This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," April 24, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: And earlier today I sat down with former presidential candidate Fred Thompson speaking for the first time since he dropped out of the race. Now he had a lot to say today about a possible vice president position, the Democratic race and his friend and former rival, Senator John McCain. Take a look.
HANNITY: Senator, good to see you.
FRED THOMPSON (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to see you.
HANNITY: We appreciate you taking time.
THOMPSON: My pleasure.
HANNITY: You look rested, you look tan.
THOMPSON: It's the virtue of — the virtue of being unemployed.
HANNITY: Well, if you're unemployed, it's not going to be for very long. I'm pretty sure of that.
As you get out of this campaign — you're going at this rapid pace — do you — what's your life like? Do you miss being in the midst of all of that?
THOMPSON: No, not in the midst of all that. I miss the interchange. I miss the issues and so forth. But I still plan to be involved with regard to the things that I like about it.
You know, running from one place to another and delivering the same speech over and over again is not a lot of fun. But no, you know, that was then, this is now. We had some good times, had some not so good times. You know, typical campaign trail. It was intense.
We did what we wanted to do for the reasons that we wanted to do them, and we did it the way we wanted to do it. Nobody can ask for anything more than that. And now I'm very much looking forward to, shall we say, the challenges that are presented today.
HANNITY: Let me ask you one question before we get into the issues of the day.
Do you look back? Do you say, all right, maybe I should have done it this way? Any — are there any regrets? The only one criticism that people had about Fred Thompson — and I think I've spent enough time with you on the road — is that you are the same person behind the scenes as you were out there on the stump, and that people would interpret that, well, does he have the fire in the belly...
HANNITY: ... which I'm sure you got sick of hearing on these interviews.
HANNITY: Anything you'd do differently? Any regrets in the campaign?
THOMPSON: Certainly tactically. And yes, there are a lot of things that you look back over. Every day, you know, something comes up you could have probably done differently, done better.
Fundamentally, no. As it turned out, I underestimated the time it would take, you know, to staff up and to get our fundraising organization together. And to get me back in fighting form. You know, I haven't been on the political trail in a little while. You know, it takes a little time.
But, you know, we got in because there were an awful lot of people out there who wanted us to get in and felt like that we could serve our country, serve a need. I felt like there was a possibility, a chance to catch lightning in a bottle, which is what it would have been. Others had been out there running for a long time, spending millions of dollars and so forth.
So we knew that it was pretty much of a long shot, but we thought it was answering a need. So we were able to do it and do it in a credible manner.
But of course there's no second place in that business. And once that became apparent, it was time to move on and do what we can for the broader conservative cause, really.
HANNITY: You had said to me from the very beginning, the first time I interviewed you, this was not your lifelong ambition, to be the president of the United States, and that you were going to put yourself in there, and if it happened, then you wanted to serve because you're concerned about the future of the country...
HANNITY: ... the challenges we're facing...
HANNITY: ... Islamic extremism, some of the other issues that you brought up at the time.
THOMPSON: Yes. Well, nowadays, that probably is interpreted as a little bit too much of a complacent attitude. It might be — a lot of people seem to think, and it might very well be true, that a person has got to be extremely personally ambitious and desire the office more than anything else in the world, and willing to do what's necessary, and anything that's necessary, to achieve it.
And I just never was there. And — but I was what I was. And I come out the other end of it the same way I went into it, and that's much more important to me than a particular election.
And we got to talk about things, the few things, the handful of things that really matter. Most of these things we spend all our time on don't really matter. The president can't do anything about them anyway. But...
HANNITY: Boy, that's an honest statement, that you don't really often hear.
THOMPSON: Well, it's true, and everybody knows it's true. But you've got to go around, you know, and talk about and answer all the questions, and be — try to be all things to all people. And nobody can really do that.
But the national security threats to our country, the things we're going to have to do to protect ourselves, you know, we haven't really come to terms with that yet. Our relations with our allies, our military, the spending that we're going out to do, the intelligence capabilities that we're still lacking with regard to things of that nature.
HANNITY: Senator McCain is now the nominee. You've always been supportive of Senator McCain. You've always said nice things about him when you were out debating out on the campaign trail.
HANNITY: What do you say to conservatives that were supporting you because they deemed you as more conservative that maybe had some issues with Senator McCain?
THOMPSON: I would say to my friends that, on all of the issues that are most important to this country and to our future, and to the future generations, John McCain is solid on. Certainly national security, with regard to the tax issues, with regard to trade policy, which is an important part of our prosperity also, all those things he's been strong on for a long time.
