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After the Fred Thompson Campaign
Posted by: Jon Henke on Friday, January 25, 2008

Since Fred Thompson has withdrawn from the Republican Presidential nomination race, there has been a great deal of commentary - informed, partially informed and pure speculative guessing - on what went wrong, who was responsible and more. As a new media consultant to that campaign, I probably have more insight than some, and less than others. As I read and hear the various commentaries by people close to, or involved with, the campaign, though, I am reminded of the story of the blind men who were taken to an elephant and asked to describe it...
The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.

A wise man explains to them ... "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant."
It is interesting to see the various perspectives, but it's always worth remembering that the whole story is probably more complicated than any single perspective might suggest. Over the past few days, I've read a number of perspectives on the campaign, some of which I'll share here. I agree with elements of these, disagree with others and think many, perhaps all, are incomplete. Nevertheless, they are a valuable perspective.

Rich Galen, a senior adviser to the Thompson campaign...

Here's a tale out of school which describes the kind of man Thompson is: One day in the week leading up to the South Carolina primary the campaign office in McLean, Virginia asked if he would record a video thanking supporters for helping to have raised over a million dollars from the day after the Iowa caucuses to that point.

This video was obviously going to be a veiled pitch to send in more money - a point not lost on Thompson even though the script I wrote never mentioned it.

He told me he wasn't going to record it. Knowing we were facing an uphill climb to stay in the race, and knowing the video would tempt viewers to donate to help the campaign to go onto Florida and February 5th, he said, "I am not going to ask for money under false pretenses."
Patrick Ruffini, independent new media consultant
...Thompson was a unique candidate shackled inside a cookie-cutter campaign. In this era of authenticity, communications and strategy people need to be prepared to sell the candidate as he actually is, no matter what that might be. If the goal was to showcase Thompson as substantive, then the remedy was to do two and three hour long town hall meetings. Instead, we had perfunctory campaigning that fatally undercut the substance argument.

I think the central lesson to be gleaned from the Thompson campaign is “trust your instincts.” [...] He promised us a different type of campaign that would use the Internet to end-run the liberal media.

This electrified the activist class and earned him virtually instantaneous frontrunner status. So what happens next? Everyone associated with the strategy that made Thompson the frontrunner is either fired or resigns, and is replaced by largely by conventional Washington insiders. [...] The Fred Thompson from the Michael Moore video was the real deal, and post-September, he never showed up.
[...]
Ultimately, the story of the Fred Thompson campaign will be one of authenticity and grassroots potential wasted on a cookie-cutter Washington campaign.
Mike Turk, Thompson eCampaign Consultant...
While the pundits will discuss and debate exactly where the campaign went wrong, the one thing I believe they misunderstand is the way the Internet could have, and should have, shaped this campaign. That misunderstanding contributed to the "Fred is lazy" storyline early on.

The campaign still had to do the things necessary to win - talking to, registering, IDing, and mobilizing voters. Nobody questioned that. That the campaign strategy was written off as "relying entirely on the Internet" was simply not accurate. The idea, from my perspective, was to harness the power of the Net to build a robust community that would become an integral part of the ground game.
[...]
Unfortunately, the staff turnover that began in the late summer had an almost immediate effect on the Internet operation. As the Communications team focused on traditional media tactics, their attention increasingly turned away from the Internet. The commentaries became less frequent, online initiatives were no longer part of the equation.
[...]
I'm afraid that the withdrawal of Fred Thompson will lead people to conclude that the model was wrong. I really don't feel it was.

As I said, I think the Thompson Internet operation, in the early days, and in the final days, was really second to none. Political campaign professionals should study the Thompson effort not as a case study in what went badly, but as an example of what was going very well, and could have been extraordinary had it not been for the media's obsessive demand for 'the tried and true tactics of the 1980s'.
Patrick Cox, speechwriter and the Thompson campaign's first hire..

