Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wiedersehen Fred!

Fred Thompson has quit the race for the GOP nomination. In some ways he was probably the least offensive candidate to the most elements of the Republican coalition. He was able to speak coherently enough while still more or less toeing the overall party line (though he was, thankfully, opposed to the Bush/Cheney expansion of executive power). Unfortunately for him, the party establishment had already thrown most of its weight behind Romney by the time Thompson finally decided to enter the race. Equally bad for him was the fact that he finally threw his hat in the ring after Huckabee had started to pick up steam with evangelicals. His laid-back style probably would have had more appeal had he jumped in sooner, I suspect.

Given the deep distrust most non-establishment Republicans have for Romney and Giuliani now, it is pretty clear that McCain stands as the sole remaining candidate who actually can be a legitimate standard bearer for something resembling the old "Reagan Coalition." Unfortunately, the departure of his old Senate pal Thompson may hurt McCain more than it helps him since Thompson has hinted that he does not intend to endorse anyone else anytime soon (if he were to do so, McCain would be the safe bet).

Much of Huckabee's rise came at the expense of Thompson's support. But Thompson's overall support came largely from the fact that he was a credible "fusionist" candidate; I suspect that Huckabee had already milked Thompson's base dry of social conservatives, leaving primarily establishment conservatives and fiscal conservatives to be divvied up among the competition. This means that I somewhat doubt the conventional wisdom that Huckabee will benefit from Thompson's departure and that I think most of Thompson's remaining supporters were establishment Republicans who found Romney's weaseliness to be extremely off-putting.

I'm not entirely certain how Thompson's departure will affect the race, but my suspicion is that it will not noticeably increase Huckabee's numbers. I would think that Romney would gain more points from Thompson's departure than anyone, but Chris Cilizza presents some numbers suggesting the benefits will actually accrue to McCain and Giuliani.

More reactions at Memeorandum.