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GOP Candidates Debate Iraq as Thompson Enters Race

September 6, 2007 at 6:30 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: At the start of last night’s Republican presidential debate in Durham, New Hampshire, it seemed the event would be as much about the candidate who wasn’t there as it was about the eight who were. Moderator Brit Hume of FOX News immediately asked what the candidates thought of former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson’s entry into the race.

BRIT HUME, FOX News Anchor: Polls have him in second or third place, depending on whether you’re looking at national polls or some of the early state polls. So the question is, who has made the smart moves here, you guys, who are here and have been out on the trail all this time, or Senator Thompson?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Most of the candidates dealt playfully with the question.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: Well, I think that’s a decision that Fred should make. Maybe we’re up past his bedtime, but the point is…

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), Massachusetts: The only question I have for Senator Thompson is: Why the hurry? Why not take some more time off?

RUDY GIULIANI (R), Former Mayor of New York: I like Fred a lot. I think Fred is a really, really good man. I think he’s done a pretty good job of playing my part on “Law and Order.” I personally prefer the real thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The laughter soon came to an end, as the candidates delved into more serious matters, such as the war in Iraq. Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee became locked in the most fiery exchange of the evening. Paul said it was time American citizens stopped bearing the burden for the Bush administration’s mistakes in Iraq.

REP. RON PAUL (R), Texas: The American people didn’t go in. A few people advising this administration, a small number of people called the neoconservatives, hijacked our foreign policy. They’re responsible, not the American people. They’re not responsible; we shouldn’t punish them.

FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), Arkansas: Congressman, we are one nation. We can’t be divided. We have to be one nation under God. That means, if we make a mistake, we make it as a single country, the United States of America, not the divided states of America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Arizona Senator John McCain also sparred on Iraq over the effectiveness of the troop surge.

MITT ROMNEY: … that the surge is apparently working. We’re going to get a full report on that from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker very soon. If the surge is working, then we’re going to be able to start bringing back our troops levels, slowly but surely, and play more of a support role over time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: McCain seized on the lack of certainty in Romney’s statement.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Governor, the surge is working. The surge is working, sir.

MITT ROMNEY: That’s just what I said.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: It is working. No, not “apparently.” It’s working. It’s working because we’ve got a great general, we’ve got a good strategy. Anbar province, things have improved.

JUDY WOODRUFF: California Congressman Duncan Hunter also touted the military surge.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), California: In Anbar province, we were having 1,350 attacks a month last October. By the blood, sweat and tears of the U.S. Marines out there, we pulled it down 80 percent. They’ve pulled down civilian casualties 74 percent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kansas Senator Sam Brownback agreed, but argued the political surge has fallen short.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), Kansas: We don’t have a political solution on the ground that works in Iraq. I think we need to recognize that reality. We ought to now push for establishment of a Sunni state in the west, still one country, still one country, but separate states. That’s a political solution that you can take advantage of what the military has done on the ground; that’s what we need to do to move forward now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The 90-minute debate also touched on illegal immigration. Mitt Romney stepped up his attacks on Rudy Giuliani, accusing the former New York City mayor of being too welcoming of illegal immigrants.

MITT ROMNEY: This is a place where Mayor Giuliani and I just simply disagree. I think we should reduce federal funding to cities that call themselves sanctuary cities. I think saying, as he did, “If you happen to be an undocumented alien, we want you in New York, we’ll protect you in New York,” I think that contributed to 3 million illegals in this country becoming 12 million illegals coming into this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Giuliani tried to deflect the criticism, noting he had to deal with immigration as part of a larger fight against crime while mayor.

RUDY GIULIANI: The problem that I had was, I had 400,000 illegal immigrants roughly in New York City, and I had a city that was the crime capital of America. I had to do something intelligent with them. I didn’t have the luxury of, you know, political rhetoric. I had the safety and security of the people of New York City on my shoulders.

So what I did was, I said — and I think this a sensible policy — “if you are an illegal immigrant in New York City, and a crime is committed against you, I want you to report that,” because, lo and behold, the next time a crime is committed, it could be against a citizen or a legal immigrant. My programs and policies led to a city that was the safest large city in the country, so they must have been sensible policies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who has made cracking down on illegal immigration the centerpiece of his campaign, accused the other candidates of using the issue for political gain.

