We all know that former senator/sometime actor Republican Fred Thompson dropped out of the Presidential race on Tuesday. The question is "Why then?" Why not on Monday? Why not last week? Or last month? What drives a person to be a candidate when everyone in the world knows he or she has no chance? And what finally convinces that candidate that the rest of the world has been right all along? All this gets to an even more basic question which is, "Why do people who can't possibly win an election run?"
Some pundits believe there are people who just feel it's important to get their beliefs and their presentation of the issues out to the public. They probably never even think that they have a chance to win the election, but they want their ideas -- and their faces -- to get exposure.
I'm not so sure about this. Another theory could be that they all convince themselves that maybe a miracle will happen, and they'll win. So it's quite possible that even the candidates whose first names many of us don't know -- like Gravel or Tancredo -- enter the campaign thinking that they have a shot.
In other words, the explanation is either ego or self-delusion. They are like the geeky kid who thinks that someday the beautiful, but snooty cheerleader will actually go out with him. They're like the people who think the stock they bought at $100 a share that sank to five cents a share will make a comeback soon. They're like people who think that their shirt might be ugly on everybody else, but they can pull it off.
We've all seen candidates who receive less than 1% of the vote in a primary and who don't do any better in national polls continue to campaign. What do they tell their families, their campaign workers, and themselves? "I know .03% doesn't look good, but we did better than expected?"
So, how low, how few votes, and how few contributions does one of these candidates have to get before he or she says, "That's it. I quit?" Apparently, awfully low.
In Thompson's case, after some unimpressive showings in several states, he finished third in South Carolina -- a state he had said he needed to win. Actually, the fact that he said he needed to win in South Carolina before the primary tells me that he wanted to quit. Let's face it. He must have known ahead of time that he wasn't going to win that primary. But since he said that he needed to win it, maybe he felt he wouldn't look as much like a quitter when he quit.
Remember before he officially declared himself a candidate? Fred Thompson was quite coy about it. He waited and waited, and then finally made his announcement. Talk about ego. Thompson isn't a popular enough candidate to be coy. Who cared if he were in or not? Besides him, I mean.
Once he was in the campaign, it became hard to describe him as actually "running" for president. It was more like he was "walking." He was the Perry Como of candidates, or the Rip van Winkle. Either he seemed like he was half asleep, or his audiences did.
So, why did this particular man who not only seemed to have no chance to win but didn't even seem to want to win all that badly enter the primaries? I've got a theory: It was because of Hollywood's writers' strike and possible actors' strike. He knew that television and movie production was going to be down for a while, so instead of joining the picket lines or just hanging around the house, he ran for president.
He had played the President of the United States in at least three different movies, so he probably figured, "How hard can it be?"
I'm not thrilled that sometimes he seems to use American politics as his unemployment office. However, until Congress passes an amendment, he doesn't have to choose between show business and politics. He can keep going back and forth. So, don't be surprised if you see him soon, back on television in something like, "Law & Order: Compulsive Candidates Unit."
In addition to writing many television shows and columns, Lloyd Garver has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org