Farewell, Fred

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It's official:

Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort. Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people.

James Taranto provides the traditional Bye-Ku:

They called him "tortoise"
But now the man with no hair
Has got out of ours

(That page has links to earlier Bye-Kus, and this page has Bye-Kus from 2004.)

For all the talk about lethargy and fire in the belly, what really seemed to be missing from the Thompson campaign was effective organization. Even for something as small scale as a race for City Council, you need someone with organizational skills and preferably some past campaign experience -- some idea of what needs to happen and when. There also has to be effective communication and coordination, and all this needs to be handled by someone other than the candidate, so that the candidate can focus on raising funds and meeting voters.

Supporters of Thompson are offering up numerous anecdotes that confirm that impression of the Fred 08 campaign. Fred had plenty of admirers who offered skills, time, and access to publicity, but the campaign had no effective means of harnessing all that good will.

See-Dubya:

I sent off a resume to the campaign in, oh, seems like about May, and never heard from them. Not even a thanks for your interest. I'd like to think there were a couple of things on my resume that would have caught their eye, and I was ready to move out of California (no great loss) but whatever. Obviously it didn't dampen my convictions that Fred was the right guy. Two weeks ago I was contacted about volunteering in California--speaking to media, that kind of thing--and I responded I'd be happy to. Nothing. Crickets.

Bryan Preston:

Early in the Fred Phenomenon I tried and tried and tried to lock in a sit-down with Fred to talk to Michelle on camera. This was last spring and summer, before his official announcement that he was even jumping in, when he lived in McLean, VA and wasn't running around the country campaigning. We were offering time here on Hot Air to make his case and show his stuff. But we could never get a straight answer out of the campaign. And this was in spite of the fact that I was promised more than once that we would get an interview, it was just a question of timing and logistics. It wasn't a case of getting the runaround. It just, from the outside, felt like there were an awful lot of moving parts that hadn't been attached to a functional machine yet.

It's surprising to me that the Thompson campaign never held (as far as I know) a teleconference to keep supportive bloggers in the loop -- many other campaigns have.

During the three-day filing period for the Oklahoma primary back in December, I became concerned when, at the end of the second day, Thompson's name wasn't on the list of candidates who had filed. I wanted to make sure the deadline hadn't escaped the campaign's attention, so I decided to call someone.

I went to the fred08.com website and could not find any contact information for a national campaign office. There were campaign offices listed for Iowa and New Hampshire, so I called the New Hampshire office. The apathetic-sounding young man on the phone said that the office's director was out, didn't know when he would be back, and not to worry, he was sure that the campaign knew about the situation and would take care of it.

I got better results when I called the Iowa office and spoke to a young woman who happened to be a native Tulsan. She promised to make some calls and to get back to me -- and she actually did. An e-mail to Steven Smith, who ran the Blogs for Fred mailing list, also got a quick response -- the campaign had filed already but had just learned that there was a problem with the paperwork.

At a Christmas reception I ran into a prominent Republican activist who had signed on early as a point of contact for the campaign in Oklahoma. I asked him how things were going and he gave me a kind of disgruntled shrug. He was hearing crickets, too.

About a week and a half ago I was contacted by Jamison Faught of the Muskogee County Republican Club. They were putting on a presidential forum, with representatives speaking on behalf of the Republican candidates. I was asked if I could show up that night to speak on Fred's behalf. Jamison told me that he had asked the Thompson campaign a month earlier to line up a speaker, and they contacted him the day before the forum to tell him they couldn't get anyone to do it. So Jamison took it upon himself to contact me and some other known Thompson supporters in Oklahoma to see if someone could step in at the last minute.

Remember that Thompson had been endorsed by Sen. Jim Inhofe, Congressman John Sullivan, Corporation Commissioner Jeff Cloud, former GOP state chairman Steve Edwards, and KFAQ morning hosts Gwen Freeman and Chris Medlock. Other activists and bloggers had announced their support for him. I'm amazed that the campaign did not have a list of available surrogates and well-connected activists to contact when opportunities like this arose. Not that I'm anything special, but I can string a few sentences together, and I have a means for getting information out. Within a few days of receiving a request for a speaker, Fred's supporters in Oklahoma should have heard from the campaign asking if we knew of anyone who could speak on his behalf at this event.

Steve Largent's 2002 campaign for governor had a similar problem. The professional campaign folks didn't seem to know what to do with the grassroots types who wanted to help Steve get elected. Contrast that with the Tom Coburn campaign two years later, which was very effective in leveraging grassroots support.

If any campaign should have been a model for Thompson, it was Coburn's successful campaign for Senate. Coburn entered the race reluctantly and late, in response to a great deal of encouragement from activists who were less than enthused about Kirk Humphreys. I wish I'd thought to make that point to someone in the campaign last summer, but I'm not sure I could have found the right person to carry that message where it needed to go.

For most of Fred's supporters (but not for all) the campaign's failure to plug us in effectively didn't dampen our desire to see him get elected. Thompson holds the right positions on nearly all the issues, and those positions have a solid underpinning in sound principle. Even when he's wrong on an issue, it's a difference of opinion on the application of a principle, not on the principle itself.

I'm sorry he's dropping out. He's still on the Oklahoma ballot, and I may still vote for him, but that will depend on how Florida affects the race. If a tactical vote for a different candidate can deprive the post-Florida front-runner of some delegates and momentum, I'll do that, as I think an open convention would be the best outcome for the Republicans this year.

MORE: Dan Paden weighs his options and settles on Huckabee.

Ace agrees about the core of Fred's appeal and tells Romney what he will have to do to pick up those voters:

A lot of former Fred supporters, and possible Romney supporters generally, acknowledge that Romney says mostly the right things. The trouble is, he seems to offer these glibly as crowd-pleasing platitudes, and they're not sure if he actually believes them.

