Fred Thompson on Battle With Cancer, Possible Presidential Bid

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This is a rush transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," April 11, 2007, that may be updated:

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: In the meantime, this fellow has been called the GOP's hole card. Fred Thompson has not announced that he is running for president, at least not yet. Still some polls have him right out there with the frontrunners.

Today he had a whole different kind of announcement to make. He has got cancer. And he told me about it in this exclusive interview.


CAVUTO: Senator, talk about bombshells.

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER TENNESSEE SENATOR: Well, I don't know if it's a bombshell or not, but I posted something on the Internet today. I do a commentary as part of my work for ABC Radio and filling in for Paul Harvey. And today, my commentary, which I usually post, is more of a personal nature. And I talked about the courageous battle that we are all watching the Edwards family face, as he runs for president.

And so many of my friends that I know, and we all know, have friends, that have fought this battle. Many of mine are in the Senate and some are running for president, all of whom have successfully dealt with it. And how it is no respecter of persons and totally a non-partisan, bipartisan problem, and I have said today that it has touched my life also.

And that about, oh, two-and-a-half years ago, a little longer than that, while doing a routine physical exam, the doctor found a little bump in my neck there. And a little later on I had it checked out. It turned out to be what doctors call an indolent lymphoma. And I learned that there are over 30 different kinds of lymphomas. Some are very aggressive, and some are indolent, or not aggressive at all. And mine, fortunately, was the good kind, if you can ever call something like that a good kind.

I was — did some treatment, was put into remission and still am. And to go out of remission, to have drugs nowadays that can maintain it, you know, indefinitely, and it shouldn't effect your lifespan at all.

CAVUTO: Remission, but not a cure.

THOMPSON: Well, I don't know if cure is ever the operative word when you're talking about cancer, quite frankly. But if it comes back, the doctors tell me, with a drug — in my case, a new drug called Rituxan that has been around for a few years now, but can maintain it, and people usually die of something else.

But the other fortunate thing about it is that I have had no sickness, no symptoms, I wouldn't know I had it if the doctor hadn't told me that I had it. I have been able to go on about my life, been working a couple of jobs now, and...

CAVUTO: You have had this for two-and-a-half years.

THOMPSON: A little longer actually.

CAVUTO: All right. So you haven't told anyone.

THOMPSON: Oh, I have friends, and of course my family.

CAVUTO: So why now? Why today?

THOMPSON: Well, Neil, as you know, I'm thinking about running for president. There are certain things you have to check off, in my mind, in order to do that. Some of them are professional, your business obligations. Some of them are political. You have to decide whether or not, in my case, the man fits the times, and you are needed and you can do something for your country. Those are major considerations.

Some of them are personal. For example, I have got a young family at home, and I'm not going to abandon them. I don't think you have to. A lot of people seem to think otherwise, consultants and so forth, but you have to think all that thing through. And Jeri and I have talked about that a lot. This is a part of that; what I'm doing today is a part of that. I think people.

CAVUTO: So if you were not considering running for president, you and I wouldn't be sitting here then.

THOMPSON: No, no. As much as I love you.


THOMPSON: . I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you today.

CAVUTO: So you are seriously thinking of running for president. What would it take to make you actually run for president?

THOMPSON: Well, I think — get back to that point in just a minute. I do think the day and age we live in, I mean, anytime you mention the C-word, you know, it causes concern, although a lot of people in politics have successfully dealt with it. And I wanted to make sure it wasn't misconstrued or the wrong story got out about it and what it was like.

I'm posting, incidentally, a statement of my doctor, who — the professional specialist over at Georgetown who is an expert in this, and my doctor. And of course he basically says — I'm saying basically what he said. But the American people have the right to know this, and they have the right to voice their opinion, whether or not they think it is a big deal or not.

I know it is not a big deal, as far as my health is concerned, as much as a person can know about things like that. But other people have the right to look at it and weigh in, and I have a need to factor that in to my decision in terms of the reaction that I get about it.

So it is another personal thing that I needed to do in order to put myself into position to be able to objectively to make a decision about my future.

CAVUTO: So you could run for president with this, you could be president with this...

THOMPSON: Oh, yes.

CAVUTO: ... and you have complete faith, and you doctors have complete faith that you are physically up to that?

THOMPSON: Yes. You know, I — since I got married, I have lived a very healthy lifestyle in terms of diet and in terms of exercise, and so I work out three times a week, and sometimes I do the Harvey show in the morning and "Law & Order" in the afternoon. And there have been some 14-hour days and so forth.

