Tommy Thompson and the Presidential Race

Robert Siegel talks with Republican Tommy Thompson, former Secretary of Health and Human Services and longtime Wisconsin governor, about his possible presidential run.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There has been a remarkably early start to the presidential campaigning for 2008, and from time to time we're interviewing the people who seek the Republican and Democratic nominations or who are thinking about it. Today, former Wisconsin governor and secretary of Health and Human Services, Republican Tommy Thompson, welcome.

Mr. TOMMY THOMPSON (Former Governor, Wisconsin): Well, Robert, first off, let me say thank you to you for putting me on and putting the other candidates on it. I think it's a wonderful service.

SIEGEL: Well, first, I'd like you to clarify to what extent you are seeking the Republican nomination, or exploring it, or thinking about doing this?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, I'm spending a great deal of time in Iowa. I have been to Iowa more than, I believe, just about all the other candidates combined. And I have been getting a lot of encouragement from the people of Iowa, especially the caucus goers.

SIEGEL: In a nutshell, why should you be president?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, I think I've gotten ideas. First off, I think, the Iraq War is one in which we need to make some severe changes, and I believe I'm the one that has a plan that's going to help rebuild Iraq. Number one, I would require the Iraq al-Maliki government to vote as to whether or not they want the United States in their country. You know, nobody's ever asked the al-Maliki government, the duly elected, and they should be required to vote as to whether or not they want it. Secondly, there are 18 territories in Iraq and we should allow those territories to elect their own leaders just like we elect state leaders all across America.

Number three, I think we should allow - just like we do in Alaska - divide up the oil revenue and gas revenues for all the people, one-third for the central government, one-third for the territories and one-third for every man, woman and child.

SIEGEL: If, in fact, you would give the Iraqis - you would want them to have a referendum on the U.S. staying. By proposing that, does that mean that you don't agree with the proposition that the president often repeats that Iraq is the central front in a global war on terror? You're saying if they were to have an election saying go home, we'd go home. You can't believe it's the central front in the war on terror in that case.

Mr. THOMPSON: I think that it is a front. I don't - several fronts. You've got a front in the Middle East, you've got a front within Iran, you've got a front in North Korea, you've got a front in Afghanistan and in the mountain states of Pakistan.

I mean, there's no one, central front, and we've got to be strong against all of them. And I don't think that by not allowing the Iraqi government to have a vote - you know, isn't it somewhat surprising to you and your listeners that nobody in the federal government has ever asked the Iraqi government to vote as to whether or not they want America in it? And if you did that, you would immediately, if they voted yes, which I think - I would bet on it that they would - it automatically gives the legitimacy to America for being there, and that's something that we lack right now.

SIEGEL: What do you say to a caucus-goer in Iowa or a potential primary voter elsewhere who'd say well, yes? Iraq is going to be the most important issue. Your background is domestic. It's as a governor, and it was as a Cabinet secretary for Health and Human Services.

Mr. THOMPSON: I just laid out probably the most visionary plan for Iraq of any candidate. I haven't yet found any candidate on either side of the aisle that has come up with a better plan than I have. So secondly, I am very strong, as you know, on domestic issues.

I believe that I have the strongest plan also to make health care in America more affordable and more accessible. We do not need to spend more money. We can have the plan in which we will cover every man, woman and child in America, and we can do it within the current system and allow innovation.

SIEGEL: So you would create insurance that would be available or would be mandatory for people to carry. How would you describe it?

Mr. THOMPSON: It would be left up to the states as to whether or not it's mandatory or available, but I would make it available to every man, woman and child in America. It would be a group policy. You would have a single policy, you'd have a family policy.

SIEGEL: You've said that Republicans in Washington lost their way. You were a member of the first Bush administration, his cabinet…

Mr. THOMPSON: That is correct.

SIEGEL: …as secretary of Health and Human Services. Did the Bush administration squander what the Republicans had in Washington in terms of ideas and in terms of the confidence of the American voters?

Mr. THOMPSON: I think the Bush administration did a very good job at the beginning. And I think this second term has not been as successful as the first term, but I don't think it's all Bush's fault. I think the Congress lost its way by not articulating ideas.

They tried to do the same thing as Democrats. They tried to outspend the Democrats, and as a result of that, we lost the election. We lost our way. We've got to come up with ideas on health care, on energy, on Iraq. We've got to be able to be the party of ideas, because that's where the Republican Party is the strongest.

SIEGEL: Former Governor of Wisconsin and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, who is thinking about running for the Republican presidential nomination.

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