This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," May 1, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: His polling numbers are impressive. He has become one of the most talked-about conservatives in the race for the White House in '08, and he hasn't even announced he's running. Now, a short time ago, I spoke exclusively with former Senator Fred Thompson about his potential run for the White House.
HANNITY: Here's the headline today in one of the newspapers. "Opponents Want Dirt on Thompson: Combing Public Records Looking for Dirt."
FRED THOMPSON, ACTOR AND FORMER SENATOR: Well, that's the advantage of having lived the perfect life, Sean, when you read things like that. Now, that's part of the deal anymore, as you know. I thought it may have been a little early. I thought it might have come from the Democrats instead of Republicans. But that's the way it is nowadays. I mean, we're already accustomed to that.
Somebody called up my wife a while back, said it was one of her old boyfriends, and said that he had something on her from when she was 16 years old. Of course, it wasn't any old boyfriend. But, anyway, told a campaign official of ours who's helping us out, a helper, and said, "Thompson couldn't run because of this." And if they're doing that with regard to her, I can only imagine what they're going to do as far as I'm concerned.
But, you know, it's kind of like gnats swarming around the war horse, you know? They aggravate you sometimes, but in the end not that important.
HANNITY: That's your attitude about it, in the end?
HANNITY: They specifically were going after public records, but all of the stuff. Are you prepared for that? I mean, obviously, this is the day and age of YouTube, and cell phones, and everyone has got cameras and tapes, and gotcha. Do you think about that, as you go through this?
THOMPSON: Well, sure, sure. You know that, and you live with that, and that's what it's come to. That's why Americans are sick to death of politics and most politicians, because that's what we do to each other. That's what we do with our friends. Now you can imagine what it's going to be like in the general election.
HANNITY: How do you know these are Republicans?
THOMPSON: But you don't let that dissuade you. Well, I could be wrong. I mean, I don't flatter myself enough to think that the Democrats right now are focusing in on me. If I'm wrong about, then I'm highly flattered. But that can't deter you.
HANNITY: Bring us inside the Thompson mind, in terms of what's going on inside of your mind, as you make this decision about whether or not you want to get in this race and run for president. What are you thinking about?
THOMPSON: Well, obviously, there's some practical things, some contractual things that I'm doing. There's some family considerations. You don't change on a dime. You think you're going this direction with your family, and your life, and you're going another direction. You take some time. I'm taking this time. I'm talking to some of the smartest people, I think, in the country, about some things that are very important to me.
HANNITY: Does it worry you to see the presidency under such fire? In other words, the country's so divided, that the president is called all these names on a regular basis? I've got to think, you know, considering you want that position, that that's something in the back of your head that you — you know, with that job, comes a lot of scrutiny and a lot of criticism and could be a pretty lonely position up there.
THOMPSON: Well, sure, sure. But it naturally is in the back of your head, but that's where you ought to keep it. I mean, if that's your primary motivation, to avoid criticism, and get a real good sleep every single night, then you ought to find another line of work, because it's not going to come with that.
But contrast that to what we're talking about here. Contrast that with the opportunity to do something about it here, and to start afresh, and to be able to go to the American people and say, "Look, we're in a different time now. We're in a different era. We're faced with things we've never been faced with before, but we can do the things that we've always done before in times of crisis and come out of this one, too.'
But we've got to do things better. We've got to be more honest with ourselves about our mistakes, and then we'll hitch up our britches and do what we've always done, and that is come out on the other end together.
You know, we won the Cold War with Democrats and Republicans together. That's the way we're going to have to operate in the future, I think, and with regard to the challenges that we face. And, hopefully, once we get on down the road a little bit, cooler heads will prevail, and maybe some new leadership in the Congress, and we can do a better job.
HANNITY: The biggest battle we have is this war on terror, this battle in Iraq. We have a really deep divide in the country. Senator Reid says the war is lost. We still have to finish the job there. Where do you stand in general on the war on terror and, more specifically, in Iraq, and on the divide surrounding Iraq?
