Political Ploy?

This is a rush transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," January 16, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Now with South Carolina just three days away, things are getting very interesting. The Huckabee — Huckabee camp, I should say, reportedly accusing Senator Fred Thompson of staying in the race just to pull votes from Huckabee and in turn help his friend John McCain.

With me now to respond to this is Senator Fred Thompson.

Senator, that's out there. Any truth to it?


So, I have been busting a gut here for several months, day and night, away from my family, as a part of a conspiracy to help John McCain become president? That's the theory?

It's an attempt by the Huckabee campaign to get me to attack McCain so they don't have to. If you notice, Huckabee hasn't said anything about McCain. Huckabee's campaign manager hasn't said anything about McCain. Mighty strange, if McCain is leading the race, that their focus is on me, instead of McCain, you know, just kind of South Carolina politics, you know...

CAVUTO: So, you're saying that...

THOMPSON: ... in the closing days.

CAVUTO: OK. OK. We have got calls to the Huckabee camp and as well to Ed Rollins, who runs the campaign, and, so far, they haven't been returned. They're busy, so I will give them benefit of the doubt.

Now, you're saying that this was really an attempt to wedge you out of the race?

THOMPSON: Oh, sure. Sure.

There's no — there's no question about that. Ed Rollins is a wily old fox. He's been around quite a bit. And, if he can goad me into attacking McCain, they won't have to. And, as I say, if you notice, Huckabee hasn't said anything about McCain. I have drawn my distinction with McCain. It's well known that he's a friend of mine. I admire him.

I mean, John was being tortured back when a lot of us were sitting back over here leading comfortable lives. I will never forget that. I have drawn distinctions with him on immigration, on tax cuts. All that's well known.

But I'm not going to let the Huckabee campaign, who is new to the scene, whose record has not been examined thoroughly yet, determine who I talk about or what issues I talk about.

CAVUTO: But I don't think they're saying...

THOMPSON: Governor Huckabee...

CAVUTO: I think, if I understand — this could be such an elaborate chess game that — I barely mastered checkers, Senator, to be clear.

So, I think what they're saying...


THOMPSON: Well, I don't care what they're saying. I'm done with it.


THOMPSON: OK? I'm done with that.

CAVUTO: OK. So, you're not saying there's any truth to that at all, that you're not trying to...


THOMPSON: Of course not. I mean, it's absurd on its face, Neil.

I mean, how many times do I have to say that? We're using valuable time talking about some campaign tactic here in the last few days, when our worst enemies in the world are trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons to use against us, and we're bankrupting the next generation. We have got bigger things to talk about.

CAVUTO: All right.

Well, you talked in the last debate a lot about Governor Huckabee. In fact, you spent a great deal of time bashing his conservative...

THOMPSON: I have spent other debates...

CAVUTO: Right. right.

THOMPSON: I have spent other times in other debates talking about others of my opponents. That's true.


So, onto Governor Huckabee and his conservative credentials. Bottom line, you just doubt them, right?

THOMPSON: Yes. Yes, I do.

I think that he would lead us down — that same campaign manager of his is the one who said the Reagan coalition is dead. And I think he let the cat out of the bag. I think that's what they believe.

I think they want to take us down a more so-called moderate path, and be more like the Democrats in a lot of ways. And, so, that's why I said and I thought the heart of the Republican Party was going be determined in this election in South Carolina.

So, we just have some difference on the — on the issues. And, when you look at this record on illegal immigration in Arkansas, and his tax record, growth of government record, his endorsement by the National Education Association, where he appeared at their conference, the only Republican there among all the Democrats, you know, we have some different philosophical differences. And I'm not going to be bashful about pointing them out.


CAVUTO: But I think...

THOMPSON: Go ahead.

