The guys over at The Crossed Pond occasionally post what they refer to, I think, as "cattle calls" when they and their regular readers speculate and rank the current presidential candidates in both parties During their last call, I opined a bit on the state of the race, but declined to include Fred Thompson in my calculations--with the nature of the race being what it is, I didn't think it prudent to include someone who hadn't announced some intentions--although I acknowledged that his presence in the race would change the dynamics.
Now that it looks increasingly likely that Thompson will run, the time seems right for me to speculate on what impact his presence will have on the current crowd. The answer is simple--it's going to decrease the numbers actively running real fast. Here's how I think it plays out (and why)--if you want to toss your own two cents in, just comment away--but be sure to tell me why you think what you do....
Fred Thompson enters, and I think that Tommy Thompson packs it up. Tommy has the resume, but he has none of the charisma that Fred does. They're virtually the same age--Tommy is a year or two older. He's going to recognize that in a field as crowded as this one, that he has no chance--and he's not going to be looking to the future and thinking number two spot on the ticket at his age.
Gilmore, Huckabee and Brownback are liable to start talking to the top candidates--trying to kiss up for a shot at the number two slot on the ticket. I think Huckabee's the strongest of the three for that--but they're all on their way out, probably by early fall, absent something remarkable happening with them which increases fundraising.
Hunter stays with the race as long as he's got enough to operate on a shoestring budget. He's announced he's going to retire from Congress, anyway, and while he doesn't stand much of a chance to do much of anything, he is on sort of a national defense/border security mission, I think.
Tancredo will get out sometime in the fall (if not before). He seems to be most concerned about immigration issues, and while that's on the front burner right now, I don't think that he's going to catch fire.
That leaves Giuliani, McCain, Romney and Paul. How are they affected by Thompson running? Here's how I see it (and I don't claim to be a great political strategist--more a political muser). I don't think Thompson hurts Paul much at all (although arguably, in the polls right now, there's nothing that Paul has to hurt). The truth is, I think, that Ron Paul has a different constituency. The people who are on his bandwagon now, or who are likely to jump on his bandwagon in the coming months, are most likely going to stay on till the end of the ride once they're on. They're on the wagon not because he's a slick politician, or because he has a great television presence, or because his sense of humor is great, or because he was a compelling figure on a key date in history; they're with him because of what he's saying, and because he's said it consistently for 30 + years. I think he stays in--in some way--at least through the first set of primaries.
I think Giuliani ends up getting hurt by Thompson running. All of a sudden Rudy has some competition for the telegenic and plainspoken fans--and Thompson actually seems to be a real conservative--at least by late Reagan administration standards (I think the conservatism of Ronald Reagan changed a bit during his time in office). I think McCain gets hurt even more by Thompson's run--on many issues, Thompson and McCain are running on a parallel course--but Thompson's 6 or 7 years younger, he's more comfortable in front of a camera, he doesn't seem to have the temper that McCain does, and he's not nearly as suspect with the social conservatives as is McCain.
I actually think Romney may be helped by Thompson being in the race. He's starting to show more strongly in some of the polls, and with a strong organization and solid bank balance, I think he could do better. When Thompson gets in, I suspect that some numbers will immediately shift from McCain and Giuliani over to him, but as their number drop, Romney may be in position to get some of those, as those who pile on to apparently winning campaigns may see them no longer as winners, and may move to someone whose name they've seen a lot of in the local news.
As to the other "maybe" candidate, Newt Gingrich, Thompson's entry ought to stop a Newt move--although just because it ought to doesn't mean it will. I think that Gingrich has too much baggage, though, and given the choice of the Mormon who has the same wife he's always had (and only one of them), the former mayor who seems to be a serial adulterer, the moview star, or the old guy, I don't think there's any particularly fresh territory for Gingrich to claim. I don't think he lasts long if he gets in.
Ultimately, I see McCain getting out relatively early--perhaps even before the first primary, although he may hang in there and see if the polls are right or wrong. I see Thompson, Giuliani and Romney batling it out at the top, ultimately for the nomination, and I see Ron Paul continuing on his quest to change the Republican party--either until the nomination is sewn up by someone else, or until he runs out of money.