Fred Thompson: Not Interested in Running for President

Fred Thompson: Not Interested in Running for President Fred Thompson battles Iowa There’s a minor blogstorm developing around a report from Bill Theobald in USA Today about Fred Thompson’s answer to a question as to how badly he wanted to be president.

Mark Memmott and Jill Lawrence of the paper’s OnPolitics blog summarize the story thusly in a post titled “Thompson: Doesn’t like campaign process, ‘will not be devastated’ if he loses”:

In a dispatch today from Burlington, Bill quotes the former Tennessee senator as saying he doesn’t like modern campaigning, isn’t that interested in running for president and “will not be devastated” if he doesn’t win.

They then provide the full report, the relevant portion of which I’ll provide unexcerpted:

Fred Thompson said Saturday he does not much like the modern form of presidential campaigning and that he “will not be devastated” if he doesn’t win the election.

“I’m not particularly interested in running for president,” Thompson said, but rather he feels called to serve his country.

“I don’t know if you have a desire to be president,” Burlington attorney Todd Chelf told Thompson during a question and answer session raising an issue that has dogged his campaign.

“I am not consumed by personal ambition,” Thompson responded. “I’m offering myself up.”

Given the volatile state of the world, the actor and former Tennessee senator said he was not “sure it is a good thing if a president has too much fire in his belly.”

“I’m only consumed by a few things and politics is not one of them,” he said.

Chelf said after the event that it was “almost refreshing to hear that approach.”

“I think there is a passion there,” he said. “I think it’s sort of a Southern gentleman passion.”

Jim Geraghty, Bob Krumm, and Bill Quick believe that this report distorts what Thompson said in order to feed the “Lazy Fred” meme.

Geraghty says, “The man sounds dead!” and provides a full transcript of the remarks, which are much more nuanced than the report. A key passage highlights this:

I’m offering myself up. I’m saying that if I have the background, the capability and the concern to do this and I’m doing this for the right reasons… but I’m not particularly interested in running for president, but I think I’d make a good president. Nowadays, the process has become much more important than I think it used to be.

I don’t know if they ever asked George Washington a question like this. I don’t know if they ever asked Dwight D. Eisenhower a question like this. Nowadays it’s all about fire in the belly. I’m not sure that in the world we live in today, it’s a terribly good thing for a president to have too much fire in his belly.

I approach life differently than a lot of people. People, I guess, are wondering how I’ve been as successful as I’ve been in everything I’ve done. I’ve won two races in Tennessee by twenty points in a state Bill Clinton carried twice. I had never run for office before. I’ve never had an acting lesson, and I guess that’s obvious. (laughter). When I did it, I did it. It wasn’t just a lark. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. I’ve always been a little more laid back than most. I like to say I’m only consumed by very few things, and politics is not one of them. The welfare of my country, and my kids and grandkids, growing up, is one of them. (applause)

If what people really want in their president is a super type A personality, someone who has gotten up every morning and gone to bed every night and been thinking about, for years how they can be president of the United States… someone who can look you straight in the eye and say they’ve enjoyed every minute of campaigning… (laughter) I ain’t that guy.

Krumm and Quick argue that Theobald and company intentionally “Dowdified” Thompson to make it sound as if “really doesn’t want to be president at all” and contend Theobold has a history of bad reporting.

I’m not familiar enough with Theobald’s body of work to offer an assessment. In terms of this particular report, though, I find the criticism puzzling.

Certainly, the lede by Memmott and Lawrence is misleading; then again, it’s a one-sentence summary of a called-in report. Further, CNN’s Alexander Mooney does a better job of capturing the spirit Thompson’s remarks than Theobold.

Still, I came away from the report with the right impression: Thompson thinks he’d be a good president, would work hard if elected, but he’s not going to be devastated if he doesn’t win.

To be sure, Thompson’s long answer comes across as folksier and gives a more nuanced view of his thinking on the matter. But when isn’t that the case? A man’s fan club will always be unsatisfied with a 150 word summary of a 900 word answer. For that matter, I can’t remember the last time I attended an event and was fully satisfied with the reporting on it. We all view things through different filters and, frankly, reporting — especially on a tight deadline — is hard.

There’s enough genuinely bad journalism out there without making a federal cause of every nuance of disagreement.

Photo credit: AP via CNN

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Blogosphere, Campaign 2008, Media, , ,
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. DL says:

    Good observation on whether they’d demand George Washington this fire in the belly nonsense. Washington would have rather not been asked to be president but would serve the nation if called.

    Sounds like Fred comes close to being the proper (what’s good for the nation – not ego driven) leader.

  2. Winghunter says:

    How incredibly naive in this day and age.

    I suppose you also offer the MSM isn’t biased nor does it openly pursue an agenda who invented this “lazy” crap for nothing else to hang around this mans neck…rrright.

    Getting The Story Straight

    So, I also suppose you’re going to say Jed is just throwing aspersions on the poor reporters of the AP with this article? Smell what’s being shoveled.

    AP Gives Thompson the ‘04 Treatment

  3. syn says:

    I was leaning towards Guiliani however yesterday I watched for the first time PJ Media’s Nov 2001 interview with Fred Thompson and came away with the impression that Thompson is far more serious and solid than the narrative MSM is feeding me; after watching that interview I then read his white papers.

    That said, I no longer believe there is anything remotely considered ‘good journalism’ coming out of the established profession; I have been burned too many times over the last several years to accept that profession as valid and credible.

