tugs at his jacket. Then he folds his long frame into a short chair. Then he checks the knot in his tie.

Then he takes a few questions.

Fred D. Thompson, 65, is plying the comeback trail in South Carolina, his poll numbers showing a tease of life — he is, statistically speaking, tied for third in recent polls — and his country wit growing more serrated. He has opened cuts in the flanks of two rivals, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, neither of whom he much cares for. But his campaign does not gallop; a gentlemanly canter is more to the point.

Keeping it steady is a favored phrase of Mr. Thompson’s, calling to mind a hunter whose hound has caught the scent of a particularly laid-back bear. The style plays well in the rural reaches of South Carolina....

Once upon a time, in June 2007, Mr. Thompson, a former senator and an actor, and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, stood as the It Men of the Republican presidential circuit. Conservative pundits and bloggers could not stop talking about Mr. Thompson’s strengths, not least his 100 percent rating from almost any organization with conservative in its name.

“He’s the six-million-pound gorilla,” Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist, exclaimed on Fox TV. “His awareness-to-support ratio was just off the chart.”

But Mr. Thompson’s awareness-to-actual-votes-garnered ratio has not been too hot. He waited so long to officially join the race that an editorial writer for The State, in Columbia, S.C., took to calling him “a hound-dog-faced Godot.”

His campaigner’s wit was barnacled. His town-hall-style meetings in Iowa left voters worried that he was a somnambulist. He finished third there and took seventh in New Hampshire (with 1 percent of the vote). He more or less skipped the Michigan primary, where he finished fifth, and repaired to South Carolina, proclaiming it his stockade.

He has cranked up his energy here, talking of protecting rights that come not from government but “from God.” Recent polls show him trailing Senator John McCain of Arizona and Mr. Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, and tied for third place with Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

What happens if he pulls up short in Saturday’s primary? His manner suggests a loss for the nation.

“I was back home having earned a Ph.D. in Washington, D.C.,” he tells a crowd at the Golden Corral restaurant in Rock Hill. “I swore I’d never do that again. But I hitched up my horse.”

That sounds like a good line for Arthur Branch, the DA Thompson portrayed on Law and Order.

Thompson's trailing badly in polling for today's South Carolina primary. I'm not going to be surprised if we soon see an announcement from Thomspon that he's quitting the race.

Stayed tuned. Today's a big day for the Republican Party!

Photo Credit: New York Times