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Karl Rove Analyzes The GOP Field, and Obama’s Chances in 2012

Thursday, May 12, 2011

HH: Starting off today with The Architect, or what the left calls the Sith lord Rove. Karl Rove, welcome, it’s good to talk to you.

KR: No, no, no. Cheney is the Sith lord. I’m Darth Vader.

HH: All right, then, whatever they call that understudy. Karl, first question, if the president that you served had sent a hit team into Pakistan and offed bin Laden this way, do you think the left would have supported him in the way that the right has supported President Obama?

KR: I doubt it. You know, it’s hard to say, but there was such an animus against the left, there would have been questions about why didn’t you try and capture him and bring him home, and why were you so bloodthirsty as to insist on how he was going to be killed. Remember, Holder last year said that, he was asked about whether or not Osama bin Laden would be offered Miranda rights, and he said it was a hypothetical question, because he was going to be killed. So they’ve been very clear. Even the President said in the 2008 campaign as Senator Obama that he was going to kill Osama bin Laden. So I doubt that they would have taken the same kind of attitude, the left would not have taken the same kind of attitude had Bush…they would have denounced him as being bloodthirsty.

HH: A lot of celebration on the left that this seals the 2012 deal. What do you think about that, Karl Rove?

KR: I think that’s an exaggeration. In fact, it helps Obama in the short run. However, the public opinion strategies did an interesting study. Of all the bounces that presidents have gotten since FDR and Pearl Harbor, there’s a rally around the flag kind of sentiment that happens. And take and put aside the bounce that George W. Bush got after 9/11, which was so big and so durable as to be the outlier. And on average, presidents have seen a bump of about thirteen points in their approval rating, and it’s lasted for roughly 22 weeks. President Obama in Gallup has jumped six points, and in NBC, he’s jumped three. I suspect he might go up a point or two beyond that. But it’s not going to be as big or as durable as the average, in part because, look, this is, he did a great thing by making a very tough call to put troops on the ground rather than doing this antiseptically as Joe Biden recommends we do everything, by, you know, dropping a precision-guided bomb from 40,000 feet. But I think that the American people looked at this and say this has been the policy of two governments, Bush and Obama. Congratulations to President Obama on succeeding at it. But when it came out that this had begun in 2007 with a suggestion by one of the CIA teams that this was a lead that ought to be followed, and when people understand that the policies put in place by the previous administration of enhanced interrogation techniques, rendition, of treating these people as enemy combatants, not as criminals who get to be Mirandized and can lawyer up and shut up, you know, the previous administration’s expansion of Special Operators by about 300%, all of our Special Operators like Delta and SEALs and so forth, I think they understand that while President Obama played an important role in this, this is a broader thing than just him.

HH: Now I want to switch to politics, Karl Rove. Is it a concern of yours that Team Obama, headquarted up there in Chicago, will attempt to influence its activists to participate in Republican caucuses and primaries to help pick the Republican nominee, and perhaps select someone who is not as strong as another candidate might be?

KR: I think they’ve got to be careful about it, because if they suddenly try and do that behind the scenes, that’s one thing. But if they’re as ham-handed as they are in everything else, it’s going to boomerang badly. And my sense is these people don’t know how to do subtle. They sure know how to do boomerang. So if they do that, they’ll be in trouble.

HH: Now you remember when Rush did Operation Chaos…

KR: Yeah.

HH: And he was quite out front about it. You don’t worry about that in New Hampshire and Iowa?

KR: Well first of all, they don’t have anybody who has as big a voice and an influence as Rush Limbaugh. I mean, who the heck is Jim Messina for gosh sakes? I mean, so, and they could send out a little email and so forth and try and encourage people, but I think a lot of Democrats would just find it distasteful to participate in Republican primaries unless they’re union steward, or a shop steward told them to do so.

HH: All right, now I want to switch to a different kind of question about politics, and this is a question of physical characteristics, because it’s come up in a number of different settings now, people speculating that Mitch Daniels isn’t tall enough, or that Donald Trump’s hair is a problem, or that other people have too much of a weight problem. What’s the reality of that, Karl Rove, when it comes to a presidential campaign?

