Fred is out. A post mortem.

1. Fred was arguably the best candidate--but he ran the worst campaign.

2. There was always an uncomfortable paradox in my prediction that Mrs. Clinton would/will prevail ultimately in the Democratic canvass, which I base(d) on her superior organization, extensive and meticulous pre-planning, financial advantage, and her prodigious will to win, while at the same time I expected Fred Thompson to emerge victorious on the GOP side, even as he offered the worst organization, an almost spontaneous decision to seek the office, a dismal financial foundation, and an eighteenth-century-style disinterest in running.

3. Why my erroneous hunch that Fred could pull it off? I figured Fred had a chance based on the peculiar make-up of the Republican campaign; that is, since all the GOP contenders arrived seriously flawed, the race was always (and still is, most likely) vulnerable to a late-arriving charismatic candidate espousing an enticing mix of confidence, fresh policy ideas, and conservative orthodoxy.

4. Although I wrote that South Carolina was "Fred's Last Stand," in truth, this campaign remains so loony that nothing really necessitates that Fred exit at this moment. But he obviously wants out--and that is that. You can lead a horse to water--but you cannot make him run...

5. What now? McCain or Romney? Or someone else? Is there anyone else? Fred staying in for a longer run would have done more toward keeping things unpredictable, further complicating the drive to amass a majority of delegates. With Fred gone, he increases the chances of one candidate eventually emerging as the winner before the Republican convention. Is this good? The punditry declares that a deadlocked convention gives the Democrats an advantage. I am not sure about that.

6. Perhaps a contested convention would increase interest in the Republican spectacle, offering a platform for whomever might rise from the ashes of Minneapolis. A someone who might not be a currently declared candidate. A dark horse perhaps? Who knows? Moreover, a new candidate appearing in late summer would scramble the opposition research machine and might actually excite the public's short attention span, which, by Labor Day, will undoubtedly see Obama as the familiar and be looking for something new by then.

The wildest possibility: Fred emerges as a compromise choice in a deadlocked convention (with Newt Gingrich as the VP).

7. Back to reality: with Fred out, look for the rest of conservative orthodoxy to reluctantly line up behind Romney, setting up the battle royale between the McCain insurgents and the forces of the neo-traditional Rush Limbaugh wing of the party.

PS After his loss in South Carolina, seemingly, finally Huckabee should be "Hucka-was."