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), Colorado: When the wind is blowing in one direction, and that is, you know, “We’re not going to say anything about illegal immigration, we will be silent on the issue,” but when it sounds like the people are getting uptight about this and we can make hay out of it, we’re all going to be the strongest supporters of secure borders that you ever saw in your life.

JAY LENO, Host, “The Tonight Show”: Please welcome Fred Thompson.

Thompson on the "Tonight Show"

Fred Thompson
Republican Presidential Candidate
I am not here today because I have had a lifelong ambition to hold the office of the presidency, nor do I think that I have all the answers for the problems that face this country. I don't think any person does.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One hour after the New Hampshire debate and clear across the country in Hollywood, Fred Thompson finally made his candidacy official.

FORMER SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), Tennessee: I'm running for president of the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He did it on NBC's "Tonight Show," telling host Jay Leno he wasn't worried about his late entry into the race.

FRED THOMPSON: I don't think people are going to say, "You know, that guy would make a very good president, but he just didn't get in soon enough."

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Thompson had a message for his fellow Republican candidates.

FRED THOMPSON: It's a lot more difficult to get on "The Tonight Show" than it is to get into a presidential debate.

JAY LENO: Exactly, exactly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Minutes after his late-night appearance, Thompson's campaign posted a 15-minute video on its Web site outlining his platform.

FRED THOMPSON: On the next president's watch, our country will be making decisions that will affect our lives and our families far into the future. We cannot allow ourselves to become a weaker, less prosperous, and more divided nation. Today, as in past generations, the fate of millions across the world depends on the unity and resolve of the American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thompson is best known for his acting roles in more than a dozen movies...

FRED THOMPSON: So what's your problem, Lieutenant McLain?

JUDY WOODRUFF: ... and as Manhattan District Attorney Arthur Branch on TV's "Law and Order." But Thompson's political profile spans four decades. He was co-chief counsel during the Senate's investigation of Watergate and later was elected to two terms in the Senate.

Still, 62 percent of respondents to a recent Harris Interactive Poll said they were not sure if Thompson was too liberal, too conservative, or neither. So today Thompson began a three-day tour of Iowa to introduce himself to voters.

FRED THOMPSON: I am not here today because I have had a lifelong ambition to hold the office of the presidency, nor do I think that I have all the answers for the problems that face this country. I don't think any person does. But I am a man who loves his country, who is concerned about our future, and knows that, in the next years, it's going to require strong leadership.

Thompson entering the race

Holly Bailey
Newsweek
It's still unclear why he waited so long. On one hand, I think, you know, he looked at the polls and saw that, without doing much, he was really number two, close to Rudy Giuliani.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thompson will continue his announcement trip in New Hampshire and South Carolina this weekend and into next week. He'll go head-to-head with the other Republican candidates in his first debate later this month.

Holly Bailey is covering the Fred Thompson campaign for Newsweek magazine, and she joins us now from Des Moines, Iowa.

Holly, it's good to see you.

HOLLY BAILEY, Newsweek Magazine: It's great to see you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Holly, today we just heard Fred Thompson say, in fact, last night that he doesn't think it matters that he got in late. But why did he get in so late? It was, what, back in March that he was saying he was seriously considering this.

HOLLY BAILEY: It's still unclear why he waited so long. On one hand, I think, you know, he looked at the polls and saw that, without doing much, he was really number two, close to Rudy Giuliani.

But I also think they really went through this sort of up-and-down with staffing. Back in June, they started the testing-the-waters committee, began raising money. His backers said he would raise $5 million in a month, and that didn't happen. He raised only $3.5 million. They said they would announce in July. That didn't happen. So it's been, I think, several months of ups and downs for Fred Thompson.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned the staff shakeup. In fact, we've just seen a report of another staff loss. I guess his name is Mark Corallo. He's described as senior strategist and spokesman, left the campaign just hours before the announcement.

HOLLY BAILEY: Right, Mark Corallo was actually hired by Thompson's wife, Jeri, back in, you know, the summer of 2006 when they began thinking about this run. He's been one of the founders, one of the founding Fredheads, as they like to say. And so his departure from the campaign is pretty surprising at this point.

