THE ACCIDENTAL CANDIDATE….It’s not exactly a secret that Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign isn’t going well. By some measures, that’s a surprise — he’s plenty conservative; he’s never flip-flopped on key issues; and he’s not a member of a religious minority that the GOP base finds offensive. Simply as a matter of process of elimination, this guy should be huge.

There is, of course, a problem: Thompson apparently has no interest in actually running for president.

There’s no shortage of stories about Thompson running a lackluster campaign that seems to include avoiding voters at all costs. Here’s a good example. Here’s another, another and another. It’s as if the former senator is allergic to retail politics.

Given all of this, Thompson offered an unusual admission yesterday: his heart’s really not into all of this.

“I’m not particularly interested in running for president,” the former senator said at a campaign event in Burlington (Iowa) when challenged by a voter over his desire to be commander-in-chief…. “I’m only consumed by a few things and politics is not one of them.”

I’ve seen quite a few reactions that Thompson’s candid remarks are a good thing. Overly-ambitious candidates consumed with political gain are somehow unseemly, the theory goes, so Thompson is a breath of fresh air — he wants to be president, but he has no taste for the silly, often demoralizing process.

I’m just not so sure this is a plus. Isn’t there something to be said for a candidate having a “fire in the belly”? Excessive ambition can be unbecoming, but is there really something wrong with a leader stepping up and working hard to make his or her case to voters?

In other words, shouldn’t someone who wants to be president be prepared to run for president with a certain enthusiasm? Given the current challenges the next president will face, maybe some passion for moving the nation forward might not be such a bad idea.

Michael Crowley, reporting from Iowa before Thompson’s comments yesterday, noted:

[W]hy did [Thompson] flop so badly once he did run? Where to start? He got in too late, didn’t sound prepared, lacked the movie-star presence people expected, and suffered from staff turmoil (widely attributed to Jeri). Above all, Thompson never offered a clear rationale for his candidacy — a curious defect for a star contender, unless you consider what’s become increasingly clear of late: On some level, the guy never really seemed to want it.

Proclaiming, “I’m not particularly interested in running for president” a few days before the Iowa caucuses probably won’t help seal the deal.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.