Paul Bedard

It's TV, Not Political Office, for Lou Dobbs

Feisty money talker Lou Dobbs is back, just not the way we expected when he abruptly quit CNN amid rumors he was going to run for the Senate or even the presidency. As he prepares to debut on Fox Business Network, he tells us, "That is not something I wanted to do." Though, he 'fessed, running for office was "very tempting."

The fact is, with the start of Lou Dobbs Tonight, the ratings-maker is back to doing what he's best at. "This is what I want to do, this is what I love to do, and what I'm going to stay doing," he says.

And what he plans do, he says, is a bigger version of what he did for CNN. Just consider: He's not even changing the name of his show or his regular feature "Moneyline" or his focus on the "political economy" and how it impacts the nation.

His departure from CNN came when Dobbs was extremely popular, in part because of his full-throated criticism of illegal immigration. CNN's loss should be FBN's gain as the still-young sister network to the larger Fox News Network builds out its casts of shows and slowly eats at the other business and cable networks like CNBC and MSNBC.

Reached as he drove into his new office and set, Dobbs was remarkably relaxed, suggesting that he wasn't aiming at a blockbuster opening. "It will be a broader show and I think it will in time be deeper. Give me a little time, Paul. But that's what I believe we are working toward, it's going to take us a while to get there," he says. "Having gone through a number of show start ups, I'm one of those folks who believe it is a much longer race. I'm not a fan of blowing the doors off the first week and then seeing what happens. I much prefer to get to the center of what we're doing as soon as we can and build up the show. I'd rather build up the show than build up expectations," adds Dobbs.

A mix of trade, Wall Street, and politics will be on Dobbs' evening menu in part because he's been reaching out to different groups since he left CNN in November 2009 to collect new ideas. "We're going to engage in the marketplace of ideas, he says.

Politically, he hasn't tempered his criticism of Democrats and Republicans, especially in the recent budget battles.

"Neither party," he says, "seems willing to go beyond the margins" on cuts, he says. And President Obama, he adds, has "disappointed the Republicans and Democrats on resolving the straight-forward question of how do you reduce these deficits and debt."

One of his heroes is new Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who he called "bold" for pushing significant spending cuts. "I respect him for being that straight-forward."

But Dobbs worries that as the 2012 presidential election nears, the GOP will fall into the pattern of hosting "repetitious Kabuki dances" where candidates attack each other instead of debate major ideas. Instead, he hopes that the GOP will take a page out of former President Ronald Reagan's campaigns and ask voters, "Are you better off than you were four years ago, and what are the competing visions for our future."

Asked the chances that will happen, he jokes: "I have the audacity to be hopeful."