So it is literally irrelevant in terms of my daily routine is concerned. And of course, you know, we had another child. We have got a 4-month-old little boy at home.

CAVUTO: Good for you.

THOMPSON: So my life goes on as normal. Nobody knows about the future, of course, but as much as the doctors can tell — and he is not the only one, this doctor is not the only one that me or my representatives have talked to about this, it should not be a factor.

But again, you know, it is not going to be something that I try to sit on or, you know, hope doesn't come out or anything like that. I haven't really tried to make it that much of a secret. I just go on about my life, and when it comes up in conversation with my friends, if there is something relevant...

CAVUTO: But this is a big bombshell. I have got to say it, Senator, that you are doing it differently than others would do it, and have done it. I'm thinking about the Edwards' press conference. There was really quite a few reporters, quite a big scene. You could have gone that route. You went this route. Why?

THOMPSON: Well, you know, everyone has to do what they think is best, and I — what they did was best for them, I'm sure. I have nothing to say about that.

I'm doing it a way that I think is commensurate with the seriousness of it. It is serious in that I think people need to know about it, but it is not serious in terms of my life, I don't think. And this is the way that I'm comfortable with.

I have had the commentary. It goes up — it will go up on ABC. It is already up on ABC Radio — ABC News Web site and others this morning put it out there. Sit down with, you know, a guy who I respect, quite frankly, and talk about this a little bit, and then go on home, and you know, read the newspapers and relax a little bit. I have been working for a couple of days up here now, and see what happens.

CAVUTO: All right, now, I don't want to be a crepehanger, but I know how illness courses along the way. And in 1992, sir, I had the pleasure of sitting down with former Senator Paul Tsongas, who, as you know, had a different kind of lymphoma, and he had considered himself in full remission.

Like you, he didn't say cured, and he ultimately died some years later. In fact, had he been elected president he would have died in his presidency. Americans are going to say that, and they are going to wonder about that, and they are going to remember that.

THOMPSON: See, that is one of the reasons why I'm doing what I'm doing, because I'm well aware of Paul Tsongas and his situation. My doctors tell me that he had — of the 30-some odd — maybe 35 different kinds of lymphoma, he had an aggressive kind.

CAVUTO: Very aggressive.


CAVUTO: A kind that recurs.

THOMPSON: Yes, yes. It is just a different disease. It is just — as we know, a lot of people are living long, normal lives and average life spans with cancer, and a lot of people don't live very long at all. And you have to know what you are talking when you talk about this sort of thing, and it is — mine is not a common situation, so not every doctor, not even every cancer doctor, is going to know about the details of it, and...

CAVUTO: But you know when this gets out, Senator, people, even against your own doctors, are going to say, well, you know, other doctors say this. And they are going to say, unlike the Edwards' situation, which affects his spouse, this affects the guy who potentially could be running for president. And you are quite right to say, like those like Giuliani and McCain who dealt with cancer, it is in the past. Yours is in the present. There is a difference.

THOMPSON: Well, I guess all of us are in the present with regard to that, and all of us are in the past, to a certain extent, in terms of remission. But any doctor who specializes in this, and there are a few around the country, you know, I welcome anyone talking to — we have talked to others.

I mean, it affects me more than anybody else.



THOMPSON: And I wouldn't be doing this if I wasn't satisfied in my own mind as to the nature of it, and the fact that not only will I have an average life span, but in the meantime I will not be affected in any way by it.

Now of course, nobody knows the future, but that has been the history for almost three years now, in terms of no symptoms and no sickness and wouldn't know that, you know, I had it unless the doctors told me. Sometimes I think maybe they missed it.


THOMPSON: But I guess maybe they did.

CAVUTO: Well, given your attitude, I, frankly, think the disease is afraid of you. But that is a whole 'nother issue.



CAVUTO: All right. We are continuing this conversation. Now one interesting point, we told you about former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas, who ran against Bill Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 1992, he had beaten back a serious form of lymphoma and he was in remission, some thought cured at the time. That disease came back and he ultimately died.

Had he beaten Bill Clinton to become president, he would have died in office. It is a point I'm going to raise with Niki Tsongas, the late senator's wife, tomorrow. In the meantime, on that decision and the fact that the disease is out is news of a White House run for Thompson next. More of my exclusive chat with the former senator.


CAVUTO: You said you are doing this because just get it out there in case you do run for president. What would it take for you to run for president?

