Easy Didn't Do It for Thompson Presidential Bid

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Fred Thompson's withdrawal from the Republican presidential race ends a White House bid that never really took off. The former Tennessee senator's relaxed leadership style failed to ignite meaningful support from voters.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And we can now tell you for sure that the winner of the Democratic nomination will not be facing Fred Thompson this fall. The former senator and actor ended his Republican campaign after disappointing results in the early voting states.

And we're going to learn more now from NPR News analyst Juan Williams.

Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Wasn't Fred Thompson supposed to be the next Ronald Reagan?

WILLIAMS: He was. But what you had here, I think, is a political failure to launch. There was much anticipation that he would rocket to the front of the GOP pack last spring, but he waited, hoping for a tremendous build up to lift off, you know, and he wanted to be, as you say, the 21st century Ronald Reagan - a reliable conservative, long-time opponent of gay marriage, abortion, supporter of gun ownership, small government. But he had internal staff confusion, especially with the role of his wife. I think he had a rambling, easygoing speaking style, but it didn't convey any urgency. And he especially got lost in terms of any - making any mark on the debates. So, you know, initially, he even decided not to participate in a debate and appear on the Jay Leno show. At times, it seem like he really wasn't into this contest.

INSKEEP: Well, there was a Newsweek cover - I believe it was Newsweek - at the time when he was well - doing well on the polls. And the cover said: Lazy like a fox. Was that fair?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, the thought was, like a fox, that there was some strategy behind it that it would appeal - this kind of easygoing style would appeal to the voters. But I think that what came across instead of him being an authentic personality and someone the voters could relate to easily was that there was a lack of rationale to the candidacy. You know, you need a context, even. And this campaign overall is about change, for candidates on both the Democrat and Republican side.

And when he was asked about this, Fred Thompson's response was, no. I think I stand for leadership. Well, exactly, you know, what kind of leadership? I mean, he tried to represent Southern conservative values. But others become more conservative in reaction to him in some ways, especially Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani.

The evangelicals really saw Mike Huckabee as their representative, someone who came into the race - and again, likable, authentic. And in that context, it seemed as if his brand, Fred Thompson's brand, just kind of slipped away from him, and he wasn't fighting to get a grip and reclaim it.

Richard Viguerie, the long-time conservative fundraiser, issued a statement yesterday quoting Dorothy Parker, saying on the death of Calvin Coolidge, "How can they tell?"

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Oh, goodness. Well, let me just ask very, very briefly, Juan Williams. Is there something that he has now in common - Fred Thompson has in common with people like Phil Graham or even Howard Dean - superstar candidacies that didn't seem to get anywhere in the end?

WILLIAMS: I think that's right. This goes back to the context, the rationale thing, you know. Exactly, these are outstanding people, but, you know, what the whole idea of a party divided, he needed to really make it clear why he was to be the representative of the party, and the branding effort didn't make it this time around.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's News analyst Juan Williams.

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Thompson Abandons White House Bid

Fred Thompson speaks during a GOP debate last week.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson speaks during a Fox News presidential debate last week in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He dropped out of the race for the GOP nomination on Tuesday. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson dropped out of the Republican presidential contest Tuesday afternoon.

But he effectively bowed out last Saturday night after the South Carolina primary, when he thanked his supporters and spoke about his campaign in the past tense.

"My friends, we will always be bound by a close bond, because we have traveled a very special road together, for a very special purpose," he said.

Thompson sputtered into third place in South Carolina, a deep-South state where he had hoped to find traction with his message of conservative values. He did not endorse any of his fellow Republican candidates as he bowed out of the race.

Thompson teased Republican loyalists for months, before entering the race in September. His poll numbers went down from there. The campaign was disorganized, the fundraising lackluster. He seemed reluctant to campaign.

Then Mike Huckabee took his role, as the plain-spoken, traditional-values candidate from Dixie.

Thompson's best showing was a weak second place in the Wyoming caucus.

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