MSNBC Hardball - Transcript
MR. MATTHEWS: It was just last week, in fact -- I was going to say a couple of weeks ago -- it was last week that former Senator and actor Fred Thompson announced his bid for the White House on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show."
FORMER SENATOR FRED THOMPSON (R-TN): (From videotape.) I'm running for president of the United States.
MR. MATTHEWS: And he's been playing catch-up with his Republican contenders ever since. Today some influential columnists have been blasting the Thompson brand. One of them is conservative George F. Will, who compares him to the launch of the New Coke. Remember that product in 1985, a product that flopped miserably two months later?
So the "Hardball" debate tonight: Has Thompson's rollout been a failure or a success? And we can tell already.
Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn represents the fine people of Tennessee, the volunteer state. And Ross Douthat is with The Atlantic magazine.
Congresswoman, we always let the negative go first -- you. Has he blown it? (Laughter.)
MR. DOUTHAT: I wouldn't say he's blown it. I think he's running a great campaign in the sense that he's doing well in the polls. But his campaign has absolutely no justification. He's far less qualified than any of the other candidates running for president at the moment. And if he gets the nomination, it'll be an embarrassment for the Republican Party.
REP. BLACKBURN: (Laughs.)
MR. MATTHEWS: Congresswoman, what do you make of the first week of your candidate's launch?
REP. BLACKBURN: Well, you know, it's always so interesting to me to get the take from the inside-the-D.C. crowd and then the Americans that are across this country. And one of the things that they --
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, we're Americans too, Congresswoman. We're Americans too.
REP. BLACKBURN: I know. I know, Chris.
MR. MATTHEWS: I know that was a nice try there, but --
REP. BLACKBURN: I know, but, you know, people around the country -- let me tell you something. Fred Thompson is not only --
MR. MATTHEWS: Oh, you speak for the whole country. The whole country you speak for now.
REP. BLACKBURN: He's not on a D.C. clock, Chris. He is on the American people's clock.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay.
REP. BLACKBURN: And his rollout, I think, has been consistent. It has been very reliable. It is Fred Thompson. And what people are going to see in Fred Thompson is a good, solid, consistent leader, somebody who is an independent thinker.
MR. DOUTHAT: So --
REP. BLACKBURN: And I don't think it's been a flop at all.
MR. DOUTHAT: Congresswoman, what are some examples of his independent thinking?
REP. BLACKBURN: Oh, independent thinking. You know, one of the things I think that he did there was McCain-Feingold. I don't agree with him on it, but, you know, you can look at what he did.
MR. DOUTHAT: Well, but he's been running away from it, Congresswoman, ever since.
REP. BLACKBURN: Well, that's right.
MR. DOUTHAT: He's been saying, "Oh, I" --
REP. BLACKBURN: And what he did was say, "Let's find a way to deal with all of this money coming from labor unions. Let's deal with that impact into campaigns." This is the direction they went. Like I said, I don't agree with the legislation.
MR. DOUTHAT: But at this point he's --
REP. BLACKBURN: But there again, that is Fred Thompson kind of getting out there --
MR. DOUTHAT: But he's admitted that he's -- so the Fred Thompson way is to say, "I don't agree with the legislation, but I'm going to support it anyway"?
REP. BLACKBURN: No, the Fred Thompson way is to say, "Let's find an answer to this" and then to try it. And what you will see with Fred Thompson --
MR. DOUTHAT: But since then he's admitted that it was the wrong answer.
MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Congresswoman, to name --
REP. BLACKBURN: (Inaudible.)
MR. MATTHEWS: -- name a program that he's come out with that's new and you agree with.
REP. BLACKBURN: Oh, goodness -- a program that he has come out with this in this campaign. I don't know. But I'll tell you what I do agree with him on is that he agrees that he knows that the issue of illegal immigration has to be addressed. And wherever you are in this country, that's probably the number one --
MR. DOUTHAT: But all the Republican contenders --
REP. BLACKBURN: -- issue that people say, "Let's agree with it; let's enforce the law."
MR. DOUTHAT: Absolutely.
But Congresswoman --
REP. BLACKBURN: He's also a steady hand --
MR. DOUTHAT: -- all of the Republican candidates have said exactly the same thing. What is Fred Thompson saying that distinguishes him from the rest of the field?
REP. BLACKBURN: They are not saying that. We were just looking at a clip with Rudy Giuliani, who is really having some problems because of that. And you look at how Fred Thompson has moved up in the polls. Fred is predictable. He is reliable.
MR. DOUTHAT: He is predictable.
REP. BLACKBURN: You're going to continue to see a good schooled leader there. I know, you know, it doesn't matter -- I think the American people are looking for a solid leader. You all keep talking about "There's a void. Can Fred fill it?" The American people will fill that void --
MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you --
REP. BLACKBURN: -- when they're ready to.
