Former Senator Fred Thompson

This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, August 8, 2003, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: On another topic, the president had this to say about a certain Arnold.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will never arm wrestle Arnold Schwarzenegger (search). No matter how hard I try, I’ll never lift as much weight as he does.

I think it’s interesting. You know, I’m a follower of American politics. I find what’s going on in the State of California very interesting, and I’m confident the citizens of California will sort all this out for the good of the citizenry.


CAVUTO: Al right. No commitment there.

My next guest says that Arnold’s going to need some very thick skin to deal with what is ahead of him, and he should know.

Joining us now from Nashville is former Republican senator of Tennessee Fred Thompson. Now he plays the part of a chief prosecutor on Law & Order.

Senator, always good to have you. Thanks for coming.

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER SENATOR: Thank you, Neil. Appreciate it.

CAVUTO: You know very well what both lives are like, one of the few on this planet who do. So what is Arnie in for?

THOMPSON: Well, he’s going to have to have a thick skin. A person who is a celebrity and used to having things going their way, having been successful in everything else he’s done and in his case adulation all along the way, he’s going to find that things are going to get radically different for him.

He’s going to have to deal with during his campaign a lot of silliness and a lot of ill will and a lot of the statements about him and people who he cares about, and you never know really how a person’s going to react to that if they’ve never been through it before, and he’s never been through this kind of a thing before.

So you’ve got to have kind of a thick skin, and you’ve got to be able to suffer fools somewhat more gladly than you’re used to. But the good news is it’s all within his power. If he’s able to do that...

CAVUTO: But it’s interesting, Senator. You’ve done this before. You’re one of the few I know. I mean, normally, when actors go into politics, they kind of stay in politics or retire from politics, and that’s the end of it.

But you, you know, started in acting, went into politics, went back to acting. You said at the time you did so, sir, after two years in Washington, I often long for the realism and the sincerity of Hollywood. Is it that bad?

THOMPSON: No, not really. I mean, in the first place, I never lived in Hollywood, but it made for a good line. I still use it, by the way, every chance I get.

But, no, I never intended to stay in politics all my life. I always thought that the founding fathers had a pretty good idea, and that is people who had had some achievement perhaps in their private life take a little time off and go in and do public service knowing that they’re going to go back into the private citizenry after a while.

I think that way it gives you a little more flexibility and sometimes a little more courage to make the hard choices, and perhaps that’s what Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing. Some people who have been successful want to give something back, are somewhat idealistic.

I think, you know, the Senate’s full of rich people who have been successful in other walks, and some of them are quite idealistic, want to give back. Perhaps that’s what Arnold is going to do. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he didn’t serve a term or two and get out of it himself.

CAVUTO: You know, there’s always the risk when you leave a profession where you’re idolized and everyone likes you -- I mean Ronald Reagan quickly discovered in his first term as governor, with all the campus protests and war protests going on at that time, that that popularity can be switched on you readily, and you realized that through the whole Clinton impeachment stuff.

I mean how do you deal with that part of it? What does he have to prepare himself for?

THOMPSON: Very fragile. It’s very fragile, and you just have to decide. He’s smart enough to know all this. I’m sure he does. You just have to decide whether it’s worth it to you. A lot of people -- the aggravation is just not worth it.

But it does show that for somebody like him that he’s not doing it because he wants the adulation or because he wants the attention and nobody ever gave it to him in high school, for example.

You know, one of my colleagues one time said that politics was show business for ugly people. So you don’t have to worry about that with him. He can get all the attention and money that he needs elsewhere. So...

CAVUTO: But how do you know that? I mean there’s another cynical argument, Senator, that, you know, Terminator 3 was really his last big payday. His career was on the wane. So how do you know he’s not just doing this as sort of one last big attention stab?

THOMPSON: So maybe he only gets $20 million for his next movie instead of $30 million.

CAVUTO: Good point. Good point.

But where do you see all of this going, though? I mean a lot of people say it trivializes the process. I always like it, Senator, when I hear politicians debating the ethics of actors. But that’s a whole ‘nother issue.

But what do you make of this trend, that it might inspire other actors or singers or even TV anchors to entertain political roles?

THOMPSON: Or doctors, for example, quite a few now, and, certainly, lawyers and people in other professions. I think it’s absolutely good.

The folks running against Arnold out there, the incumbent been and others in office there now are going to be talking about his not having experience and that’s going to play right into Arnold’s hand because he can ask experience doing what, look at what these professional politicians and these people who have been in state government all their lives have wrought on the State of California.

So there comes a time it, you know, there’s nothing like being a part of a trend. We had that in ‘94 when I ran, didn’t realize it when I was running, but, as it turned out, you know, we were part of something bigger than that.

Arnold’s walking into the same kind of situation in that the state’s in real trouble and he’s got momentum going for him because he is a new face and a fresh face and, you know, he’s had some success from a business standpoint before I think he even really hit it big as an actor.

CAVUTO: All right.

THOMPSON: So he’s an accomplished guy walking in and sitting down to the table with a royal flush, it looks to me like, on the table for him.

CAVUTO: All right. The difference between you and he, of course, you never threatened to beat anybody up, so we’ll where all this goes.

THOMPSON: How do you know?

CAVUTO: Oh, that’s true. I don’t know that.

Fred Thompson, a real pleasure. Thank you very much.

THOMPSON: Thank you very much.

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