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Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes on Fred Thompson’s expected entrance into the presidential race.

Thursday, May 31, 2007
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HH: Right now, I’m joined by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard. Stephen’s article, Testing the Waters: Fred Thompson Is Running is up right now at Weeklystandard.com. Stephen, always a pleasure, welcome back.

SH: Hey, Hugh, great to be back.

HH: Now a couple of questions first. Are you…where would you put the probability now in terms of percentage that Thompson’s in?

SH: I think he’s made the decision. I think at this point, the way it’s been characterized to me is that it would be him changing his mind if he decides not to go, and he’s running.

HH: Okay, so 100%?

SH: 99.9%

HH: All right.

SH: I love to give myself that 1…you know.

HH: When does the Law and Order reruns come off the air?

SH: You know, that’s actually an interesting question, and it’s not a frivolous question.

HH: Oh, no, it’s not. I think they have to come down.

SH: Yeah, there’s a serious discussion going on about that behind the scenes, and to be honest, I don’t know what the actual answer is. I mean, I think he’s able to continue to do the kinds of things he’s doing, he’s giving speeches, he’s doing a number of other things now as a “testing the waters” candidate that he would not be able to do as an official declared candidate. So I don’t know what the answer is, actually.

HH: Okay, he’s a very strong candidate, traditional conservative, a lot of charisma, all that. He gave a bad, flat speech when I saw him two weeks ago, but everyone does that once in a while. It was like when Romney went to National Review and bombed there, and he’d come back from that. That doesn’t matter. I have one serious question, which is about his cancer. What…do you know the answer to the two questions, what is the rate of recurrence of this particular cancer, and when it does recur, how often is it debilitating?

SH: I don’t know the answer to either one of those, so I won’t pretend to try to answer them. I can only tell you what Bill Frist told me, and this was for a piece I did four weeks ago. And Frist seemed…I would say he was not dismissive of the kind of cancer, this indolent lymphoma that Thompson has, but at the same time, he was not, he didn’t take it that seriously.

HH: Well, I read all of Senator Frist’s comments, and I understand that Fred Thompson’s in good health right now, great health, in fact. But Frist was not asked, and I haven’t seen anyone asked about recurrence, because you know, you could be cancer-free, and then get it back, and I just don’t know what the answer is. Is it a legitimate question, Stephen Hayes?

SH: Yeah, I think it’s a totally legitimate question. I mean, I think it’s fair to ask those kinds of things as people think about who they want to support going forward for the Republican nomination, it’s a completely legitimate question to ask. You know, at some point, I mean, there are clearly people who can give answers, medical professionals who can give answers that I’m not qualified to give. But unless the people I’ve spoken with, and again, it’s not like I’ve gone out and reported a piece on this subject specifically, our sugar coating it, it doesn’t sound to me like a big deal, and the minimal amount of internet research I’ve done, going to WebMD and the Mayo Clinic website, and looking at things like that, suggests to me that somebody who has this indolent lymphoma is fully functional, may not be symptomatic at all, and can carry on living a perfectly normal life without really showing any signs, including even fatigue, without too much problem.

HH: That’s my understanding as well, except it’s also my understanding that it does come back at some rate, and when it does come back at some rate, it can be pretty devastating at some rate. And I just don’t know what those rates are, but if it was 50 and 50, that would be a significant issue.

SH: Yeah, it would be a bigger issue. And again, I don’t know those rates.

HH: The last thing you’d want is to have a nominee who goes into chemotherapy.

SH: Right.

HH: I mean, that would be a pretty bad situation. All right, how about in terms of who he hurts the most. I have my own theory, but I want to hear yours first.

SH: You know, it really depends. I mean, I’ve read…Charlie Cook had a really smart comment about him hurting Giuliani, or a column about him hurting Giuliani. There are all sorts of other theories out there. I guess my sense is that he hurts a little bit of the big three, Romney, Giuliani and McCain. I think at the end of the day, he probably ends up trying to occupy the same space that McCain is trying to occupy more than anybody else. So I’m just not…that’s what it seems to me.

HH: I think you’re right. Let me test my theory out on you, Stephen Hayes. It’s that buyer’s remorse is not likely to be very prevalent right now in Team Romney. They’ve had a good quarter and a lot of money and a lot of momentum. Giuliani is, you know, people who signed up for Giuliani knew what they were getting, which is going to be a rollercoaster, and he’s running against the grain, ideologically. They knew what they were…but people who signed up for McCain thought they were signing onto the frontrunner, the guy at the front of the pack who traditionally gets the GOP’s nod, and all of a sudden, they find that he’s older, slower, crankier, and in third place in some polls. And if they ever wanted to get off of a bus that they think is breaking down, the arrival of Fred Thompson gives them a chance for a do-over. What do you make of that?

SH: Yeah, well, I think that’s true. I mean, if you look at, to the extent that we can judge by American Conservative Union ratings, and you and I both know that those ratings are imperfect measurements of exactly how conservative somebody is, my recollection is that Thompson was 86 lifetime American Conservative Union rating, and McCain was 84. So I don’t think there’s a huge difference. I mean, McCain is probably underappreciated as a true conservative, and I think in many respects. He actually is a true conservative, it’s just that the kinds of things that the mainstream media like to focus on are the places where he’s not a true conservative. So I think in that sense, they’re not that different. I mean, Thompson supported McCain-Feingold, for instance.

HH: Tell me about that. Pause that for a moment, you bring it up. That actually is one of those sleeper issues which I think matters to the base a lot more than people know, because it took a solid Republican advantage, and destroyed it, in fact, replaced it with a Democratic advantage, and did so at the expense of Constitutional guarantees in many people’s eyes. Does that…is that widely known about Thompson that he was with McCain on the speech restrictions, and will it hurt him?

SH: You know, I don’t have a sense of how widely known it is. When I talked to him, I did a long interview with him, I think it was about six weeks ago now, I pressed him on the issue, because it was actually one of these issues that as I thought about politicians who were sort of consistent with my brand of conservatism, to the extent that I have a specific brand, campaign finance reform was a real big issue with me, and I was very much opposed to the kinds of reforms that McCain-Feingold brought us. And Thompson favored them, and we talked about it, and I pressed him a little bit about it, and he said well, you know, I think you can make a conservative case for campaign finance reform when you’re talking about the amount of money and the kind of corrupting influences that money bring into campaigns, potentially. And he does have a long history of…as a sort of good government conservative, quote unquote, going back to his work as minority counsel on the Senate Watergate investigations, to his work on this bribes for cash for clemency scheme that a Democratic Tennessee governor was running in the mid-1970’s. So it’s plausible that Thompson can run that way. I get the sense that if he’s pressed on McCain-Feingold, he won’t run away from his vote, but will try to explain it in a way that might appeal to conservatives. And he tried this out on me, and I said you know, I don’t buy that as a conservative, but at the end of the day, it’s a better case than I’ve heard any other conservative make.

HH: It’s a tough one, though. Yeah, that’s a real tough one.

SH: I think it’s a tough sell.

HH: Stephen Hayes, always a pleasure. The article’s at Weeklystandard.com. He’s got Thompson covered.

End of interview.

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