The Year of the Spouses

While putting Fred Thompson's bad week in context, Ambinder zeroes in on Mrs. Thompson's role in the campaign:

Campaigns at this stage often require a single puppet master. Good Ole' Fred has one: wife Jeri Kehn Thompson.

Thompson unwisely allowed tension to develop between his wife and the rest of the campaign staff. Ex-campaign-manager designate Tom Collamore did not mesh with Jeri Thompson and the friction between the two was evident to the rest of the staff. At times, Kehn Thompson would simply countermand Collamore's instructions. She has final hiring authority -- something that every campaign manager needs and Collamore never had. The Thompson presidential staff will be her staff more than Fred's. ...


Now -- the strong hand of Jeri Thompson is not necessarily a force for evil. Spouses can be good campaign managers: Jenny Sanford managed her husband Mark's four successful congressional and gubernatorial campaigns in South Carolina. But Thompson's press has been brutal and borderline sexist, a consequence of her many detractors speaking on background to reporters. Thompson has worked as a professional political consultant and knows the basics of putting a campaign together. And Fred Thompson trusts her to make decisions. Incoming staffers need to accept that Jeri is first among equals. It is unclear whether any adviser will rise as a counterweight to the spouse. Probably not: Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Edwards, Bill Clinton and Ann Romney are probably the most powerful quartet of spouses to exert influence in a presidential race ever.



Bush, of course, had something like this situation in '00, except that it was a work wife - Karen Hughes - running the show as Karl Rove's co-equal, not Laura herself. Combining the two positions seems risky: The Clintons pulled something like it off in '92, but not without an awful lot of bumps along the way. In any case, it will be fascinating to watch how this dynamic unfolds across multiple campaigns - particularly with Elizabeth Edwards' cancer finding its way into the race, or not - and there's probably a book or at least a long magazine article in here somewhere, for an enterprising reporter. (Marc?)