In retrospect, I suspect that the critics who said he started too late were right, though not for the reasons that most posited. Fred was correct when he quipped on Leno that the American people would not hold it against him that he waited a few months to officially declare. Everybody I know, however, underestimated how important it is to have political allies lined up ahead of time.

Most of the leading candidates were working behind the scenes for years, making unofficial deals with the people in every state who know how to wield influence and mobilize the rank and file. Fred, on the other hand, honestly never lusted for the power of the presidency. He agreed, upon significant urging, to run because he believed it was the right thing to do for his children and the country. Politics, however, apparently requires more.
[...]
The consensus of GOP insiders in Florida seems to be that it may have been impossible for Fred to create that organization so late in the game. Romney, Giuliani and McCain had already cherry-picked the best and the brightest; especially Romney. I’ve heard from people who had committed to other candidates well in advance of the campaigns but deeply regretted not having been able to join the Thompson Team without breaking promises. Ultimately, I think, this disadvantage proved to be insurmountable.
Rich Galen, again...

Throughout the campaign, when reporters enquired about Thompson's commitment to the race because of what Espo and/or Sidoti called his "laid-back style" I answered the same way: "If you're looking for a guy who is going to put on a Clarabell wig and a red nose and jump on stage singing show tunes, you've got the wrong guy."

It is strange that the qualities we are looking for in a sitting President - thoughtful, calm, and serious - are exactly the qualities which we penalize in those running for President.

It was a great ride. I'm sorry it's over.
Indeed.

Obviously, things didn't work out as I hoped they would with the Fred Thompson campaign. For my part, I regret that we were unable to accomplish the things we had wanted to accomplish for the campaign. Ultimately, I believe the campaign was a noble cause and a valuable contribution. I am glad to have been a part of it, even if it was not quite the part I would have designed.

Like Sean Hackbarth, "I haven’t endorsed anyone, and I don’t know if I will." A bit of distance from the campaign may give me a better perspective on the field. Or perhaps, like Mike Turk, I'll find myself "unable to find anything in the remaining candidates on either side that gives me hope..."

Unfortunately, with Fred Thompson out of the race, I fear that no remaining candidate is making a compelling case for limiting government or for making the narrative, structural or practical changes that would make the cause of limited government more likely in the future.

I would like to be convinced otherwise. Failing that, I would like to begin doing something about that.
 
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My only happy thought is it sounds like my emotional gut instincts about Thomas were right.

 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Bill Quick started this site to explore starting an American Conservative Party.

Says Bill:
My gut feeling is that the traditionally American conservative viewpoint has been constitutional in nature, has tended toward limited, inexpensive government, and focused on individual liberty.
If we can iron out the differences, pragmatic libertarians ought to be able to find common ground with conservatives who believe in traditional American principles.

I was going to email you guys to see what you thought about it, but have been busy with work (and internetless at home.)
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
"Most of the leading candidates were working behind the scenes for years, making unofficial deals with the people in every state who know how to wield influence and mobilize the rank and file."

Your vote... the illusion of freedom...
 
Written By: Dissident
URL: http://
Your vote... the illusion of freedom...
Winning an election takes votes. Getting out the vote takes infrastructure. If you can’t or don’t tap into the existing infrastructure, you’ll have a hard time. That’s why 3rd parties have such a hard time in the US.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
I just realized the other night that Thompson’s "campaign office in McLean, Virginia" was in the same building where I used to work. For my former co-workers’ sake, I hope the Thompson people were better building neighbors than the bank office that used to be there. :)

I don’t know who I’m going to vote for now, if it’s even still up in the air at all by the time it gets to VA (Feb 19, I believe). I’m thinking McCain might be the best of the remaining choices, which doesn’t say much. I hope Huckabee is gone soon (I would not rule out voting for Hillary if she ran against Huckabee; he is that scary to me), and I’ve never been entirely sold on Romney.
 