THOMPSON: It is a process, Neil. And it is an intensely personal thing for me. I have never really craved to be president. But I do have a desire to be able to do those things that only a president can do. And that is to have the opportunity to lead your country through perilous times. These are different times. These are perilous times.

I guess as I get a little older I'm different than I have been in times past, look at things differently, and I have always thought that the person and the times have to come together. The person and the country has to be in sync. You can't manufacture these things, or force fit them or figure out what people want to hear. And it is a tactical matter to succeed in politics, to an extent, but when you are running for president it is more than that.

CAVUTO: Yes, but you and the times might be in sync. And you polled very well. Depending on the poll, you are up to second right now without announcing anything. So there is no doubt.

THOMPSON: I told someone the other day I can't afford to announce, I'm doing too well.

CAVUTO: You are doing too well.


CAVUTO: Having said that, though, the one thing where you are not in sync is with the money. There is no Fred Thompson groundswell of money, so that puts you at a distinct disadvantage to the Mitt Romneys, to the Rudolph Giulianis, to the John McCains, right?

THOMPSON: Neil, I have never thought that you would engage in this old way of thinking.


THOMPSON: The fact of the matter is that the book has been you have got to get out and run for years and lay your financial framework and raise — in this case, in this year, the book was you have got raise $100 million. So many people got out and did that, followed the book and raised their money, spent most of it, and now here we are.

There is no question that if a person — in my case, if I decide to do this, that if I run and I am perceived by the people to be someone who can help this country in a time when it needs help, the money will be there. We are looking at it the wrong way. The money doesn't come first; the money comes in response to the person.

CAVUTO: But money gives you a great head start, doesn't it?

THOMPSON: Well, I have already got a good head start. I have been around, and when you consider Watergate and serving as counsel as a lawyer for a couple of committees and serving in the United States Senate, eight years in the United States Senate. I now serve as chairman of the International Security Advisory Board of the State Department, Condoleezza Rice asked me to head up. I have been around for a while and...

CAVUTO: You have got the name recognition. A certain show called "Law & Order" helps that, too. So you do have something that a lot of your potential competitors do not. But...

THOMPSON: We all have our assets and our liabilities, but it is just not — it is not like I'm having to come out of the blue. I'm pretty much of a known quantity.

CAVUTO: What would make you not run then? If you looked at the landscape and if it wasn't money, which clearly doesn't seem to impact you one way or the other, what would make Fred Thompson sit back and say, well, I'm not going to run?

THOMPSON: Well, you are probably getting a little bit into the weeds more than I would like to, and to ruminate about things like that. But clearly as the categories that I have talked about, I think the business/professional side can be worked out fine.

And we have had a lot of discussions and prayer about the personal side, and — but if it turned out that didn't feel like I could do it without abandoning my family, and, you know, going on the road for months at a time, and for all practical purposes, just checking every once in a while. I wouldn't do that.

Life is too short for that, under any circumstances. And I don't think it has to be done that way. I know people will expect that of everyone to run frenetically around for years. And I don't do frenetic very well.

But when I decide to run, you know, so far I have always won. I haven't lost an election yet, and I'm not interested in winning — in losing another one. I would have to feel like that not only I could win, but I could win the general. The primary is one thing, and it is very important, but it is not the goal. I'm not interested in carrying the banner off a cliff.

CAVUTO: How about carrying the second half of the.


THOMPSON: I want to carry the banner up the hill to the top of the hill if I do it. And I have to — in my own mind, that has to fit. I have to be able to do that.

CAVUTO: How about the vice presidency?

THOMPSON: Not interested in that.

CAVUTO: Not interested. So if any one of those candidates say, you know, Fred, you are just the guy I need, the Republican lock on the South isn't such a lock?


THOMPSON: Nothing is a lock anymore, and the Republicans have their challenges, shall we say. You know, some people think that we are starting out, you know, kind of waist deep in a ditch, and we are going to have to dig out of it; and we are not on equal footing at all.

Some of our — most of our people match up pretty good on the other side, but generically, as far as the party is concerned, we have fallen way behind. We have got to do some things differently, and we have got to do some things better than we have ever done before if we are going to be successful. All of that goes into it.

And all of it is — it is not a pretty picture. There is going to have to be a different way of looking at doing things by the party, and a different attitude, in some respects, by the American people, in terms of responding to a call for sacrifice when it is called for.

CAVUTO: And you don't think that we have?

