The invitations were printed on neatly-embossed “FRED ‘08″ black matte cards and the beer was stacked up inside the hotel ballroom. This was supposed to be Fred Thompson’s inaugural win in the 2008 GOP Primary and the Thompson faithful were gearing up for an South Carolina barnburner to celebrate. Much of the GOP slate (and even Barack Obama) have spent the campaign fighting with shovels over Ronald Reagan’s grave, seeing who could dig him up and open his casket first, the joke was supposed to be on them with Thompson having gotten there months ago, dragging the Great Communicator’s smiling corpse out on stage with him as Thompson had just cleaned house in the Reagan-anointed conservative bellwether state of South Carolina.
Like just about everything else in his campaign, though, this was yet another thing poor old Fred just didn’t have the energy to get around to. He came into the race amidst great fanfare this past summer, the great white hope of Reagan Conservatives who have been kicking around the GOP for years like old drunks in a club years past its prime, longing for the days when Dino and the boys used to play here all the time.
Not that an actor’s charm wouldn’t have been welcome among this moribund crowd of empty suits, fatally tainted philanderers, religious extremists, alleged religious extremists, xenophobic hystericals, and Libertarian cage-rattler Ron Paul. The old party faithful were ecstatic. After years as nomads, watching the party ruled by the Bushes, and the disastrous, charisma-free overreaching of the Gingrich crowd, Thompson had arrived to lead them out of the desert.
Well, that was the plan, anyway. Truth is, it was just too damned early for Fred. He didn’t have any problem being the Old Guard Conservative Messiah for the party, as long as he didn’t have to wake up before 9:00 AM, and could be at home with his hot young trophy wife by 4:00 PM. (Have you seen her? No man would blame him, especially at an age when everything is “prostate”-this and “dysfunction”-that).
As the months have passed the roar has turned into a snore, as Fred has slept his way through a campaign that he at least suggested he would attend when his supporters began feeling him out early in 2007.
Back at the hotel in South Carolina, the staff was into the cases of Budweiser well before the first returns started coming in. It had been a long week, and it had come to the point in every job where the writing is on the wall and it’s time to start stealing office supplies.
The staffers were likely busy on their Blackberries looking for jobs on the McCain and Romney campaigns, and word was out that the candidate was going to make a speech. That settled it: More beer, more job-hunting.
By the time Thompson arrived, his third-place in this must-win state was starting to solidify. This was Thompson’s real chance to emulate the Great Communicator. “We’ve fought a brave and hard fight. Well, you have anyway. I think it’s pretty clear that this dog won’t hunt. And hey, why don’t you pass me a couple of them beers back there….Thank you….Naw, I had everyone telling me I should run for President, and at my age, anything that makes your dick bigger sounds pretty good. I think a character in one of my movies probably said, ‘I’m gettin’ too old for this shit.’ I’ve worked in the Senate and television and movies–I’m used to working six-month years. Why in the sam hell would I want to be President? I’m no Ronald Reagan–my movies were better, my TV shows were better, my wife looks a HELL of a lot better. No, let him have his legacy. I’ll take my royalties from ‘Law & Order’ and ‘Hunt For Red October’, and go home to my hot goddamned wife–did I mention my wife? No, she’ll probably kill me in our bed if I’m lucky, and I’ve got two small children–I can’t be their father and be President, or sure as hell I’ll die in the garden like Vito Corleone with an orange slice in my mouth. Besides, Reagan took this job and it got him shot in the chest. No thanks, I’ve had them do that in the movies with blanks and squibs and it hurts like a son-of-a-bitch. Naw, I just want to thank y’all. I’m sorry I never gave a devil’s goddamn about being President, but there’s plenty of beer back there–help yourselves–and if y’all need a letter of recommendation or for me to give McCain a call and put in a word, just get with Josh and I’ll be happy to help y’all out. ‘Night, now!”
He came close, but he never actually threw in the towel. Cynical speculation is that he stayed in the race at McCain’s behest to yank the altar out from underneath Mike Huckabee, and that Thompson–co-chairman of McCain’s 2000 campaign–is going to throw his support to the Arizona Senator now that South Carolina is in the can and Huckabee’s already been peppered with buckshot.