Friday, December 21, 2007

Q&A: On The Campaign Bus With Fred Thompson

Iowa Independent fellow and (Carroll) Daily Times Herald reporter and columnist Douglas Burns spent about 15 minutes speaking one-on-one with Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson on his campaign bus outside the Carroll Country Club Thursday morning.

Thompson, a former U.S. senator from Tennessee and accomplished actor, discussed the war in Iraq, his own campaign style, criticism of his admitted lack of “type A” personality, his chances against Hillary Clinton in a potential general election match-up and the recently held Des Moines Register GOP debate.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a Thompson supporter, was present for the full interview, and the presidential hopeful’s wife, Jeri, stood in for some of the session aboard a bus bearing the slogan: “Clear conservative choice: Hands down! Bus Tour.”

The following is a transcript of the exchange with Thompson.

Daily Times Herald: We aren’t hearing too much on the war in Iraq from the Democratic side of the presidential race right now. Perhaps they feel it is going well. Do you think at the end of the day the Iraq war becomes a good issue for the Republicans?

Yeah, I think it is going well from all those whose opinions I value who have come back from over there. We have very close friends of ours who have kids over there who have re-upped and we get reports back from them from time to time and things are going on the provinces, just something that hasn’t been going on before.

We saw some of these atrocities I think in the last day or two day, al Qaeda torch hospitals or whatever they call them. That’s indicative of what’s been happening out there and people are sick and tired of it. And they’re coming to our side. Some of the Sunni leadership is coming to our side.

They’re reaching some arrangements at the local level that has not yet made its way to the politicians in Baghdad.

And that needs to happen but it doesn’t mean a lot of good things aren’t happening. Violence is down. Car bombings are down. Ramadan was much more peaceful than it has been in a long, long time.

So all indications are good. I was amazed the other night at the Iowa debate when they took Iraq and immigration off the table to start with.

I said to myself, if there had been some bad news out of Iraq it wouldn’t have been off the table.

Daily Times Herald:
Was that last Des Moines Register debate at Iowa Public Television the worst-run debate you’ve ever been involved with, senator?

Thompson: I’ll have to think for a minute because I’ve been involved in some pretty badly run debates.

I don’t think the format serves the people well. It’s an exchange of sound bites and then when they come in and get even more officious than usual.

They set the ground rules and tell the candidates, “it’s take it or leave it.”

They wouldn’t even give a break in the middle of that hour-and-a-half debate. Any other debate we’ve had there’s been a break or two, usually two little breaks along the way.

They said “no.” I said, “Wait a minute, this is kind of unusual.” They said, “Take it or leave it.”

So that’s the attitude they have. This is our deal. You have to dance to our tune and do it our way.

Then when they take that extra added step when they say now we’re going to have a show of hands like we’re a bunch of trained seals waiting for a fish to be thrown to them there are some things that ought to be even beneath the dignity of a presidential candidate. When I basically said, “No,” it kind of broke them and showed it for what it was.

And now they’re getting an awful lot of bad comments about it and I think richly deserved.

It was a poorly conceived deal and they would have been a whole lot better off if they would talk to some people in the process a little bit about what might make a better debate, instead of being so officious about it.

Daily Times Herald: On the Democratic side of the presidential race U.S. Sen. Barack Obama has admitted in his book and in different speeches that not only has he done marijuana in his past but that he has had some experience with cocaine. His campaign’s explanation is that the honesty, the forthright element of that, is good. Some people have been critical of it, suggesting that it might red carpet the notion of experimentation for kids. Do you have any thoughts on that, that this is out there in the dialogue and it’s not just marijuana, it’s cocaine?

Well, it’s hard to comment on somebody else’s personal revelations without knowing all the circumstances involved.

Obviously, that’s not a good example for kids and it’s very unfortunate, but I imagine Obama thinks the same thing. I imagine that’s his own opinion about it. I wish it hadn’t happened. He probably wishes it hadn’t happened.

The political effect of that is for people to decide.

He’s like every other human being. You have to live with the consequences of your actions.

Daily Times Herald: With the fighting between GOP candidates Mitt Romney (former Massachusetts governor) and Mike Huckabee (former Arkansas governor), do you see a dynamic at work here similar to the Democratic side in 2004 where you had (U.S. Rep. Dick) Gephardt and (former Vermont Gov. Howard) Dean going at it and you had (U.S. Sen. John) Kerry emerge? You’re just about as tall as Kerry. Do you see yourself playing that role?

I think I’m ahead of where he was in the polls. I don’t know. You just kinda got to follow your own game plan.

And, you know, my game plan is just to be who I am and what I am. It’s a whole lot easier to remember. My positions on the issues are constants.

Some people say I’m not a Type A personality and they’re right.

They want examples of me clicking my heels and things like that. That ain’t me. It wasn’t me in Tennessee when I got more votes than anybody in the history of Tennessee politics.

It’s served me well all my life being who I am. A large part of what I am is that, you know, I don’t mind telling it like it is.

Daily Times Herald: You stayed in Carroll last night at the Super 8. Your first event started at 10 o’clock today. One of the knocks on you has been maybe that you’re a little lazy. Why did you start your first event at 10 o’clock?

First of all we had telephone interviews this morning in our room. We had briefings in our room. We got in last night from over in east Iowa. I don’t know what time we finally got to bed but it was late last night. We’ve been doing I don’t know how many events. We’re going to do 50 towns and communities. You can catch us sometimes where there is a gap there. But if you look at the overall schedule you’ll find it to be a very, very active one.

I don’t have anything to prove to anybody.

I mean, you know, I actually like to read a little bit along the way. The first thing I do when I walk out is get asked about the president’s news conference that he had this morning that I saw, and what’s happened with the other candidates and comments that they’ve made, and sometimes disasters that have happened in various communities and shootings and so forth. I read and talk to people about that. Talk to them in the home office. Get my plan for the day and the information I need for the day.

You can’t put yourself in another man’s shoes, figure out well he got in this time that night so he ought to start this time the next morning in order to prove he’s more energetic. That’s the kind of thing they used to say about Ronald Reagan and he always said, ‘They say hard work never hurt anybody but why take a chance?’

Daily Times Herald: If Hillary Clinton is the nominee and you are, do you take the South off the table? Are you just going to destroy her in the South?

Thompson: That’s a little premature. I think that we’re going to need somebody who is a solid conservative who can unite the country. I think that I would match up very, very well with her in that regard.

Daily Times Herald: By the way I saw “Hunt for Red October” four times in the theater when it came out.

That’s more times than me.

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