Fred, I think, had a lot of enthusiasm because he didn't just say the right thing, he gave the right reason for believing the right thing (and the right subsidiary reason for believing the right reason). His conservatism, to many, was deeper. He didn't just have the conservative answer, but the underlying conservative assumptions supporting that answer.

If Mitt wants to seal the deal with a lot of conservatives out there, he'll offer a "What I Believe" type internet address, maybe 15 or even 20 minutes long, explaining his thinking. Not just the surface conservative conclusions, but the underlying conservative thinking. Heartfelt and inartful (not so much smiling, few applause lines, generally stodgy and somewhat wonky (at least in broad principles, not techno-wonky) and designed to appeal to conservative political geeks, not a general audience) would be the right tone.

Ace also has this intriguing entry on the "Dark Star" effect in political reporting: A reporter is made privy to a rumor about a candidate, believable but not substantial enough to report. He lets his colleagues in on the rumor, and it necessarily affects their attitude toward and coverage of the subject of the rumor, just as a large but invisible object like a black hole or dark star bends gravity. The effect can only be seen indirectly:

But the press also seems to suffer from the non-political bias of thinking they know more than they actually know, behaving as if a fact is "confirmed" when it hasn't been confirmed at all. And they don't actually print these Phantom Facts, knowing there's no actual confirmation of them -- technically abiding by the rules of journalism. But then they shape their coverage to reflect these unconfirmed Phantom Facts, putting these little nuggets of non-information out there through slant and angle.

Wouldn't it be far more honest to admit to this stuff right up front? Is it more "fair" or "honest" for the press to keep the rumors and beliefs secret from the public (and immune to refutation) while allowing these exact same rumors and beliefs to shape, distort, and (mis)inform its actual published news product?

"Immune to refutation" is key -- if the rumor isn't public, how can a candidate effectively rebut or refute it?

The rumor in Thompson's case is this, according to Fox News' Carl Cameron:

Back in March of 07 at the CPAC convention in DC several former Fred Thompson Congressional staffers told me Fred Thompson was thinking about a run. Some of his Tennessee cronies had been talking him up too.

I reported first that he was eyeing a White House bid. At the time several insiders told me OFF THE RECORD that it was largely a trial ballon to guage his popularity and float his name as a possible vice presidential nominee. I was sworn to silence.

Those insiders have now lifted the conditions on our conversations. From March to August of 07 through postponed announcement days, staff changes, firings, resignations and general disarray the Thompson camp was stunned by the incredibly positive response and didn't really know how to manage it. The trial balloon soared mighty high and he found himself being dragged into a race that he was not even sure how to run.

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6 Comments

W. said:

The analysis about Thompson's poor organization is interesting, and probably has merit.

However, much of Thompson's problem also has to be laid on his campaigning style (or lack thereof). I saw several videos before and after he entered the race, and the problem was the same.

It's good to have a solid platform on which to run. However, you must be able to SELL that platform. On this aspect, Thompson failed. Acting dour and drowsy at campaign stops and on TV is no way to inspire the people to vote for you.

And that "fire in the belly" comment he gave was disastrous in its timing. Fairly or not, it confirmed to many what they'd suspected -- that Thompson's heart wasn't in it.

Thompson could have taken lessons in getting the voters' attention from Mike Huckabee, who had almost no staff for months but won over voters with his quick mind and wit. Huckabee probably won't win the nomination, but his rise is illustrative of the sheer power of personality.

Harry Rockefeller Author Profile Page said:

So, who would you support now for president?
You had mentioned all other republican candidates had fatal flaws. I support Ron Paul for his strict federal Constitutional views. Maybe you can blog about him as well as the other republican candidates fatal flaws being careful not to cause someone to vote for a disastrous, e.g., pro-choice, democratic nominee?

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

I have been mulling over who would get my vote. I came to this conclusion. I no longer am impressed by the slick, say the right thing all the time type candidates (Romney for instance). Nobody is that pleasing to everyone except a trained, fluffy Yorkie. I would have voted for Fred because of one thing. He looks and sounds real. I have bad days, why should a president. IF he's smart, he won't go near the nuclear button on a bad day.

I like the Fred Thompson I saw. He was natural, like when he refused to raise his hand in one of the debates. He wasn't afraid to speak his mind. I bet he could have blistered recalcitrant congressmen and women very effecitvely when the need arose.

In short, Fred looked and sounded more like a neighbor than an icon or stacrhed shirt with a rehearsed speech. He wasn't desparate to have the job. He was a true volunteer who wished to serve. His downfall leaves me thinking how far our elected officials are from reality. how do you govern in a cocoon?

David V Author Profile Page said:

As a Huckabee supporter, I've always regarded Fred as a genuine conservative whom I mostly agreed with.

I regret that it wasn't Guilinai or McCain who withdrew this week.

I've worked the '92 Buchanan and the '96 Gramm campaigns. I;ve had some of the same frustrations with the National campaigns that many Thompson supporters have expressed.

Huckabee has empowered and organized city and state organizations in a unique way. We pretty much manage our own efforts, without any national money or leadership. It's been fun but as February nears I suspect we'll be coordinating with Little Rock quite a bit more.

The thing I'm most confident about is that the Thompson supporters won't "take their ball and go home". Michael and his fellow conservatives will continue to build conservative unity and work for the principles we believe in.

s said:

With Bill Clinton making a fool of himself lately, that now makes two Clintons you don't want to win.

Paul Tay said:

90% of winning is just showing up. Ron Paul 4 Prez!

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 22, 2008 10:44 PM.

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