After his poor showing in South Carolina, it was widely speculated that he would pull himself out of the race. Today he made it official:
NAPLES, Fla. (AP) – Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson quit the Republican presidential race on Tuesday, after a string of poor finishes in early primary and caucus states.
“Today, I have withdrawn my candidacy for president of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort,” Thompson said in a statement.
Thompson’s fate was sealed last Saturday in the South Carolina primary, when he finished third in a state that he had said he needed to win.
In the statement, Thompson did not say whether he would endorse any of his former rivals. He was one of a handful of members of Congress who supported Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2000 in his unsuccessful race against George W. Bush for the party nomination.
According to Jim Geraghty, a source close to the Thompson campaign told him that he would not be endorsing a candidate, nor was he interested in a veep nod or cabinet position.
Stephen Spruiell takes a look back at the Fred campaign and speculates as to the reasons his campaign never took off:
The winners in the Republican party that day had been John McCain in South Carolina and Mitt Romney in Nevada, both of whom have embraced the theme of change. Everywhere he goes, McCain portrays himself as the man who changed the course of the Iraq war through his early advocacy of the successful troop surge. Meanwhile, Romney tells voters that Washington is “fundamentally broken” and that he can bring the change to make it work again. And Mike Huckabee, who finished second in South Carolina, did so espousing a political philosophy that many Republicans don’t recognize as being conservative at all.
Fred’s campaign had a different tone. He was not a candidate of change. On almost every important issue, he offered the same policy prescriptions conservatives have championed for years. On Social Security, he offered a plan that included private accounts and a modest slowdown in the growth of benefits. On immigration, he rejected the false dichotomy in which our only options are to deport millions of people or grant them citizenship; instead, Fred proposed new border-security measures and a strategy of reducing the illegal population through attrition. He promised to appoint strict-constructionist judges, and he proposed conservative solutions to the problem of rising health-care costs. On Iraq, he favored giving Gen. David Petraeus time to do his job.
Unfortunately, Fred lacked the salesmanship to make these old ideas seem new at a time when new seems to be what the voters want. It also didn’t help that, as Byron York put it in a dispatch last week, “Thompson showed great impatience with some of the ridiculous demands presidential campaigns place on candidates.”
Thompson surely deserves much of the blame he’s going to get for running a lackluster campaign, and people — most of all his supporters — will wonder if his heart was ever really in it. But his campaign always had a bigger obstacle, a “change deficit” that he could not have overcome without changing who he was. That would have negated his reason for running, but more importantly, it would have cost conservatism a valuable defender.
Spruiell added in a follow-up:
I think this campaign — and Fred’s refusal to bend his positions in response to the change-mania that swept the race — will make Fred a stronger champion of conservative ideas. A guy from a rival campaign told me later that night, “Fred would make a good president of the Heritage Foundation. He belongs someplace like that.”
Indeed. Just because his campaign never caught fire doesn’t mean he should consider his political career over. With Republicans growing increasingly frustrated that the party has moved way too far away from its conservative ideals, especially as it relates to fiscal conservatism and illegal immigration, Fred still has an important role to play in the political arena, should he decide to stay in it. If he doesn’t, I wish him well and will continue to wonder – along with other conservatives – at what might have been.