He is one of the few people in the United States Congress, if not the only one, who over a period of several years, who stood strong on pork barrel spending and wasteful government spending and so forth, you know.
And one of the things that we're going to need in a leader going forward in this country, and one of the things we're going to need to get somebody elected president on the Republican ticket in these times that are very difficult for Republicans, is someone with credibility.
John's solid. I don't agree with him on everything. I didn't during the campaign. But on the fundamental core issues, he is rock solid. And he's honest. And he does what he thinks is right.
COLMES: We now continue with Sean's exclusive sit-down with Fred Thompson.
HANNITY: Let me ask — all right, we hear a lot in this campaign about phone calls at 3 a.m. I have no doubt you're going to be up — maybe youngsters running around.
THOMPSON: I probably won't be to bed yet.
HANNITY: But it's a call, and it's from Senator John McCain, and it's to you. And it's, "Senator Thompson, will you run with me? Will you be my vice president?"
THOMPSON: No. That's not in the cards, Sean. That's not what I want.
THOMPSON: Well, it's not — it's not — mainly, it's not what I want. And I don't think that call would ever happen. I think John needs somebody else. I would advise him, if he asked me, that he needs somebody else and of a different profile.
It's not what I want. The presidency is the only job in town that's worth going through what you've got to go through to get it. And that includes the vice presidency and all of the rest of them, as far as I'm concerned.
And I thought I had an opportunity to do some things a different way. And if I was successful, I could lead in a different way. That didn't work out. I'm interested in absolutely nothing else other than doing what I can to help those who are trying to help this country, and be a good citizen and do those things that I can do now in the private sector to help these kids and grandchildren.
But that does not involve, you know, going to state funerals in faraway places.
HANNITY: What do you think of Senator Barack Obama, who appears that he is on his way to winning this nomination? What do you think of the — what's going on in the Democratic process now?
THOMPSON: Well, Senator Obama is a great unknown. I think seldom, if ever, has anyone gotten this far in the process and we've known less about them. He's new, and he's inexperienced. That's one of the things that's troubling to me, considering the times that we live in and that we're going to be living in.
What we do know indicates that he is very typical. He is a young man on the move, very ambitious politically, been laying his groundwork for a long, long time to run for president. And he is one of the most liberal politicians in Washington. And he walks lockstep with the most liberal positions that come down the pike on every occasion.
That's what we do know about him. And those are troubling things.
So these — these gaffes that he's making, so-called, these unsavory friends that we're hearing a lot about it, I mean, that's — that's insightful, I think, in trying to determine who this guy is. But the very fact we're going through this process of trying to determine who this guy is this late in the game is unique and different.
HANNITY: When you heard his reverend of 20 years, his friend, his spiritual adviser, his mentor, Reverend Wright...
HANNITY: ... what did you think of that?
THOMPSON: I thought about what it would be like to have a good friend of Reverend Wright's as president of the United States, and what kind of values does that president really have when...
HANNITY: It raises questions.
THOMPSON: It raises — it raises questions. I hear the statements of Mrs. Obama. I see the issue with regard to not — making a point of not wearing the flag lapel. I hear his friend and mentor of many, many years cursing the United States of America and claiming that the United States government was involved in deliberately injecting AIDS into African- Americans and things of that nature.
It's almost to the point of being bizarre. And then he has great difficulty in explaining. One day he says he will not renounce him and the next day he says that he has already renounced them and so forth, you know, reacting to whatever flack is coming in at the moment.
Well, that is — it's understandable, but it's also typical. And that's the thing he's claiming not to be.
HANNITY: Connecting the dots a little bit, you mention Michelle Obama's comments. She says America in 2008 is a downright mean country. She'd never been proud of her country in her adult lifetime. We heard the comments that were not for public consumption by the senator himself in San Francisco about people in Pennsylvania being bitter, clinging to their guns, clinging to their religion, having antipathy towards people who are not like them.
You add Reverend Wright. You add Bill Ayers. You add that he went to the Million Man March. What do you glean out of that? What do you take away from all that?
THOMPSON: What I glean from all of that is who is this guy? What's he really all about? What does he really believe? And how much can we glean from that from that soaring rhetoric that we hear? The answer to that is zero.
HANNITY: And coming up, does Senator McCain have a temper? Now, we asked Senator Thompson that. What he says may surprise you, coming up next.
HANNITY: And we now continue with the final part of my exclusive sit- down interview with former senator, Fred Thompson.
