One of the notable things about Fred Thompson’s pre-campaign campaign is the great emphasis he has placed on using all forms of modern communication. From using YouTube to blogging to texting, Fred seems to think that this will be an effective way for him to compete organisationally against the candidates who have declared earlier and already raised (and spent) large amounts of money. Aside from the mostly spontaneous Internet surge for Ron Paul, Republicans have not had a candidate making use of these media with quite the same sense of purpose. This leads me to guess that Thompson’s campaign will prove to be a lot like Howard Dean’s in 2003-04 in some important respects. Unlike Dean, Thompson is already well known and has already received enormous signs of support in polls, but structurally Thompson so far is leaning heavily on online efforts that do not necessarily have any relation to the strength of his overall campaign organisation. Add to this his relatively late entry and reputation for laziness, and after the initial post-announcement Thompson boomlet we may see Thompson going nowhere fast.
He probably will have entered too late to compete at Ames. If polling has been accurate and at all meaningful, he has the most to gain from a Giuliani dropout from Ames, since Thompson voters are actually overwhelmingly otherwise Giuliani voters (Poulos knows what he’s talking about here), but he probably won’t have the time, money or staff to mount a meaningful effort. This means that he will probably have missed his best opportunity to shock the field with a big showing, which will further hamper fundraising and force him to rely still more on his name recognition, his folksy reputation and his ability to fill the need of the GOP base for the “Reaganesque” will o’ the wisp they are always chasing. In the end, enthusiasm for a folksy actor who hits all the right notes politically will not overcome established campaigns. However, I assume the Terrible Trio will all suffer collapses at one point or another, and Thompson may find himself the default winner as a result. This would show the entire process to be a mockery of anything resembling representative government, but it would be consistent with the Rise of Fred Thompson, a phenomenon so bizarre that I still cannot quite understand it.
Update: McCain is also dropping out of the Ames straw poll. They are simply abandoning this early battle to Romney and possibly Brownback, who has been visiting the state often enough and is supposed to have a better chance in Iowa because of his Kansan background. Thompson’s late entry will probably prove to be an even bigger mistake than it already was.