Written By: kevin r
URL: http://
Well, that and you’d swear the primaries (circus) we’re undergoing right now were a legal requirement on par with actually voting instead of the ’shows’ that they really are.

It’s entertainment, not government, and the two parties have pretty securely established that there’s only room for them in THIS production.
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
I fear that no remaining candidate is making a compelling case for limiting government or for making the narrative, structural or practical changes that would make the cause of limited government more likely in the future.
You forgot Ron Paul.

Oh, sorry, you said compelling and practical.
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
There is NO "After the Fred Thompson Campaign"...like the man at Red State Update, I have my jug of gasoline handy and my picture of Phred on my desk.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Your vote... the illusion of freedom...
My snarky illusion of having profundity....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
too bad, I thought that he would have been a good choice.

 
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
"That’s why 3rd parties have such a hard time in the US."

How about election laws? Third largest party, by membership, only made it on 36 or so state ballots last presidential election. And now people debate which clone they will support. Does our vote really matter at the federal level?
 
Written By: Dissident
URL: http://
How about election laws? Third largest party, by membership, only made it on 36 or so state ballots last presidential election. And now people debate which clone they will support. Does our vote really matter at the federal level?
Short answer, "No" it doesn’t quit voting, stop whining, move to a smaller country...kill yourself. In fact does your vote count much past the local Rotary Club meeting or Anarcho-Syndicalist Collective Town Hall Meeting?
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Anarcho-Syndicalist Collective Town Hall Meeting?
You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship: a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes—
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Looker, there you go again, going on about "class"....


Help Help I’m being Oppressed...
Come see the violence inherent in the system!
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Unfortunately, with Fred Thompson out of the race, I fear that no remaining candidate is making a compelling case for limiting government or for making the narrative, structural or practical changes that would make the cause of limited government more likely in the future.
If you truly can’t find anybody you like you can always go the Nader "the worse the better" route and support the one you think will be so bad the the pendulum will start to swing back toward limited government in response to his or her exesses. In other words, vote Romney.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
limited government in response to his or her exesses. In other words, vote Romney
If I want a certainty of excesses, of every sort, I’ll vote Clinton.
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Thompson reminded me of Ross Perot. When he first announced he would run, he led in the polls, then he said he wasn’t going to run and everyone thought him uncommitted or just screwy.

Thompson came on the same way, and kept up a wishy washy... I still think he is just looking to boost his buddy mcPain.
 
Written By: Spank That Donkey
URL: http://www.spankthatdonkey.com
Do we have an oligopoly in Washington?

Which party is the cut spending party? Neither.

Which party is the anti-illegal immigration party? Neither.

That’s enough of an oligopoly for me to say we could do without the two-party entrenchment.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
If we can iron out the differences, pragmatic libertarians ought to be able to find common ground with conservatives who believe in traditional American principles.
It could be a viable coalition, but the question is how we avoid the same thing that has happened to it currently. More important, I think, is developing the compelling ideas that the coalition can unify around and which address current problems that drive the electorate.

Without that, you get stuff like "compassionate conservatism."
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://QandO.net
Everyone talks about Thompson’s campaign as if it were at fault for what happened, including the staff, instead of talking about what the man was saying...this is denial.
I can assure you, I’ve spent quite a lot of time talking about what Fred Thompson was saying. And I agree that people should spend more time talking about substance, rather than style and the horserace. But...
Lets face it people, far too many parroted the spin of the MSM and his opponent’s campaign sabotage of misinformation because they have no education, integrity or morals left to appreciate someone who does.
While there’s no doubt there was some bad reporting, don’t chalk it all up to some sort of "liberal media conspiracy". There were genuine problems.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
It could be a viable coalition, but the question is how we avoid the same thing that has happened to it currently. More important, I think, is developing the compelling ideas that the coalition can unify around and which address current problems that drive the electorate.

Without that, you get stuff like "compassionate conservatism."
That’s why I’m trying to get other people interested in the discussion. The more views the better.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com

 
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