Fred Thompson First Drafted Presidential Candidate Since Eisenhower?

Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown contends that, “When Fred Thompson finally announces his candidacy next month, it will be the closest thing to a successful draft of a presidential candidate in more than a half-century.”

It isn’t that the actor-turned-U.S. senator-turned-actor had to have his arm twisted to run. But Thompson did need to be convinced it would be more than a fool’s errand, and he clearly was not planning on running for president until others sought him out. The rest of the current White House aspirants, all of whom have been planning to run since at least the end of 2004, have been thinking about becoming president since they were in high school, if not kindergarten.

Whether Thompson turns out to be anything other than a historical footnote will be determined by what happens after he announces his candidacy, now expected Labor Day week. But, by actually doing so, he will be the first White House hopeful to actually run because others convinced him to since Dwight Eisenhower returned to the United States in the spring of 1952 and won the presidency later that year.


Friends, including former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), who has been Thompson’s mentor over the years, began urging him to run early this year when none of the GOP candidates seemed to light a fire with grass-roots Republicans.

I haven’t read and don’t intend to read all of their biographies. But is it really the case that John McCain and Barack Obama — much less many of the marginal candidates — were thinking about the presidency from childhood?

For that matter, wasn’t George W. Bush essentially a drafted candidate? Aside from a failed Congressional bid in the 1970s, there’s not much evidence that he aspired to join the family business until well into middle age. And, after he built a reputation as a consensus builder in Texas, there was a major clamor to get him to run for president.

And then there’s Ross Perot, who had no intention of running for president until Larry King begged him to do it and then people in each of the 50 states got him on the ballot. Well, at least that’s his story.

What Thompson is, moreso than a drafted candidate, is a cautious one. While many politicians seem willing to run a losing campaign for the presidency just to get the publicity, Thompson was making plenty of money as an actor. Plus, he’s known to hate the rigors of the campaign trail. So, he’s running without actually running until he’s sure he has a strong shot at winning the nomination.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael says:
  2. Dave Schuler says:

    What does it mean to be a “drafted candidate”? GWB was certainly the regular Republican candidate in 2000. Do those mean the same thing?

  3. James Joyner says:

    What does it mean to be a “drafted candidate”?

    Basically, someone who was recruited by party leaders or a grassroots effort rather than putting himself forward and hoping to catch fire.

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    I remember sitting on a plane in November of 1996 flying into Austin. I asked the 20 something sitting next to me what he was doing in Austin (figuring he was going to my alma mater UT). He said with a perfectly straight face and total conviction that he was going to Austin to work with George Bush, the next president of the US. I don’t remember the details of how he was going to be working for him, but I seem to remember it was going to be some sort of volunteer capacity.

    Think about that. Days after Clinton won a second term, here is this earnest young man being sure that George would be the next president. I liked George, had voted for him for Governor, but I really didn’t think of him in presidential terms at that time.

    I wonder how many people are coming up to potential candidates and telling them they want to volunteer to work for them over the next four years because they think they are shaking hands with the next president of the US. That has to at least get your mind working towards the idea of running for president.

  5. Triumph says:

    There is one draft that Freddy Thompson–along with Mitt and Rudy–successfully avoided: Viet Nam.

  6. SPQR says:

    Triumph, Thompson was born in 1942 – so he was draft age long before the Vietnam war had significant deployed US troops. A silly shot.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Triumph, Thompson was born in 1942 – so he was draft age long before the Vietnam war had significant deployed US troops. A silly shot.

    While I agree it was a “silly shot,” Thompson would have been 22 at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and 24 by the time the escalation reached its peak. That’s prime draft age for someone who went to college.

    Indeed, my dad was born in 1943 and went to Vietnam. He was already in the Army, having volunteered for enlistment in 1962, but was 24 at the time he did his year in ‘Nam.