MR. MATTHEWS: Ross, you're kind of snarky on this guy. But the bottom line is there's some appeal to this guy, because a lot of other guys have been running now, oh, for a year or two and they don't have anywhere near the support this guy's gotten in a week.
MR. DOUTHAT: No, absolutely. And the appeal of Fred Thompson is he is a very talented actor. He has done a very good job of playing --
MR. MATTHEWS: No, but people are voting for him for president. They're saying they like him for president, not for actor.
MR. DOUTHAT: They're saying that they like him for president, but part of that is just he has more name recognition than anyone else in the field. I mean, I think it's interesting to compare and contrast Fred Thompson to, say, someone like Mike Huckabee, who's, you know, a fellow from the South, a governor of a southern state, with a much more impressive record than Fred Thompson, but he's --
MR. MATTHEWS: Would you vote for either one of these guys?
MR. DOUTHAT: Sure. I would vote for Fred Thompson because he's better than anyone the Democrats are going to put out there. But I'd be very disappointed if I had to vote for him, in the same way that --
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, let's stop the debate for a second. You're a wonderful congresswoman. I love having you. So Marsha, would you just give me a sense? Is there a different cadence down in Tennessee? I think you're trying to explain that the southern charm and the speed at which this guy speaks shouldn't be confused with some wisecracker from New York or D.C., and therefore you're on a different scorecard.
REP. BLACKBURN: I wouldn't say it's a different scorecard, Chris. And it doesn't matter where I am in the country. What people want is a leader who is going to uphold the law. They want a leader that is going to think out loud with them and is going to be a person of action.
What I like about Fred Thompson, he doesn't talk about wanting to be president. He talks about what he would do when he is -- when he were president.
MR. DOUTHAT: Congresswoman, can you give me another example of something he's said that he'll do --
REP. BLACKBURN: Yes, I will, absolutely.
MR. DOUTHAT: -- when he is president besides enforce immigration law?
REP. BLACKBURN: Well, immigration law is one. And it doesn't matter where you go around the country, Ross. In talking to my colleagues on the Hill, the number one issue that continues to come up around the country is securing that border and dealing with the issue of illegal immigration.
When it comes to government spending and reducing government programs, Fred Thompson is somebody who's going to roll up his sleeves, get out a clean sheet of white paper and start whittling away at where you can reduce what the federal government spends.
MR. DOUTHAT: Is there anything in --
REP. BLACKBURN: That's been a huge disappointment. You know, I know what you want.
MR. DOUTHAT; Is there anything in Fred Thompson's record -- no, Congresswoman, I'm sorry, I have to ask you this.
REP. BLACKBURN: Okay.
MR. DOUTHAT: Is there anything in Fred Thompson's record that makes you think that he'd be better able to do any of the things you say he'll do than, say, Rudy Giuliani, who cleaned up New York City when it was at one of the worst points in its history, or Mitt Romney, who was a successful governor, a successful businessman, ran the Olympics, or John McCain, who's been a leader in the Senate for decades?
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, let her finish.
REP. BLACKBURN: Well, and they all are fine people and they have fine resumes. And we have some great candidates in this race. Fred has sat there with the Government Operations Committee and he has looked at that broad array of federal programs, of agencies that cannot get clean audits. And he knows that frustration.
And he knows that you begin to work on things incrementally, the old approach of Ronald Reagan -- "I'm going to come today and get a half-loaf; I'm going to come back tomorrow and get the rest of that loaf, because I know I'm not going to get the whole loaf today." And I think it is an approach, a form of leadership, the way you work with people, the way you take action. And that is what sets him apart. That's what the American people see when he's out here and around the country.
MR. MATTHEWS: One last question, Congresswoman.
REP. BLACKBURN: Sure, Chris.
MR. MATTHEWS: You made a good case. Does he have the juice to knock out Hillary Clinton in three or four primetime debates? Can he knock her out three nights running?
REP. BLACKBURN: Oh, I think that he can, because he is very consistent. He is very steady in his approach. And he is going to work his way through this.
You know, the thing that would have been different -- and listening to you all and watching the clips, if Fred Thompson had come out cheering and just all high-energy, I think that would have surprised a lot of us who have known him for a long time.
MR. MATTHEWS: I was hoping he'd come out --
MR. MATTHEWS: I thought he'd come out on roller skates.
REP. BLACKBURN: He's very well-grounded.
MR. MATTHEWS: You know, he didn't want to come out on roller skates. That would have been my way. Just kidding.
REP. BLACKBURN: (Laughs.)
MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you. He's obviously doing it his way, and you are your way.
REP. BLACKBURN: Absolutely.
MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee --
REP. BLACKBURN: Thanks, Chris.
MR. MATTHEWS: -- and Randy Douthat -- not Randy; I knew Randy Douthat -- Ross Douthat from The Atlantic.