Fred Thompson endorses Newt Gingrich on 'Hannity'

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," January 23, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Senator Fred Thompson has spent much of his life in Washington both as a lawyer and later as a senator from the great state of Tennessee.

In 2008, following his own run for the White House, he endorsed fellow GOP candidate John McCain. But tonight, Fred Thompson is here with us in a "Hannity" exclusive to announce who he is supporting in 2012 for the Republican nomination.

Senator, welcome back.

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER TENNESSEE SENATOR: Thank you, Sean. Good to be back with you.

HANNITY: All right, you know, I read your statement and most people haven't seen it. So I think it's really important that I'll let you lay it out because you go into some really, really specific details why this race is so important, what is at stake here and who you decided to endorse. Explain.

THOMPSON: Sean, for me the way I view the strength of these candidates had to do with the way I view the status and direction of our government. I think we're in deep trouble. I probably think greater trouble than most people do.

Even these numbers that are coming out of Washington that look so bleak are understated. They are based on false projections of growth and things of that nature. We have historically low interest rates, and when they start to come up as the largest debtor in the world, we're going to be in an additional fix that we can't bail ourselves out of.

I think we're at a tipping point in this country. I think there are going to be more people in the wagons soon than are pulling the wagon.

HANNITY: We're close.

THOMPSON: I think we're there. Almost half the people are on some federal government program. Almost half the people pay no federal income tax.

I think this president is taking us down the road of a genuine welfare state full-fledged, even when we have the example of Europe to teach us and guide us. I think the American people see what is going on there, see what's going on in their own country. That is why they are organizing in hamlets and communities and towns all across this nation. You know, some of them are called Tea Parties.

That's my view and I have come to the growing realization for me anyway that Newt Gingrich is the guy who can articulate what America is all about. American exceptionalism can make the case and not just read the talking points or do it off the teleprompter.

He can make the case for free markets and our basic case that lower taxes can be good for everybody. Bring about growth, it's good for everybody. He is not afraid. He is tough. He is experienced. I don't think any more it's an advantage to be able to say I know nothing about the operation of the federal government.

I know something about it. Newt knows something about it. It is colossal mess. I came to Washington in 1995 in part because of what was going on in the country right now that had generated in large part by the leadership of Newt Gingrich.

He conceived and carried out really a revolution in American politics at that time. We were able to balance the budget for about four years in a row, pass welfare reform and begin to rebuild a depleted military. These things can be done, but we can't be apologetic about it or be tentative about it.

We can't look surprised, you know, if we get off of our talking points. We have to stand up to the establishment on both sides of the aisle and to the news media and carry this thing through. These times are different in America, Sean. The old rules don't apply anymore.

People are concerned. People are frightened. People see their country going in a direction that is different from the first principles that made us the envy of the world. That is why you're seeing people react the way they did in South Carolina.

HANNITY: You released a report and you mentioned this in your statement. You put this together when you were chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee in 2001. Government on the brink, you say, it's far worse now than it was then.

You see the debt, the deficits, what do you make of -- even tonight Governor Romney is coming down hard on Newt. Washington insider, it was one attack after another after another. I don't think this the path towards inspiring people on either side when any of these guys are attacking each other. They spent 20 minutes on this earlier in the debate.

THOMPSON: Well, I'm not really surprised. I guess, I am surprised that Newt is doing his own, shall we say, tough and gritty work. Usually he leaves that to his surrogates and the Super PACs to put on those television ads and spent millions on attacks like that, while Mitt stands up there, you know -- I think in the last debate, he said one of his regrets was he had said something negative toward one of the candidates. Now, he's coming out with an array of accusations, you know, that everyone can be addressed at the proper time.

If these candidates want to spend their time talking about what happened 10, 15, 20 years ago and mistakes that were made in their personal lives or business lives or political lives, I'm sure that each candidate is going to have plenty to talk about. I think the American people are fed up with all of that.

They are asking the question -- who is going to be bold enough, smart enough, articulate enough to carry the mail? To beat Barack Obama and start the difficult task of righting this American ship.

HANNITY: Will you head out the campaign trail with Newt Gingrich?

THOMPSON: I'll do some things, I'm sure. It's not a full-time job. I'm not going to be spokesman for the campaign or anything like that. I have the same concern that every father and grandfather has and the same thing that got me in politics to start with.

That is, to try to leave the place a little better than you found it. I have been the recipient -- you know, I above all else know, that, you know, you can be born into modest circumstances in this country, but you are blessed in ways that kings of old could not even begin to contemplate.

You are born with a legacy of freedom and independence and free choice. The founding fathers of this country understood human nature. They understood the wisdom of the ages and the lessons of civilizations that have come and gone.

These things have come together, you know, to give us the kind of life we had. I'm ashamed kind of what our generation is in the process of leading the next one.

HANNITY: I just turned 50, Senator, and you think about life a little different. There's something about that age. You are about to turn 50 so you'll know what it's like in a couple of months.

THOMPSON: It won't be long.

HANNITY: Senator, it's always good to see you. Thank you so much for being with us. I think this is worth reading. Is it on your web site?

THOMPSON: I don't know if it's on my web site or not. I'm sure it will be on somebody's.

HANNITY: I'll put it on my mine, All right, Fred Thompson, thanks for being with us.

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