Thompson Campaign Collapsing Before it Starts?

Fred Thompson’s once promising bid for the Republican nomination is starting to fall apart even though it hasn’t officially started, AP’s Liz Sidoti argues.

Thompson has had difficulty on all three fronts in recent weeks:

    – Sidelined his campaign-manager-in-waiting and watched a few other aides flee what Republican critics and allies alike describe as a woefully muddled organization in which Thompson’s wife, Jeri, has extraordinary control. Other staffers are considering leaving as well, seemingly frustrated with the lack of direction.

    – Reported collecting nearly $3.5 million in his first fundraising month, surpassing comparable totals of some likely rivals but lagging his backers’ original $5 million goal. GOP officials say subsequent fundraising has fallen off some, which could indicate soft support for Thompson or reflect the traditionally slow summer.

    – Fumbled questions about his past lobbying and his current policy positions. He was dogged for weeks by his conflicting answers about whether he lobbied in 1991 for a family planning group. Now, he is under fire for reportedly saying he would sign legislation replacing all federal taxes with a sales tax, only to have his spokeswoman deny such a pledge.

The difficulties appear to be lending credence to months-long skepticism about Thompson’s hunger for the quest, including whether he is ready for the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign and committed to doing the work necessary.


Late to the game compared to major rivals Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain, Thompson toyed with the idea of running throughout the spring but only made his intentions clear in early June when he established the “Friends of Fred Thompson, Inc.,” committee to “test the waters” of a presidential bid.

He spent the past few months setting up headquarters in Nashville and northern Virginia, hiring a few dozen staffers, giving a few speeches and raising money.

All the while, his supporters have enthusiastically portrayed him as nothing short of the second coming of conservative icon Ronald Reagan. They pumped him up as the Republican who can rally the party’s right-leaning establishment and upend the Democratic nominee in the general election.

The expectations for Thompson indeed are high — perhaps too high. If the past few weeks are any indication, he runs a significant risk of failing to meet them.

The high expectations are indeed a major problem for Thompson, who looks like he’s failing even though he’s raising more money and polling better than all of his rivals save Giuliani. Still, Sidoti is right that the campaign has hit a rough patch.

Thompson’s main appeal, as best I can figure, is that he gives the appearance of being a Reagan-style conservative who knows what he’s doing. His poor handling of the “lobbying for an abortion group” brouhaha and his inability to manage a nascent staff undermines both perceptions.

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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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Eric J says:

    What articles like this (and much of the Blogosphere) tend to miss is that, if I may torture a metaphor a bit, we haven’t even started the preseason yet. The campaigns – all the campaigns, not just Thompson’s – are in training camp, but most of them are acting like it’s the playoffs. Outside of political junkies and reporters, NO-ONE CARES. Will even the primary voters in New Hampshire remember that Thompson spent the summer of ’07 shuffling his staff and giving obfuscatory answers about his lobbying? Only if his new staff is so incompetent that he’s still being defined by it in January. (Who are the new assistant coaches on the Redskins’ staff this year?)

    I like Thompson, and I want him to do well, but I think the same goes for all of the campaigns. All-in-all, I think Hillary’s doing the best job of only showing her Vanilla offense (though I doubt Romney has anything but a vanilla offense.) I also think she’s likely to hold her fire as much as possible against Obama, because she ultimatel wants him as her V.P.

    Of course Redskins fans have seen that sometimes a lousy preseason shows you exactly what the team will be like when it counts.