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Tommy Thompson drops out of GOP race

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, who said he would drop out of the Republican race for president if he didn't come in first or second in Saturday's Ames Straw Poll, finished sixth of 11 candidates. And minutes ago he made it official.

The 65-year-old former secretary of Health and Human Services said he was officially dropping out of the race. "I respect the decision of the voters," he said. Despite visiting all 99 Iowa counties, his campaign never got much traction, though he did push his colleagues to talk more about health care.

In a brief statement he said he would take some time off before returning to the private sector and his nonprofit work. Historically, the role of the Ames straw poll has been as an early spring weeding of the candidate garden, as discussed here yesterday.

Thompson's departure, which follows that of former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore last month, leaves the GOP pack at eight. It is unlikely to change the current field's dynamics that await the anticipated arrival of another Thompson (Fred) in early September. Tommy Thompson gave no indication of endorsing another Republican yet.

The Times' Michael Finnegan has the complete story on the day after the Ames straw poll here on the website and in Monday's print editions.

--Andrew Malcolm

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Well, you can't say we didn't try. Speaking to the Post on Friday, Gov. Thompson declared that the press - and, by default, the voters - "Don't look at the resume....They're not looking at who is the most qualified to be president. They look at who's got the best looks, the best smile, the most money and is doing well in the polls." True. Presidential elections have featured a triumph of style over substance repeatedly. And, unfortunately, this is the nature of the beast.

The Brandwagon admires Thompson's pluck, both in running for president in the first place - and in highlighting the ways in which the electronic media has reduced what should be truly substantive policy debates into tidy sound bites, flourishes of salacious rhetorical contortionism, and momentary flashes of belt buckles, boots, cloisonné American flags, and incandescent smiles.

However, and this is a big "however," Governor Thompson is about as far from being a political neophyte as Vice President Cheney is from being the world's penultimate open consensus builder. With four decades of public life, including almost 35 years as an elected official - and an unprecedented four consecutive terms as the Republican governor of an ostensibly Democratic state, one would think that Thompson would know just a little about whys and wherefores of American politics. To us, this is particularly frustrating. After seriously considering, what probably would have been very competitive presidential runs in 1996 and 2000, Thompson chose announce his candidacy for the least substantive, most expensive, most drawn-out, presidential campaign in U.S. history, on the April Fool's Day 2007 Edition of ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos. Huh? Did someone forget to say "April Fool's?" Come on.

To be clear, we are not in the business of beating a good man when he is down, but Gov. Thompson has, generally, been considered one of the most innovative Republican politicians in generations. Regardless of our own political predilections, most political professionals would have to agree that Thompson was a fairly committed reformer, a policy initiator, and not simply a pol. And this is where we believe Thompson's campaign was wasted. On almost every level, Thompson's campaign represented a "Failure to communicate."
And, in American presidential politics, how one communicates is far more important than what one communicates. Gov. Thompson's defining fault was his inability to craft a powerful political brand grounded in his personal truth.

Perhaps the best example of this lives on his website. Here, Gov. Thompson is framed as a "Reliable Conservative," with "Common Sense Solutions" with the entirety of, what we would call, his "brand story" centered on a seemingly chronological series of past political accomplishments from a primarily pre-9/11 world. "INNOVATORS" do not live in the past. Innovators speak to the future. Gov. Thompson's website speaks the language of another candidate, living in another time, and an election whose sell-date has long since passed.

Perhaps, we might have critiqued Gov. Thompson's political brand a little sooner. Maybe his campaign would have noticed. And maybe, just maybe, Gov. Thompson would have come out swinging - and not scolding. Maybe, he would have tried a little more inspiration, and a lot less reflection. But, again, Gov. Thompson should have known better. After all, Gov. Thompson has won way more than a few elections. A little style almost always helps substance garner enough attention to attract more than a few extra votes.

From our perspective, Sen. John McCain also suffers from a similar case of "brand betrayal," as he has journeyed from the "Maverick Outsider" to the "Establishment Insider."

Mitt Romney is correct in stating that this election is about "change." Perhaps that has something to do with his current day in the sun.

Peter S. Cohl

Tommy who? hahahahaha Let's be honest. The Republicans this year need to really find themselves and these candidates are not cutting it. The Dem field is so strong, that any of the top 4 DEMS could be a better chief than the current Commander-&-Thief.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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