Fred Thompson announced that he would be removing his name from the presidential race on Tuesday, following a campaign that witnessed more disappointments and misstatements than successes. As Thompson's decision hit the newswire, I was on the phone with Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and all-around conservative extraordinaire. His take on Thompson's brief, unmemorable candidacy? It's the taxes, stupid.
"He was the one Republican who would not commit to stopping all tax increases," said Norquist. "All the guys took the pledge. McCain said it he wouldn't tolerate a tax increase to fix entitlements. Thompson refused even though his staff originally told me he was going to... If you are not willing to say no to taxes increases how are you the conservative candidate? And he had a good tax cut he was proposing. But if the Republican is elected president he is going to have to deal with a Democratic Senate. And these people will shoot tax increases at him. With Bush it was no, never. Thompson didn't make that pledge and he would have spent 4 to 8 years as a goalie with Democrats taking shots at him. Eventually they would have scored."
To be fair, there were other issues that Norquist believed doomed Thompson in the Republican race.
"He didn't have the united conservative social movement behind him because the home-schoolers went with Huckabee," the tax-hawk said. "Thompson had the right to life people and it wasn't as structurally useful to him as the home-schoolers were for Huckabee."
As for the conventional wisdom that Thompson will shift his support to Sen. John McCain, Norquist cautions to not make any assumptions: "When he ran this time it was explicitly a stab in the back to McCain. So who knows if he will endorse him [as he did in 2000]."