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Former deputy assistant to the President Pete Wehner talks about the resignation today of his former boss, Karl Rove

Monday, August 13, 2007

HH: A special treat now, pleased to welcome for the first time, and I hope it’s many times, Pete Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C, until, well, last week, deputy assistant to the President of the United States, and deputy chief of staff below Karl Rove in the political department. Pete, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, good to have you here.

PW: Well, thanks, it’s terrific to be with you, and we saw each other a few weeks ago, and it’s nice to chat today.

HH: I loved your piece on Karl Rove at Real Clear Politics today. If you could summarize for the audience how well know Rove?

PW: Well, I know him pretty well. I worked under him since the end of 2002, and in the Real Clear Politics piece, I tell a story that I was deputy director of presidential speechwriting, and Josh Bolton had recommended me for the job. And I didn’t know Karl very well, so I thought I’d talk to some people who did, and I went to Josh, and I said tell me about Karl Rove. And Josh said he’s brilliant, a genius, and a deeply wonderful human being. And I suspected the first two were true, I wasn’t sure about the last, because I hadn’t worked with him, but having worked with him for four years, I can say that the evidence is in, and Josh was right. He’s brilliant, he’s a genius, and he is a deeply wonderful human being. I had a great time with him, I’ve learned a lot from him, he became a personal friend, and I don’t know that there’s ever been a larger gap between the public image of a person, at least in some quarters, and the private image. I think there was a lot of contempt for Karl because as you put it on your blog today, he kept beating Democrats.

HH: Now Pete Wehner, there is a…were you surprised by this, by the way?

PW: Yes and no. I was surprised to the extent that what people I think don’t appreciate about Karl is how much he enjoyed governing. He was so good at politics that I think he suffered from a kind of dumb blonde syndrome that it occluded how good he was on policy, and how much he loved to govern. On the other hand, he’s been at this for a long time, he goes way back with George W. Bush. They began thinking about elections fourteen years ago, and it’s been a grind in a lot of ways, Karl was at the center of almost every important event, and I think he felt like in his heart, it was time to leave, if he wasn’t going to go the full distance, and it’s understandable that he didn’t.

HH: Now Pete Wehner, Fred Barnes wrote a piece last week about how your contribution to the White House staff is going to be greatly missed. Now Karl is leaving. Are conservatives right to be a little bit alarmed that the bench has all of a sudden gotten very thin indeed?

PW: That’s a fair question. I guess in response, I’d say that Ed Gillespie is over at the White House, and Ed as you know is a strong conservative, and he’s a strong voice. Tony Snow is over there, Josh Bolton is conservative on many issues, and most importantly, as you know, and you saw him not long ago, the President is a very conservative person in figure. So I don’t think so. I’m a conservative, and acquainted with the conservative world. Obviously Karl was both an ally and a sounding board in many ways. But it is a conservative administration, and I think on the key issue between now and the end of the term, which is Iraq and national security, I’m not worried at all, as you saw when you were with the President a few weeks ago. Deep in his bones, he is committed to this, and nothing’s going to change that.

HH: Now communicating the success that is everywhere apparent in Iraq is going to be the crucial task over the next sixty to ninety days.

PW: Right.

HH: To whom does that fall? Is that going to be Ed Gillespie and Josh Bolton’s number one priority? Obviously, the President is running the place, as you pointed out. That was very obvious to those of us who visited with him from the talk radio community. But who gets in charge of that management of making sure that that conviction gets through?

PW: Well, I think a lot of that will fall to Ed. He’s the head of communications now, and he’s done very well in the short time he’s been there. And I actually think now, that Ed’s got some cards to play. You know, I remember hearing from people during various moments in the administration when they’d say you know, you have a communications problem in Iraq, and my response was we have a facts on the ground problem in Iraq. It’s a communications problem, yes, but it’d help if things were turning around. The fact is that with General Petraeus, we have the right man with the right strategy. Empirically, the situation is changing. You had the O’Hanlon and Pollack op-ed, which was a climate changing piece. So I think the situation has changed, and you could feel, almost physically feel the current shift in the last couple of weeks on Iraq. And I think we’ve got a good story to tell, and I think that the White House will be able to tell it.

HH: Now going back to Karl Rove’s resignation announcement today, of course it’s at the end of the month right now…

PW: Right.

HH: He’s five for six, twice with Bush as governor, twice as president, the off years in 2002…

PW: Right.

HH: But he lost, or at least the Republicans lost, in ’06.

PW: Right.

HH: What’s your analysis of what happened in ’06, Pete Wehner, from the distance of eight months that that can afford, nine months.

PW: Yeah, that’s interesting, that’s exactly my take in terms of Karl was five for six, the one loss was ’06. And what happened? I think that he had a terrible hand to play. My own view is that Iraq was a political ball and chain around the GOP, and it created arguably the worst political environment since ’74. And when you added the GOP Congressional scandals, I think you had a terrible election year. My view is that the damage, which was considerable, could have been a lot worse. And historically speaking, the ’06 elections were not that bad. As you’ll recall, Reagan lost 26 House seats in ’82, and he lost the Senate in ’86. So all things…looking back on it, I think that a very bad year could have been worse if Karl and Ken and some others hadn’t been at the helm.

HH: A double question to conclude this, Pete Wehner. Do you expect to be back in the presidential politics game? And do you expect Karl Rove to be back in that game in ’08?

PW: I don’t think Karl’s going to get involved before the general election. He’s got a lot of friends in all the campaigns. My guess is he’ll give advice if he’s asked. It won’t be anything official by any means. If during the general election, will he get involved? I hope he does, and I think any GOP nominee would be extremely smart to have him. As far as my role, I think probably pretty much the same. I’m not going to get officially involved during the primary season. I’m certainly going to be speaking my mind during it, and especially during the general election campaign. There’s a lot that rests on ’08, and those of us who are conservatives have got to make the case, and I think Karl will do it, and I’m going to try to.

HH: Well, I certainly hope we keep reading your stuff at Contentions blog. And if you ever want to blog at, let us know. And Pete, you’re always welcome here, because…thanks for your service. It’s a tremendous message generator out there, and we appreciate it.

End of interview.

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