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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Hugh and Karl Rove analyze the election results, and what Republicans need to do next.

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HH: Pleased to welcome back to the program former assistant to the President of the United States, Karl Rove. Karl, welcome, it’s good to talk to you.

KR: Hugh, great to be on, how are you doing?

HH: Great, thank you. Let me ask you the big question. Why did the Republicans get hammered two weeks ago?

KR: Well, first of all, let’s put it in perspective. Let’s before the mythology gets out there, Barack Obama got 2.1% more than George Bush got last time, 3.1 points better than Al Gore got in 2000, and 4.6% better than John Kerry got four years ago. I mean, this was, you know, the Electoral College magnified it, but I think a couple of things happened. First of all, there’s a natural desire for change at the end of eight years of one party running the White House. Second of all, our campaign did not inspire people to turn out. There are 4.1 million fewer Republicans who turned out to vote in 2008 than turned out in 2004. 2.7 million fewer veterans turned out to vote in 2008 than 2004. Over 4 million fewer people who go to Church more than once a week failed to turn out to vote. And then Barack Obama very wisely and smartly worked hard to grab very small but significant slices of our vote. He went after Evangelicals, he ran ads on Christian radio talking about his personal faith, suggesting that he was more pro-life than he was, he went after small business people. Look, he ran a center-right campaign. This guy, you know, we’ve now seen two Democrats get elected president by saying vote for me, I’ll cut your taxes. This guy talked more, a heck of a lot more about cutting taxes for 95% of Americans than he was ever willing to admit that he was going to raise taxes on 5% of Americans. And in a battleground state, people, your listeners who are in battleground states, heard on the radio and saw on TV an ad in which he said you know, there are two extremes – John McCain’s go it alone health care plan, and government-run health care, which is also extreme. And Barack Obama’s in the middle. I mean, when did you think you’d hear a Democrat decrying government-run health care as extreme? He ran an ad against John McCain saying he wants to tax your health care benefits, he’s a tax raiser. So you know, we had an unusual campaign. And at the end of the day, spurred on by the fact that he was an African-American with a good chance of becoming president, 3.3 million more African-Americans voted Democrat in 2008 than voted so in 2004, and 2.5 million more Latinos voted Democrat than voted Democrat in 2004. So you know, we’ve got to put it in perspective. This was a loss, I hate losing, they swept a whole bunch of good people out, but on the other hand, you know, they were talking 30-50 House seats. They got 19. And when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, nearly a hundred state senate seats changed hands. This year, ten did. When Ronald Reagan got elected president in 1980, three hundred state house seats changed hands. This year, 94.

HH: Karl Rove, then let me ask you. What does the Republican Party have to worry about most?

KR: Well, unfortunately, there are three things, I think. One is it’s got to worry about looking too negative and too oppositional to the American people. We cannot go into blind opposition. The American people don’t want that from either political party. So we’ve got to find the things that we agree with Obama on, like Afghanistan, and support him. And we’ve got to find the things where he’s open to suasion like trade, and persuade him. And then we’ve got to oppose him when he says the wrong thing, like on taxes. The second thing is we’ve got to recognize that whether we like it or not, for the next year, we’re going to be defined more by what we oppose that what we are for, because the Democrats, they control the agenda, both Houses of Congress and the White House. So we’ve got to pick our battles carefully, and make certain that they’re clear and that we have our arguments marshaled, and that the American people know even if we lose, that we were right, and Democrats were wrong. And finally, by 2010, we better have a positive and forward looking agenda that we can talk about, particularly that has to do with the kind of issues that Americans talk about around their kitchen tables like jobs and health care, and their kids education and the cost of college. We better have a positive conservative agenda based in our principles. We shouldn’t be surrendering our principles. But we better have a positive agenda, because while we’re stuck in being a party of opposition in 2009, by 2010, people are going to be saying well, what are you going to do about my job and my health care and these other things? And we’ve got plenty of good answers. We just have a reluctance to talk about them.

HH: Now Karl Rove, four years ago, it seemed the Republicans had a technological advantage with its voter vol, with the 96 hour campaign, with the microtargeting, an advantage that I’ve just spent the last hour talking with three young tech wizards in the GOP, has vanished. Why did that happen? Can the GOP get it back?

