UPDATE & BUMP: Fred is officially out. I just received this from his campaign:
Senator Fred Thompson today issued the following statement about his campaign for President:
"Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States.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. Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people."
It seems like an opportunity lost, but perhaps one that may have been overestimated from the beginning.
Original post follows ....
Jim Geraghty of National Review's Campaign Spot reports that Fred Thompson will not appear in Thursday's debate in Florida -- and may withdraw altogether. He has no interest in a lesser position in a Republican administration and sounds as if he may head back to Hollywood, and sooner rather than later. Most importantly, he won't issue any endorsements, either:
He will not endorse, I am told by this source close to Thompson.
I am also told, "he has no interest in a vice presidency or a cabinet position." At an "appropriate time" he will outline his plans for the near future.
This source believes that the race has demonstrated that whatever happens from here on out, the GOP has to stand for consistent conservative policies across the board.
We should note, first, that Thompson is tending to his mother, who is seriously ill. I'd ask people to pray for the Thompson family as they cope with her health issues.
Regarding the race, this outcome seemed determined in the results of the South Carolina primary. Fred himself sounded as though he received a message from his distant third-place finish in the Palmetto State, as I noted during my live blog. When candidates say things like, "We will always be bound by a special bond," it portends an exit and not a hard fight to the finish.
Fred's likely exit will cause a little navel-gazing around the blogosphere. The enthusiasm Fred generated didn't get matched by the energy output of the campaign itself, and many puzzled over this fact. While Thompson advocates argued that we should support the candidate who rejected the media-driven, hoop-jumping campaign that most politicians use, voters expected to see more of Thompson's desire and demonstrate that he had the energy to run the country. Bloggers either missed this desire or mistakenly discounted it as a factor even among media-resistant conservatives -- who voted in greater numbers for John McCain and Mike Huckabee than Fred in South Carolina.
Thompson had a great voice for conservatives in the race, but he had the weakest track record. He only had eight years in the Senate, no executive experience, and a mixed voting record. As a presidential nominee facing either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, the inexperience factor would have been negated -- perhaps the GOP's greatest potential strength -- and his reluctance to campaign as necessary in today's political market would have put the Republicans at even more of a disadvantage. In those senses, Romney, Giuliani, and McCain have better credentials and more upside for November.
I'll miss Fred at the debates, though, if he does withdraw. He put a little stiffener into the GOP's backbone in two breakout showings, and the remaining candidates would do well to emulate Fred a little more in the future.