THOMPSON: Well, let's talk about Senator Reid for a moment. Right before I came over here, I was sitting outside, getting a bite to eat, before we did our interview. A young woman came up and asked if she could sit down and talk to me a minute. Her name was Koeller (ph). She worked over at Morgan Stanley, but she had gone to West Point, and she had been a captain in the Army, and she was at the DMZ in South Korea at the time of 9/11.
I asked her what she thought about this. She said, "How in the world can anyone, any one of our leaders, declare war, declare that the war has been lost when we've got troops in the field? My friends are over there in the field. I know what they think about this."
And, of course, it's just like all other Americans think. The very idea that they would do this and undercut our efforts over there is unprecedented. And it's not only unprecedented; it's awful politics.
We should not be fearful of these people politically. We just need to concentrate on what's right. What is right? We need to take advantage of any opportunity we've got down there. I've got a lot of faith in Petraeus. I knew him when he was at Fort Campbell when I was in the Senate. He tells me we've got a shot? We've got to take that shot.
We also have to keep in mind, though, there's going to be a day after Iraq. And whether we leave there under our own terms or not, it's still going to be a very dangerous world. If we leave there under bad circumstances, we're going to have a haven down there for terrorists. The whole area, I'm afraid, will become nuclearized.
The Sunni countries are looking at what Iran is doing. And if we can't help with stability in that part of the world, they're going to help themselves, and they're going to go nuclear, in terms of weaponry and the ability to counteract what Iran's doing. The whole region is up for grabs.
HANNITY: And how do we deal with that? We've got the short-term problem of Harry Reid. We've got the political problem. Harry Reid says we lost. We've got to win in Iraq. Then you have the possibility of the two things you mentioned earlier. You combine Islamic fanaticism and nuclear technology, and you've got a guy, Ahmadinejad, to add to the equation that wants to wipe Israel off the map. You're president of the United States; that's a big burden to have on your shoulders.
THOMPSON: Of course it is, but it's the number-one challenge of this century and will be for a long time. And all these other things, all these other issues are important at different levels. This overwhelms everything else.
And our nation has to have a strong deterrent. Some of these terrorists might or might not be able to be traced back. But these countries that are supplying them should know we have the ability to do a pretty doggone good job of tracing their activities back. Strong deterrent, much better intelligence.
Then we've got to enforce our borders. We have Al Qaeda out there, we know, trying to get nuclear weapons. We have 40 countries that have fissile material that a lot of it — that could make a bomb. A lot of it goes unguarded. We have porous ports and borders. Now, it doesn't take a genius to put all that together and see what kind of a challenge this country has.
HANNITY: You came out publicly. You disclosed you had lymphoma. What's the status of that? How tough is that? And how big is that of a consideration for you, as you make this decision?
THOMPSON: Personally, it's a total non-factor. My family is more important to me and my own health is more important to me than any political campaign, I assure you, even this one. For me, it's a non- factor, because that's what my doctors have told me, that it's one of those things that you can continue on with for years and it's totally manageable.
I've never had an hour of symptoms, either from the disease or treatment, than I had when I took some treatment. So I go on about my business, but I thought it was important to lay it out for the American people, because they deserve to know that. Other politicians, of course, have had similar problems. But mine was undisclosed. I didn't try to keep it secret, necessarily. I'm just a private person, to the extent that I can be.
HANNITY: All right, more of my exclusive interview with Senator Fred Thompson coming up after the break.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: We now continue with Sean's exclusive interview with former Senator Fred Thompson.
HANNITY: Should you become the Republican nominee for president, although the polls are shifting — it's not going to be the coronation, perhaps, that Hillary Clinton thought it was going to be — but you may very well find yourself up against Hillary Clinton. What do you think of her? What do you think of Barack Obama?
THOMPSON: Sean, I really want to take, again, the luxury of not getting into that right now.