    Quite literally MSM is burning down their empire with their own matches, and I do not care about or believe in what they report.

  4. Bithead says:

    Nor I, syn, but for a different reason. I don’t consider not being consumed by the attainment of the position to be all that large a problem.

    Consider at the opposite end of the spectrum, Hillary Clinton, whose every breath is consumed in attaining power.


  5. Connie says:

    I remember my father, who served as councilman for over 30 years, turning to me one day years ago and saying, “Don’t ever call me a politician.”

    I understand well where Senator Fred Thompson is coming from. He understands America’s exceptionalism and how our Founding Fathers worked to create one of the greatest, most comprehensive documents in all history – the Constitution of the United States of America.

    He sees us deviating from the premises set forth in the Constitution and wants to get us back on track in a way that will maintain those premises in an increasingly connected world.

    He doesn’t care for the increased pettiness surrounding the election process. Who can blame him for that? If the deliberately dishonest media, which now includes the blogosphere, was not part of that problem, this discussion would not even be taking place. We are not choosing the next American Idol. We are choosing the new leader of the free world. Let’s behave like we are intelligent enough to understand what that position entails.

    Senator Thompson is honest, authoritative, and a true intellectual with the ability to lead America forward without deviating from the ideals that have made us so successful and so respected. The leftist promulgation of the idea that we are not respected or that we are to blame somehow for the problems of other parts of the world is false and is designed to create a sense of guilt to feed the power of socialists who could not exist without creating an unhealthy victim mentality.

    Some of our current candidates seem to be either changing their prior opinions for campaign purposes or taking a class in International Affairs 101 while on the campaign trail. If voters ignore lack of experience and inauthenticity when electing the next President, we do so at our own risk and at the risk of free societies everywhere.

    If the new media wants to be considered credible, then the discourse within it must be honest and held to a higher standard of decency than it currently maintains.

  6. Alan Kellogg says:

    Short answer: “It’s not my aim to run for president, it’s my aim to be president.”

  7. anjin-san says:

    I was actually pretty impressed by his remarks. Always liked him as an actor, and he comes across here as a thoughtful guy who is not too taken with himself…

  8. Tlaloc says:

    I suppose you also offer the MSM isn’t biased nor does it openly pursue an agenda who invented this “lazy” crap for nothing else to hang around this mans neck…rrright.

    Yeah it took the MSM to make up that Fred was lazy, it has nothing to do with his lackadaisical vocal manner, his waiting forever to get into the race, his slow fundraising, his lethargic campaigning, or any other way he’s been consistently slow.


    Look there are times when the MSM makes up a narrative out of whole cloth, but calling Slothy McSlowerson “lazy” isn’t one of those times.


    Nor I, syn, but for a different reason. I don’t consider not being consumed by the attainment of the position to be all that large a problem.

    You can certainly make a case for that, but hopefully you can see where it may very well be a turn off to primary voters who know that Thompson is likely to be just as disinterested when the general election comes around.

    A candidate who doesn’t run can’t win.

  9. Tlaloc says:

    Short answer: “It’s not my aim to run for president, it’s my aim to be president.”

    Hey, mine too. So I guess I too can simply expect your vote without putting forth any effort.

  10. Anderson says:

    Look at it this way: someone in 2007 who actually wants to become president, does not tell journalists “I’m not interested in running for president.”

    We’re supposed to think that Thompson has never heard of a sound bite? That’s he’s trop haute to choose his words carefully?

    Those are not qualities that I want in a president.

  11. Bithead says:

    You can certainly make a case for that, but hopefully you can see where it may very well be a turn off to primary voters who know that Thompson is likely to be just as disinterested when the general election comes around.

    And the idea that Thompson is the most conservative of the bunch doesn’t enter this discussion? I mean, what would the press have to fear from a real conservative, eh?

    I suppose it’s been several generations that the press has not seen the kind of politician that we used to have in this country near its founding, where every waking moment of a candidate’s life was taken up with government. So it is their reaction to such a pol is one of fear.

    Back in the day, we had citizen soldiers, and citizen politicians.

    The soldiers were called up when needed, offering themselves to the service of the country. They didn’t make a career generally speaking, out of being soldiers.

    Politicians of the day were pretty much the same way. They served a few years in their various legislative bodies, and went home. their lives didn’t end when their governmental power did.

    And as someone over at Liberty Post pointed out, Washington didn’t really wanna be president, either.

    But more to the point is the comparison to Hillary Clinton.

    Seems clear to me that Fred will do something because it needs doing, not because he wants to make government, the end-all and be-all and everyone’s solution to everyone’s problem. There is a major difference between Mrs. Inevitable and an attitude of “Here I am elect me if you want me, and if you think I’d do well.”

    That as I see it is the difference between Fred Thompson and Hillary Clinton. Of those two positions, I find Fred Thompson’s infinitely more attractive.

  12. Tlaloc says:

    Back in the day, we had citizen soldiers, and citizen politicians.

    Back in the day you could be an expert in 8 different fields and an wolrd renowned artist to boot. Guess what, things change.

    You can’t be an expert in more than one scientific field anymore because the fields have grown in volume of knowledge by orders of magnitude. You can be familiar with several fields but not an expert.

    Similarly the government and law are a wee bit more complicated now.

    Thinking that you can half ass your way through it is what got us the bush administration and their continual series of &^%$ ups.

  13. Bithead says:

    And what got us through Clinton?

    Look, spare us the cheap shots at Bush that have become so much a part of Democrat salesmanship anymore. Bush, last I knew isn’t running.