Jay Reding.com

Is Thompson Over?

Power Line notes that Fred Thompson is losing ground in polling in key primary states:

I think there are several reasons why Thompson’s campaign has not, so far, taken off as some expected. Thompson is a perfectly good conservative, but he lacks any particular stature as a one-and-a-half term Senator with no outstanding legislative accomplishments or policy innovations to his name. Given that he is also a quiet (some say lackluster) campaigner, it shouldn’t be surprising that so far, he hasn’t emerged as a powerhouse.

Also, Thompson’s appeal is based largely on the “none of the above” factor. He set out to appeal to the considerable segment of the Republican electorate that expressed dissatisfaction with the existing field. That was a good and potentially fertile niche, but it means that in a sense Thompson has been running against the field. To the extent that Romney, Giuliani and Huckabee have won over some previously skeptical voters, the need for a “none of the above” candidate may have diminished. And John McCain’s resurgence must have taken support away from Thompson, the candidate whose policy profile most nearly resembles McCain’s.

The appeal of Thompson’s campaign is that he’s a consistent conservative who is actually coming out with some strong policy prescriptions—especially in terms of Social Security reform. Granted, it may be a politically unwise endeavor to lead your campaign off with something so esoteric, but in a political climate devoted more to style than substance, there’s something refreshing about Thompson.

The fact that Thompson has been formally endorsed by the National Right to Life Foundation certainly helps. The fact that Mitt Romney had been lobbying for that endorsement also says something about the state of the race. Thompson is finding his niche as a consistent conservative in a race in which candidates either have great appeal to social conservatives and little to fiscal conservatives (Huckabee) or great appeal to fiscal conservatives and less to social conservatives (Giuliani) or candidates who have been accused of shifting their positions to match the prevailing political winds (Romney).

Thompson is not out—polling in these key states can be volatile, and many (including myself) figured John Kerry was dead in the water at this time four years ago. Still, Thompson is losing ground in Iowa and New Hampshire, and while he’s doing very well in South Carolina, it remains to be seen whether the winds won’t shift between the earlier states and that race.

What Thompson needs to do is start creating a grass-roots effort—and that means more time on the campaign trail. He’s got a firm grasp on the issues, in terms of fiscal issues, social issues, and national defense he’s the most consistent conservative in the race. The problem is that people don’t yet see him being able to win. To counter that perception, Thompson is going to have to get his boots on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire and start making a stronger impression with the electorate.

This race is totally up in the air. Romney and Giuliani have the inside track, but Thompson could pull ahead, especially with this key endorsement. McCain is doing better than one would expect (though not enough to win). Huckabee has been doing an excellent job of what Thompson should be doing—winning over social conservatives alienated by the top tier. There is no clear winner, and anything could change.

One response to “Is Thompson Over?”

  1. Mark says:

    I’m very surprised (on two fronts) that the National Right to Life Foundation would climb aboard Thompson’s fast-sinking ship. Aside from the obvious, Thompson is not advocating for a constitutional amendment to criminalize abortion, only to overturn Roe vs. Wade and pass the baton onto the states. Wouldn’t Romney, Huckabee, or McCain be more obvious choices for the NRLF? On top of everything else, none of those guys are former lobbyists for an abortion rights group as Thompson once was.

    The Republican race is in a constant state of flux and we can’t formally count Thompson out, but it’s telling that many of his biggest early cheerleaders and now moving back to McCain. A poll yesterday showed Thompson in SIXTH place in New Hampshire, behind both Huckabee and Ron Paul. If we assume Thompson pulls out a distant third-place in Iowa, is there any chance he can survive a SIXTH place showing in New Hampshire with enough momentum to win South Carolina? Particularly if Romney sweeps Iowa, Michigan, and New Hampshire?

    I never bought the hype that Thompson was this dynamic second-coming-of-Reagan orator as was being sold on this blog and elsewhere six months ago. Thompson probably thought he could sit out the summer and let the fictional legend about him grow, riding out the undeserved early momentum and the dissatisfaction with the rest of the field to eke out the nomination before retreating back to the pitcher of sweet tea on his front porch after Super Tuesday. It wasn’t a bad strategy, but Fred needed to at least exhibit the necessary level of energy expected from a future chief executive during the few months between his September announcement and the February day of reckoning. Having allowed himself to be caricatured as the “slacker candidate”, complete with a Saturday Night Live spoof on his own former network (ouch!), Thompson most likely squandered his opportunity.