KR: Yeah, we can get it back. Now I’m not certain it vanished. We still had a technological advantage, I think, on the issue of microtargeting and on the issue of our ground game. But we were out-organized because they did it earlier. We had a presidential campaign that didn’t believe in registration and organization, so it didn’t commit the resources to it. Fortunately, finally, the Republican national chairman said I’m not waiting any longer, we’re going forward on these, but we’d lost too many valuable months. And second of all, let’s be honest about this. We got outspent badly. Now the final numbers will not be in until December 4th, but I’m telling you, Hugh, when the numbers finally come in, I think the Democrats will have outspent us by, they will have spent in excess of $1.2 billion dollars in the presidential campaign. And we will have spent maybe $700 million. So we will have a $500 million dollar disadvantage, a half a billion dollars more. Now look, if you’re running a campaign in North Carolina, and you an outspend your opponent by three or four to one, I think you can eke out a 1% victory. If in Indiana you’re able to outspend your opponent by three to one, I think you can eke out a 1% victory. If you’re able to outspend your opponent, look, we didn’t have television ads in Florida for a couple of months, and we were outspent by better than three and a half to one. And Obama won a four point victory. That kind of, you outspend your opponent by half a billion dollars, and it does something. And remember…

HH: And so…

KR: I’m sorry.

HH: So tell me about the youth vote, though, because you used to spend quite a lot of time when you were a young man on college campuses teaching organization.

KR: Yeah.

HH: We got blown out in the young demographic, didn’t we?

KR: Yeah, we did, and I’ve got to tell you, there are three parts of the electorate we’ve got to worry about. And one of them are the younger voters. Now granted, they didn’t turn out in large numbers. They were only about 11% turnout among younger voters. But the ones that did turn out went against us two to one, and that’s a problem. That’s better than it should have been, and a heck of a lot worse than we ought to tolerate. So we’ve got to work on the youth vote. We’ve got to work on the Latino vote. We got nearly a third of it, but that’s down from 44% four years ago to 31% this time around. That’s not good that we lost that much of it. And finally, we’ve got to worry about what’s happening in the suburbs. I’m worried that in the suburbs we’ve got too many people who are instinctively Republicans, they’re socially and economically conservative, but they don’t hear us talking about the things they’re worried about and talking about over the kitchen table. And as a result, they’re just not drawn in. Remember, we’re in a society where six out of every ten eligible people turn out to vote in a presidential election, and four out of ten do not. And the four out of ten who do not look pretty much like the six out of ten who do.

HH: Now Karl Rove, this is very inside baseball, and it’s very early, but I want to be the first one to ask you. Does the Republican National Committee have to look at our presidential nominating process and change it?

KR: I would hope so, but I’m not certain that the Republican Party acting on its own can do so. I mean, what are the problems? The first problem is it’s way too long. Bill Clinton announced for president thirteen months before the 1992 general election, October 6th of 1999. George W. Bush announced on June 16th…excuse me, Bill Clinton was 1991. George W. Bush announced on June 16th of 1999, about fifteen and a half months before the general election. And it didn’t get going for a couple of months even then. I mean, things really didn’t get hot and heavy until September of 1999. This time around, the first candidate announced for president on December 6th, 2006, nearly two years before the election. And it got going fast and furious quickly. The Democrats had their second debate in February of 2007. Their first debate was in January of 2007. So it’s a two year long process, and I don’t think that’s healthy for the country. It just isn’t. I mean, these guys are utterly exhausted. McCain and Obama, by the time they got to the finish line, had spent two years running flat out, and it’s exhausting. I’ve been through two of these. We’ve not done the country any good by saying, you know, get yourself completely exhausted and then take on the toughest job in the world.

HH: How about the order of the primaries?

KR: You know, I understand why, I think there’s a utility at having a couple of small retail states at the beginning of the process, but is there some kind of law that says we’ve got to have it be New Hampshire and Iowa? And look, in 2000, we had in the first 32 days of the election, in 32 days, had seven contests. In the first 32 days of this year’s election, January 3rd through early February, there were 31 contests in 32 days. You simply can’t campaign in that many places.

HH: And so, last question, Karl Rove, the RNC’s obviously got to do this. Does it matter a lot or a little who the RNC chairman is?

KR: It matters a good deal, but it doesn’t matter, I mean, we used to have in the early 90s, it mattered that we had a face for the party. But the face for our party for the next couple of years, whether we like it or not, is going to be our Congressional leadership. That’s important that Boehner and McConnell put forward their best faces.

HH: Karl Rove, always a pleasure, look forward to talking to you again in the new year, thanks for joining us.

End of interview.


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