Fred Thompson dropped his presidential bid Tuesday, after the former Tennessee senator and actor finished third in the South Carolina primary and was unable to score a victory in any of the early primaries or caucuses.
Thompson was the candidate in a very flawed Republican field whose positions I was most comfortable with, but he got in too late and campaigned too little. I assume Rudy Giuliani is gone; I could be wrong, but his "wait till Florida" strategy seems to have made him less viable with each passing week. That leaves Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and John McCain. Huckabee and McCain have so little conservative and libertarian instincts that they shouldn't even be Republicans. Romney has been such an opportunist in saying what he thinks his audience wants to hear at any given time that I don't have a clue to what he really believes.
On the Democratic side, Edwards is the dead man walking, so we're left with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and it's hard to judge them right now. The GOP field has been so fractured because the candidates don't know how to play to a base that has fractured; the "Reagan coalition" of national security conservatives, social conservatives and economic conservatives has fallen apart. The Democratic base is still more or less cohesive, so the candidates are playing to it. I'll have to wait until the general-election campaign to see how much the Democratic candidate is willing to come back to the center, and how much I believe him or her.
There are a few issues that are more important to me than all the others when voting for president: national security, limiting the scope and size of government, reinvigorating federalism so Washington is less the center of our political life. Looking at the five that now seem to be left standing, I don't think I am going to be a happy voter this November.