time runs out for thompson

Posted on January 20, 2008


Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson ought to put himself out of the continued misery of pretending to stump for the Republican party’s presidential nomination.

In today’s make-or-break contest for him in the state of South Carolina, the former Law & Order star finished a distant third and gave a strange and convoluted conceding speech.

The 16 per cent he chalked up was clearly not good enough to sustain his candidacy or further arguments for his electability in the longer term. His rivals Senator John McCain won with 33 per cent, while former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee siphoned votes from Thompson and finished a credible second, capturing 30 per cent of the votes.

Furthermore, Thompson barely beat former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, gaining just one per cent of the votes more than Romney, after Romney all but gave up on South Carolina and decided to try his luck in Nevada instead.

Thompson’s campaign had staked his candidacy on a strong finish in a conservative southern state, not only to jump-start his somnambulent campaign but also to propel him to a potential front-runner status, especially with the still muddled picture in the Republican race.

South Carolina was supposed to have been that test state, and scene of triumph, for Thompson. Conservative voters were assumed to turn out strongly to back a classically conservative candidate like him. The state was also seen as being suitable for and appreciative of his slow and steady style. It further helps that he is a Southerner himself. With so many supposedly favorable factors and Thompson still failing to deliver there, it is highly doubtful if he would do better anywhere else.

Had he decided to throw his ring into the hat earlier and not test the waters for as long as he did, Thompson might have stood a better chance. And had he ran a more vigorous campaign, the story could have been different today. But it looks doubtful now if he could salvage his half-hearted candidacy or turn things around. It would be better if he withdrew and declared his support for McCain, whom he had endorsed in 2000, rather than drag out the inevitable.

In the longer term, Thompson’s departure would also make the field less crowded and be better for the Republican party itself, sparing it of a bruising race that threatens to go on until the Republican convention, thus allowing it and the eventual nominee to have more time to prepare and face a highly-energized Democratic party.

Thompson’s fate is a foreboding portent for former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who had gambled on laying low and sitting out early voting states while throwing all his resources behind winning delegate-rich Florida’s primary later this month on the 29th. Tellingly, Giuliani had been at the bottom of the pack in the early-voting states. He might be kicking himself for having engaged in such a risky strategy when he finds himself in the same boat as Thompson – forgotten in the national conservation and losing the momentum gained by early state winners.

It would perhaps also remind candidates that they can’t campaign as a candidate for just a few states but to fight hard in every battle ground – because which voter likes to be overlooked or treated less importantly?

Another interesting little development in the Nevada caucus, which drew a lot less attention and campaigning than in South Carolina – Representative Ron Paul finished second after Romney.

That means Paul, who is usually seen as a long-shot candidate, actually beat other more “conventional” and “electable” Republican candidates such as McCain, Huckabee, Thompson and Giuliani.

It might just be a Nevada quirk but it should also be a worrying sign that the Republican party is in serious flux, and prove again how hard it is for any candidate to unite the party behind them and consolidate on their disparate gains.