Dick Morris argues that Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich are harming the Republican presidential race by not making their intentions clear. “Until they make their respective moves to enter or foreswear entering the primaries,” Morris argues, “they will freeze a critical segment of conservative Republicans who are withholding their affections from other suitors, waiting for Mr. Right to arrive.”
Morris is far more savvy about these matters than I’ll ever be, but I don’t see the problem. Part of his complaint is that the specter of Thompson/Gingrich prevents lesser conservatives, e.g. Brownback and Huckabee, from gaining traction. However, I regard these candidates as non-starters. If it were otherwise, Thompson probably would never have been tempted to enter. As to the top-tier candidates, the absence of Thompson and Gingrich provides the current front-runners the opportunity to woo and receive serious consideration from the party’s conservatives. Since Giuliani and McCain poll pretty well against Hillary Clinton and other top Democratic contenders, I consider it a good thing if conservatives are at least listening to them. As for Mitt Romney, the specter of Thompson/Gingrich doesn’t seem to have hurt his fundraising. The entrance of either would be a severe blow to Romney, but if they don’t enter he’s well-positioned to make his run at becoming the conservative choice.
By the way, I don’t see Thompson and Gingrich in the same light. Thompson is only moderately well known, but those who know him generally view him favorably. Gingrich is extremely well known, and extremely unpopular.
Thompson has more than hinted that his decision is coming soon. Gingrich apparently will enter, if he does, much later in the year. Right now, Thompson is delivering red meat to conservative audiences. Gingrich just indulged in a love-fest with John Kerry. The contrast may be indicative of the two men’s intentions and, in my view, says much about their comparative desirability as candidates for the presidency.
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