Appealing to Iowa

Holly Bailey
Newsweek
Mainly he really talked about uniting the country. I think that's going to be one of his biggest themes. He talked a lot about how Washington is really at a deadlock and that the nation needs to come together.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What did Thompson have to say today in Iowa? And how was he received?

HOLLY BAILEY: Well, he basically gave the same sort of stump speech that he made in the video last night that his campaign posted online, talked a lot about just generally about the war, about fiscal responsibility, some of the issues that he's campaigned before on before in the past.

Mainly he really talked about uniting the country. I think that's going to be one of his biggest themes. He talked a lot about how Washington is really at a deadlock and that the nation needs to come together; otherwise we're going to be perceived as a weaker nation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, specifically on Iraq, how is he different from the other Republican candidates?

HOLLY BAILEY: It's really unclear. You know, Fred Thompson really hasn't said a lot of specifics about his campaign, about how he would be any different than the other candidates. I mean, I was with him last week in Minnesota. A voter actually came up and asked him, "How are you different? What makes you different than any of the other Republicans in the race?" And he said, "I'm not going to get into that right now, because I'm not a candidate," but so far we really haven't heard any kind of distinctions.

I think, as we see him go through the primary states this weekend and into next week, he's really going to have to start answering those questions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you've been talking to the people in his campaign. What do they see as the gap among the other eight candidates that he can fill?

HOLLY BAILEY: Well, the biggest one is that they look at the polls, and they see that -- at least in the recent A.P. poll -- that "none of the above" was winning. They see Fred Thompson as somebody that can bring both sides of the party together, that he can come in and sort of be a unifying force. That is the big thing that they see here.

Plus, they really, you know, are talking up his ability to -- I guess, really his ability to reach out to moderate Republicans. And they also see that, you know, social conservatives like him a lot, mainly because they're not pleased with any of the other candidates, so they just -- the big issue is they see that he can fill this gap here.

Newsweek's feature on Thompson

Holly Bailey
Newsweek
The first thing that Fred Thompson said today on the stump here in Iowa is that he wasn't looking for this job. And, I mean, I think that's one of his selling points, that this isn't a guy that's been dreaming of this his entire life.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You wrote the cover story for Newsweek this week, and the title line is pretty striking, "Lazy like a Fox." What were you trying to say?

HOLLY BAILEY: Well, ever since Thompson began thinking about running for president, the conventional wisdom in Washington is that he's been too lazy, that he doesn't have the fire in the belly. And so we decided to sort of look and see, has he ever lost any jobs or any campaign because of this?

And, you know, it turns out that, you know, he's actually someone that's worked pretty hard. But he doesn't really work hard to fight that perception that he's lazy. He's pretty laid back and sort of seems to go with it, and so that's what we were really trying to get at there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what do the people around him say? Do they say he's lazy? Or what do they say about him?

HOLLY BAILEY: Well, they say he's not lazy. And, in fact, one of the things that was interesting about doing this story is you think you know a lot about Fred Thompson because he's been in public life for so long. I mean, you know, we've seen him in movies; we saw him in the Senate; we saw him in Watergate.

But if you look back and look at his personal life, his personal story, it's pretty compelling. The guy was, you know, a father at 17 years old, married as a high school senior. His wife's family at the time thought that he was pretty much a goofball and wasn't going to amount to much. But he really, you know, turned his life around, became a fantastic student, got a scholarship to Vanderbilt Law School, and just every step of the way has worked really hard to be where he is right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And yet, Holly Bailey, you write in this piece about how he really wasn't sure he wanted to run for the Senate when he was -- in fact, he turned down Howard Baker the first time he asked him to run, and he did run the second time and had a hard time getting in the groove before he won. Does he have the fire in the belly now?

HOLLY BAILEY: Well, we're still waiting to see. I mean, for one thing, the first thing that Fred Thompson said today on the stump here in Iowa is that he wasn't looking for this job. And, I mean, I think that's one of his selling points, that this isn't a guy that's been dreaming of this his entire life. This isn't a guy that his life is going to be over if he's not president of the United States.

So, you know, I think that's how he's addressing it on the stump. And I think his ability to be a reluctant campaigner sort of helps him, but at the same time I think people need to see some level of enthusiasm on his part to show that he really wants this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Holly Bailey with Newsweek magazine, joining us from Des Moines, thanks very much.

HOLLY BAILEY: Thank you.