HANNITY: The Democrats are clearly telegraphing how they're going to go after and attack Senator John McCain. They're going to say he's old, and that this is going to be a third Bush term. How would you advise Senator McCain, if he sought your counsel, to counter those questions?
THOMPSON: Just be who he is. He's at his best when he puts aside the notes and the advice and everything else and he speaks from his heart. You know, you could probably say that about all of us. But he's been around and he's tried and tested and true, and everybody knows him.
He's like Hillary. All of their history and all of their assets and liabilities are all kind of factored into the stock price right now in a known quantity. Half the people don't believe Hillary when she says something.
HANNITY: Actually, say 60 percent.
THOMPSON: As we speak, it's ...
HANNITY: It goes up by the minute.
THOMPSON: John, on the other hand, has got a well-deserved reputation of being a guy who does what he thinks is right. He makes Democrats mad; he makes Republicans mad; sometimes, he makes them both mad at the same time. He reaches out to the Reagan Democrats, you know. And that's why, in this year that was supposed to be a disaster for the Republicans, there's real hope there now.
It's not going to be as easy as some people think it's going be. So, there's real hope, because he is who he is. And let the rest of this stuff just, you know, fall off to the side.
HANNITY: How many years did you sit next to him in the Senate?
THOMPSON: A few. I don't remember exactly.
HANNITY: This issue — well, Senator McCain has a — a terrible temper. Is that true?
THOMPSON: You know, I've read those stories, and he's acknowledged, you know, he's got a temper, unlike, you know, the rest of us.
HANNITY: Doest that mean you don't have one, Senator?
THOMPSON: But — no, there's been a time or two where I remember specifically, you know, he's calmed me down. But I honestly — and I'm sure he's had those run-ins that he's acknowledged with his — sometimes with his colleagues in times past. I mean, a lot of these things that I read about are years ago.
And another interesting thing about it is — is that they're usually with — with his equals, his peers, his colleagues. It's not a staffer. It's not somebody that can't defend themselves. It's another big boy who can defend themselves. And they can, you know, go at it on points that John thinks is important.
I don't think that's a — I don't think that's a bad thing. I can personally say that, having known him for several years and sat next to him on the Senate, I've never seen him lose his temper.
HANNITY: That's — there you go.
THOMPSON: I'm not saying he — I'm sure he has. I'm sure he has. But that's just not part of his makeup.
And he's taken a lot of flak. I remember some of these things it was very — they get up on the floor and say things, and he was sitting there, you know. And he's — anytime I've ever seen him under fire, he's been very cool. And I think he's probably learned from his past mistakes when he said things to colleagues, you know, that he wished he hadn't said.
HANNITY: One of the things I'm a little frustrated, as a conservative, about is the Republican Congress, the Senate. I'd like to see a new Contract With America. Why aren't they laying out a strong agenda for the country, and do you think that that would be a good idea?
THOMPSON: Well, the question is whether or not we've kind of learned our lesson. You know, we — as the old saying goes, you know, we came to town to drain the swamp, and we — instead of that we made partners with the alligators. And now we've become, you know, big spenders ourselves and engaged in the same kind of stuff the Democrats have been engaged in. Have we learned our lesson? We got our clocks cleaned last time.
We need to reform ourselves. We need to learn our lesson. We need to get back to basic fundamental conservative principals. The things that we are supposed to believe in, which should guide us through all these issues that come down the pipe.
The problem is, as we sit here today, very few people on Capitol Hill have any credibility. Saying it is one thing. Saying a, you know, death- bed confession or conversion is one thing, but having a track record and standing tall when times are tough is another thing.
And that's the thing that John has got going for him. When he was the only guy around talking about some of this stuff, you know, it proved to me that he's the kind of guy that maybe has credibility with the American people.
We can't run a typical campaign with typical kind of promises and so forth in light of what's happened, in light of the unpopularity that so many Republicans have nowadays. And some of it's deserved. Some of it's not. We've got to have a different kind of approach, different kind of campaign and a different kind of man, the kind of man who everybody gave up for dead.
I mean, when I got in the race back last September everybody had written John off, including me. And so now he comes back, the longest of the long shots, and now, ironically, he, more than anyone else, is in a position in this supposed to be terrible year for Republicans, is postured to win in November.
COLMES: Did he say anything that really surprised you?
HANNITY: Yes. I mean, he was so adamant in saying no to the V.P.
And I like the fact. And I thought he was dead-on in his comments about Senator Obama. And I think -- you won't agree -- but this narrative has changed dramatically.
COLMES: Well, I know and I'm sure all Democrats look at it that way.
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