CAVUTO: I think Rollins has said — in saying the Reagan coalition was dead, I think what he was trying to point out was that the traditional coalition that we know it is divided among the religious conservatives, I guess, who Huckabee manages to get, some of those who are concerned about national security issues, who I guess, by an extent, you and Rudy Giuliani, maybe, to a degree, John McCain get, and then the more fiscal types, the Wall Street types who are drawn to Mitt Romney.

I think that was what he meant. And you don't believe that?

THOMPSON: Well, that's a, you know — that's a tactical analysis. I think the more fundamental question is whether or not the principles are still alive.

And the governor's record — and he's not the only one in this race, but certainly the governor's record indicates they want to move more toward a populist approach, which always winds up in being a bigger-government approach. And, if you look at his record and you look at his record it's all consistent.

It's just a philosophical disagreement as to whether or not those principles on which the coalition were based are abiding principles and are still applicable. I think they're as applicable as the Constitution is today, because that's what the coalition was based upon. And we simply have a...

CAVUTO: All right, if he — you're not saying that...


CAVUTO: All right.

Before we rudely went to commercial break as Senator Thompson was talking — that was not intended. We were going to, in the parlance of the industry, blow that break, so that the senator and I could continue talking. And...

THOMPSON: Story of my life.


THOMPSON: Neil, story of my life, my best material on the cutting room floor.

CAVUTO: You and me, my friend.

But we have a new tech — we have this new tech director named Huckabee, who just — I don't know.


CAVUTO: Kidding. Kidding. It's a joke.


CAVUTO: All right. So, the bottom — what I was trying to get at, Senator, not to belabor the point, it's not ill will with you...

THOMPSON: Well, you already are belaboring the point, but go ahead.

CAVUTO: I know, right? I am.


CAVUTO: But it's not ill will with you and the governor, that, if he became the Republican nominee, you would, indeed, support him; you would have no problem with that, right?

THOMPSON: No, of course not. I certainly would support our nominee. It's nothing personal. This thing has been blown out of proportion.

I'm trying to discuss the issues. It's not this Mickey Mouse stuff that consumes the press — who's jumping who. I mean, this is about the future of the country. They should not be so sensitive about some criticism with regard to the issues. This is big boy stuff now. And I'm willing to discuss the issues with them face-to-face or any other way, like I tried to do the other night in the debate.

But that's what it's about for me, and that's the way it's going to be.

CAVUTO: Do you think, Senator, that it is important that you win or place at least a strong second in South Carolina?

THOMPSON: Well, I don't have any particular numbers on it, but I have made no bones about it. It's important that I do very well here. There's no question about it.

I — you know, this is the gateway to the rest of the country. And we're going to have a quick, but extensive campaign, you know, for a lot of states coming up. So, this is the entrance to that new ball game, as far as I'm concerned. We have had different winners in different states. And it's my turn. And it needs to be my turn.

So, we will see exactly where the rankings are and the percentages and so forth Saturday night. But, yes, I need to do well here.

CAVUTO: All right, because the argument is that, without a Southern victory, it's kind of tough for you. Is it?

THOMPSON: Oh, sure. I mean, there's no question about it.

But, you know, Huckabee had to have a win in Iowa to stay alive, to start off with. He got it. McCain had to have a win in New Hampshire in order to stay alive, and he got that. And Romney had to have a win, I think, last night, and he got that.

So, you know, we may see me in that same position, and I expect to achieve it. Others have. It's a whole new ball game. The polls are wrong about half the time, it looks like, historically, throughout this campaign.

So, we will — we're moving in the right direction, according to the polls. And whether we catch some of the others in time or not, we will see.

But, from everything on the ground and everything I see in the polls in terms of direction...

CAVUTO: All right.

THOMPSON: ... it's — it's something that's very, very doable and we intend to do.

CAVUTO: OK, Senator, we will see what happens.

Again, my apologies for the technical snafu.

Always good to have you, sir.

THOMPSON: It's all right.

CAVUTO: All right.

THOMPSON: Good to be with you. Thank you.

CAVUTO: Senator Fred Thompson.

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