THOMPSON: I don't think that we have been called on enough with regard to enough things. I think that we could have done a lot better in a lot of different areas. There are problems out there that need to be solved.

We argue about little budgetary matters. Just one example, budgetary matters and the deficit and so forth, and that is important. But it is minuscule compared to the avalanche of debt we are going to be facing with the retirement of the Baby Boomers and our entitlement programs. And people think nobody is willing to touch that. It is dangerous to deal with that.

CAVUTO: Well, the president tried, right? I mean, he was burnt badly on the third rail.

THOMPSON: With regard to Social Security, he tried, to his everlasting credit.

CAVUTO: How would a President Thompson change that?

THOMPSON: …it was DOA. Well, there are a lot of parts to that. You have to ultimately have the support of the American people. It is not a matter of kumbaya-ing over at — with Congress; it is having the support of the American people. That is where the power is in a democracy, and in a republic such as ours as a people.

If you have their support, then you can reach some bipartisan consensus. The other side is not going to reach consensus with you because you have coffee with them on a regular basis. They are going to look and see what kind of support you have got with the American people. If you can communicate...


CAVUTO: So you would be the kind of guy to go over Congress' head and talk to the American people and kind of say, hey, here is the deal, this is what we are going to.

THOMPSON: I don't know whether it is over or under or around.


THOMPSON: But I would speak plainly and truthfully to the American people, and if they responded to the message I think the way — if they understood the necessity to do things that need to be done, you would have the support there and you would have a basis for reaching a consensus in — with Congress.

CAVUTO: All right. We have other future interviews to delve more into issues. I do want to get back to the lymphoma and gauge what will be the reaction over the next few days. Obviously you are here with me now, announcing this on the Internet today, to gauge reaction.

Now what if in the next few days and weeks the American people who, by and large, kind of like Fred Thompson, say, we are worried about Fred, we are worried about his health, we would rather he'd not run for president? Does Fred Thompson then not run for president?

THOMPSON: In all probability, that would be the result. If I feel that the people out there — the average people who have called me and written me and e-mailed me and sent their comments in on the blogs and so forth, if I felt like they were seriously concerned about this, that would weigh very heavily with me.

That would be a piano on my back that a person doesn't need when they go through this. And I would say, thank you very much for the consideration. It is clearly not the time and the place for me to do this, and I respect that and I will just go back to helping out however other way that I can.

CAVUTO: So you have got a timeframe in your head I imagine, right?


CAVUTO: So, at by which time, yea or nay, do you say to the White House, I'm going for it?

THOMPSON: Well, I said I had one in my head, I didn't say I was going to tell you.


CAVUTO: Well, why did I have the feeling you would say that? So, is it fair to say, Senator, weeks, months before...

THOMPSON: I don't want to get into a timeframe, you know, we will know it when it comes, and, you know, frankly, I don't expect that. I mean, if I expected that, I wouldn't be, you know, going public with it in this broad way.

I mean, it is a private thing. People know about it, fine, but going public in this way is really primarily because I want, you know, to shoot straight with the American people and see what their reaction is to it.

CAVUTO: So you don't see any danger in the longer you put this off, the more under the gun politically you might be because all of your opponents will have been to Iowa and New Hampshire, a gazillion...

THOMPSON: No, no. I think the danger — I don't consider it a danger, but just a fact of life. The longer you don't have your machinery in place, the more they are going engage in, what I refer to as ankle- biting and sniping and whispering and calling out anonymously on the talk shows and things like that, you know.

CAVUTO: Who has been doing that?

THOMPSON: . which is kind of aggravating. Well, there have been rumors to that effect, you know.


THOMPSON: And I consider it a compliment at this stage of the game when they do it.

CAVUTO: Republicans — Democrats, or more Republicans?

THOMPSON: So you have got — I don't know, it is no big deal. But you do, after a while — you know, you are sitting out there and everybody is nibbling. And so, you know, you need to be able to deal that on a level basis.

But in terms of the people, there are an awful lot of people out there who are uncommitted. An awful lot of people out there who have voluntarily called me and told me they are going to keep their powder dry until I decide what I'm doing.

So, that is good enough for me. I don't have to have a lock or a cinch or a bid, ahead in the polls in order to make a decision to do this. All I need is a fair shot. And if this works out, and these other boxes are successfully checked off with my family and — you know, these other problems are not going to deter me. They are very, very small compared to the opportunities that are out there for the country and for a person to lead the country.


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