Postmortem on the Thompson Campaign

The autopsy on the Thompson campaign will find that it succumbed to a host of -ion diseases: equivocation; expectation; communication; and perception.

Equivocation:  Last summer the "will he or won't he" saga of Fred's potential entry into the presidential race was the political version of the play Waiting for Godot.  Speculated deadlines came and went, and still no Fred.  The summer storyline was a tease that became a snooze.   Anticipation built, subsided, and built again - several times.  And with each run-up to his possible entry into the race, the voting public cared just a little less.  Equivocation does not play well with voters.

Expectation:  Thompson's popularity as a TV and movie personality had us primed for a superstar candidate.  We expected a real-life version of his portrayal of the confident and decisive D.A. on Law & Order.  Of course, this was unfair of us, but not unexpected.  Instead of standing behind a bank of microphones and boldly announcing his candidacy on the front steps of President Andrew Jackson's Hermitage Mansion, he filled a deep-sunk lounge chair on the Jay Leno Show and announced in a style meant to be laid-back.  Instead, it played as laid-down.

Communication:   After seven years of a President whose strength, even as his supporters will acknowledge, is not public speaking, we expected and hoped to be impressed with Fred's speeches.  This, too, was unfair.  In most of his acting roles, Fred was only called upon to deliver relatively short monologues.  And even then, retakes were always an option.  On Law & Order, Fred's character would typically listen to lawyers postulate, ask a question or two, and then render a concise and insightful judgment.  In real-life, this is a skill valuable to any occupant of the Oral Office.  But he didn't often display it on the campaign trail. 

Fred was a disappointment as a platform speaker.  He often held his hands in the classic "spiders-doing-pushups-on-a-mirror" position that conveys nervousness.  He voiced frequent "hums" while he searched for his next words.  And, when he was using a manuscript or notes, he looked down while saying the final (and often most important) words of a sentence while looking for what came next.  In short, if he got professional presentation skills coaching he didn't heed it.  Instead, he opted for his natural style, and natural didn't work.

Perception:  Voters perceived Fred as a lethargic candidate.  Sure, the media helped build that perception, but so did his behaviors.  In the debates he engaged only intermittently.  When he did, he was great!  But he more often appeared disinterested.  Perhaps it reflected his distain for the sound-bite addicted media.  The reason is not important, only the impact.  And the impact was that voters perceived him as detached from the fray.  Not aloof or arrogant, just not engaged.  As he failed to garner support, his unaltered laissez faire style deflected voters, who wanted to support him, toward other candidates.

Senator Fred Thompson was like a gifted sprinter who didn't seem to like running. 

So he's left a race he never really entered. 

The GOP will now pause for brief melancholic moment as the man who might have been an historic candidate goes home to Tennessee.