Video: His own words

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updated 12/21/2007 1:29:57 PM ET 2007-12-21T18:29:57

National Journal's Linda Douglass sat down with Fred Thompson for the twelfth edition of "National Journal On Air." This is a transcript of their conversation.


Linda Douglass: I want to welcome Senator Fred Thompson, Republican candidate for president who has been kind enough to take a few moments off the campaign trail in Iowa and chat with us. Welcome Senator Thompson.

Fred Thompson: Thank you, Linda. Good to be with you.

Douglass: So let's dive right in to the dynamics of Iowa. Mike Huckabee of course is leading there. He has got the support from Christian conservatives. You have a lot of backing from the Right to Life groups. So do you realistically think that you have a way of peeling off those Christian conservative voters from Huckabee?

Thompson: Well, you never know who you're peeling off, and who you're peeling on. You just have to be who you are and go with your message.

And you're right, I've gotten the Right to Life endorsement from the national organization and many of the state organizations. I think the latest one was today from the state of Virginia. I think there are a lot of people who respect the governor's background from a personal standpoint. But they are also going to be looking at issues that affect the security of this nation, matters concerning the safety of our people, the fiscal policies, where you stand on taxes, and things of that nature. Is your first solution a government run operation or is it going to be a more market based solution to a problem that comes up? Your thoughts on illegal immigration and what we can do about that, all those things at the end of the day are going to be very important to all voters, regardless of what their personal views are.

Douglass: Do you think that Huckabee is actually qualified to be president? I ask you that because your campaign said in a press release that you wondered if a Bachelor's degree from Ouachita University made him the most qualified to fight the War on Terror? What about that?

Thompson: Well, what I said in response to a question the other day was that when I read where he says that he always thought that we should lift the embargo on Cuba until the last few weeks, when he said that we should close Guantanamo and bring those enemy combatants here to this country, when he says kind of that if America would be nicer to our enemies that more people would love us and our European friends would get along with us better. When I see him saying all those things, I wonder if he really appreciates the nature of the world we live in, and I wonder if he understands it. And I stand by that statement.

Douglass: Do you think he is qualified to be president?

Thompson: I'm not going to use that word with regard to anybody in this campaign. People are going to have to make that decision for themselves. There is no magical list that you have to check off in order to be president of the United States. It is up to the American people. But I think it's important that you understand the nature of the world we live in, the challenges we face. We're not a nation facing one major enemy anymore, with one major weapon. We're facing a nation that can qualify as a rogue nation that is primary in the Middle East, in Iran. We're facing North Korea which has also developed a nuclear capability. We're of course facing Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations and they come at us from a variety of ways. And they are fueled by radical Islam which wants to take down Western civilization. And we're going to have to do a lot of things better in terms of our military and rebuilding.

We're going to have to do a lot of things better in terms of our intelligence capabilities, which I think are lacking. We're in a very confusing state there in some respects. And at home we're going to have to understand that 9/11 was not that long ago, and what intelligence we do get indicates that the terrorists are still trying to get their hands on the most dangerous weapons known to man. So, these are serious issues. These are issues that I've spent many years dealing with as a member of the Intelligence Committee, as Republican manager for the Homeland Security Bill, having traveled and met with foreign leaders all over the world, having served out of government as an advisor to Condoleezza Rice on matters of international security, and I feel like I understand the nature of the world we live in, and I think anybody who aspires to be the next president needs to be able to say that.

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Douglass: You have been talking a lot about foreign affairs, but you've also been talking a lot about illegal immigration, tough talk about strengthening border security and so forth and criticizing your competitors (Mitt) Romneyand Huckabee for not being as tough, as consistent in their approach to that. There was a Pew Hispanic Center survey, you probably saw this a couple weeks ago, that showed that Hispanics here in the country are feeling that there is a rising tide of discrimination against them because of this tough rhetoric. Are you concerned about that?

Thompson: If a person listens to what I say on the campaign trail, and have for months now, almost invariably I talk about the fact that we have so many people who have come here, played by the rules, sometimes stood in long lines at embassies around the world to become American citizens, to learn the English language, to become a part of our society. They are some of our best citizens, have some of the best values of any Americans and they are part of the strong social and economic fabric that we've got. And we all come from there, and in no way should anybody ever denigrate that.

But you cannot take that and have it cause you to be reticent or bashful or apologetic about the need to enforce the law. We're based upon the rule of law, and if we say that millions of people can come here, whatever the motivation is, and our people because of economic reasons and cheaper labor can say, "Well, they're here, there's nothing we can do about it, we'll throw up our hands," which would invite 11 more million or 12 more million after that, and then more and more after that. When in fact our legal immigration policy is very liberal, we bring in a million people and grant them green cards every year, then that's going down the wrong way. You can call that tough, I don't use the word tough, but you use the term tough. If that's tough, then so be it.

And the rhetoric, when you talk about that, is due to people's concern that nothing seems to be happening with regard to something that's important to the average citizen, and I think that the people who have played by the rules -- the legal immigrants and those who have worked hard and made the sacrifice to be Americans -- would be the first ones to resent the cause of all this concern and that is simply the illegality.

Douglass: Well you have certainly contrasted your record on this and your views on this with Romney, and I want to ask you about Romney...

Thompson: Well, just the fact that he supported the president's original bill on this, which had the same provisions that we're discussing today, and the subsequent bill they tried to pass earlier this year, and he said that Republicans should align themselves with Bush, that they would be making a terrible decision if they did not and he fully supported the president's immigration plan. He's just simply changed his position on that as he has on a number of other positions.

Douglass: Well, that's exactly what I wanted to ask you about with respect to Governor Romney. You did put out a statement making note of the fact that he had claimed to be endorsed by the NRA, and then was not in fact endorsed by the NRA. And there's also this new issue where he said that his father had marched with Martin Luther King and that's now being challenged. Do you think that Governor Romney shades the truth?

Thompson: Well, I don't want to accuse him of personal misconduct in that regard. I think we all have to be careful and not get carried away when we're out on the campaign trail, and we all have to be careful not to want it so badly that we let ourselves get carried away. But that goes for all of us. I don't know the details of the truth about the things that you mentioned. I'll leave that for others to ferret out. I don't mind talking about positions that others have taken in times past and the fact that they've changed those positions. That's a matter of public record, and that's different.

Douglass: And do you think that he changes his positions more frequently than the others?

Thompson: Well, it's a pretty good contest. But let's just say he's had very, very strongly held positions in the past that are diametrically opposed to ones that he has today on a number of things.

Douglass: Well, thank you so much Senator Thompson, I appreciate your taking time out of your very busy schedule, and be safe out there on the campaign trail.

Thompson: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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