HANNITY: Not even a little shot?
THOMPSON: Don't tempt me. No, I'm going to — you know, there is, what, eight months to the first primary?
HANNITY: It's all over February 5th, pretty much.
THOMPSON: Well, yes, but, look, that's still a long time. If you can't get your message out there and deal with these things, then I think...
HANNITY: Well, let's deal with the people that — your immediate competition. You talked about Senator McCain. Rudy Giuliani is tops in most of the polls we read now, although you're doing well for somebody that's not in the race. I'm sure you're probably following some of these.
THOMPSON: You know, I'd be more likely to talk about the Democrats than I would the Republicans.
HANNITY: Oh, so you're striking me out on that one?
THOMPSON: Let me try to be responsive to your question. As far as the Democrats, they are adhering, to the extent they can, to the most left- wing element of their base. You know, MoveOn.org and those folks are running the Democratic Party. And they're taking extremist positions and doing extremist things. Harry Reid is doing things that I think the American people are going to reject.
They're as near to investing in defeat of their own country as anything I've ever seen. And I don't think the American people will forgive them for that.
So they're going through that exercise. And let's just let them go. Let's just give them a little rope and see what they do. Our name-calling and carping on them right now is kind of wasted effort, as far as I'm concerned.
HANNITY: Let me focus on what you just said. They're as close to investing in defeat?
HANNITY: That's a pretty severe charge. But, I mean, if you say we lost in Iraq...
THOMPSON: Well, when you say here is the funding, but I just want you to know you've already lost, here is the life raft, but you're going to drown, then you sit back, as a politician, as they are, where is the psychology of that? Where is your mind? Where is your heart, as you see things go on?
I know that they don't want to see our young people come to bad end in their heart of hearts, but look at the position that they're putting themselves in. When you get out there in the middle of this — and we're trying, it might be a last-ditch effort, to turn this thing around so we can have some stability to give those people a shot down there before we leave, and announcing — what use is that? What good is that? What purpose is that? Except, as they say, later on, we're going to pick up Senate seats because of this. My goodness. I mean, where have we come to in this country?
HANNITY: Do you think there has to be a certain destiny to becoming president of the United States? I mean, in other words, you could put yourself in the arena. You could put yourself out there. You build up your resume to get to the point where you could even consider this. You've been a senator. We know your long career. But does it have to be a certain sense of that this was meant to be for you? Do you feel that?
THOMPSON: Sean, that sounds a little bit for more than I'd like to say, further than I'd like to go. But I know what you're saying.
I put it a different way. Maybe it's the same sort of thing, that, in my case, I think the man has to meet the times. I'm not sure that I was ready for this before. I'm not sure — well, I know the times were not the way they are now.
But there's something going on out there, and it's something different. I think it has to do with people's perception of all things Washington, for one thing. I think people are concerned about whether or not this greatest nation maybe is beginning to go like all the rest and start in decline a little bit.
There's been a tremendous response to me. Maybe it's because of what I represent; I like to think that it is. Maybe it's because I can look people in the eye and tell them what I'm thinking, and they know that, at least, that's what I'm thinking, whether they agree with me or not.
Certain doors have opened to me, from time to time in my life. I've not beaten down many of them, but oftentimes I walk through, and they've always worked out well. People say, is there the fire in the belly? I'm kind of a slow-moving, slow-talking kind of guy, a lot of times. I enjoy life, and I enjoy a good laugh.
The only two elections I've ever run, I've won. And I won back home with greater margins than anybody else in the history — greater numbers than anybody else in the history of Tennessee. So I've been able to sense, I think, when the time was right. And I wouldn't call that destiny. That may be a little heavy. But I do sense that there's something different and special going on out in the country right now, and I may be able to answer that call.
HANNITY: Senator, thank you for being with us. Good to see you.
THOMPSON: Thank you. Appreciate it.
HANNITY: Thank you very much.
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