KR: Hugh, I think there’s something to be said for some of that. There are always going to be some people who are affected by physical characteristics. And I think it’s more likely to be sort of the weird hair than it is either weight or size, stature. But there are people who are affected by it. But I do think the vast majority of people, particularly the people that are up for grabs, tend to look beyond that and look more towards the character of the individual. But yeah, does it help you if you’ve got movie star good looks? Yeah. Does it help if you’re an impressive orator? You bet it is. Does it matter if you’re tall and lean? Yeah. But we’ve had presidents who’ve been other. I think it really boils down to people looking at, particularly in this coming election, they’ll look and say you know what? We did the attractive, we did the articulate, we did the charismatic, we did the inspiring, and it really hasn’t worked out too well for us. Maybe we want substance. Maybe we want somebody that we can have confidence will do what he says he will do, and shares our values and views about what the country faces.

HH: It’s the week of GOP speeches. Mitch Daniels gave a big education speech, Jon Huntsman gave a big speech in South Carolina, Mitt Romney’s announced he’s giving the health care speech in Michigan on Thursday. Do these speeches do anything, Karl Rove?

KR: Yeah, they do. They help create part of the narrative. One speech doesn’t solve it all. But through, whether it’s Huntsman’s performance at the University of South Carolina graduation, or Mitch Daniel’s speech at the American Enterprise Institute, or Newt Gingrich’s announcement statement tomorrow, or Mitt’s speech on health care on Thursday, these are ways that people begin to get a sense of who they are. If we take away information about where they are on the issue, we take away a sense of their priorities, and we take away something more intangible, which is our view of who they are, and what kind of a person they are, and whether or not we have confidence in what they’re saying and what they’re doing. Do they explain things in a way that causes us to say you know what, I now know you better, I have greater confidence that you’re going to be able to do what you say you want to do, and you and I think a lot alike, or at least you’ve made me think about things I haven’t thought before, and I realize I agree with you.

HH: What’s Romney got to do on Thursday on health care?

KR: Well, he’s got to answer the big question, which is what do you say about Massachusetts health care? I mean, it has an individual mandate just like President Obama’s, and it’s got a bunch of bad things that are happening. We’ve got rationing, we’ve got a new survey out that was in the Wall Street Journal editorial page today, where doctors are saying, in essence, they’re not accepting new patients. It’s taking longer for patients to get in to see doctors for routine procedures or routine exams. And the governor of the state of Massachusetts has in essence said I will impose price controls. I will, in essence, ration care by cutting the amount of payment that we give to doctors and providers to below what they already get, which is already below what they would get from a private insurance company in the same procedure. So you know, this is his big challenge. I mean, he’s got a terrific resume, he’s a more skilled candidate from having run last time around. He’s going to have a very strong, I suspect, money machine. He’s doing well in a very important early primary, New Hampshire, and surprisingly well in the polls so far in the Iowa caucuses. But I think the question that people want to know is how is Massachusetts health care different from the national one, and what do you have to say about Massachusetts? Thus far, he’s sort of had the 10th Amendment answer, which is that states have the right to be the laboratories of democracy and test things, but the federal government doesn’t have a right to try and regulate all of us. I’m not certain that’s satisfactory.

HH: Speaking of speeches, last night, John Boehner went to the Economic Club in New York, and gave a speech about the debt ceiling. And I’m reminded of the criticisms I’ve had, Karl Rove, of Boehner and Cantor and the House leadership generally, which is they’ve got great policies, but they’ve got a terrible communications strategy, very old school, and not repetitious enough. What do you think of their communications strategy to date on any number of issues?

KR: Well, you know, it’s hard to lead a group of 255 members, or 250 some odd members, with one strong voice, particularly since the Speaker, while they have a great deal of power within the body, aren’t treated with the same kind of deference by the American people as the president of the United States. So it’s hard to speak with one voice. But I’ve got to tell you, I like what Boehner’s done as the leader of the House. I think he has, from a conservative and a Republican perspective, kept them together and moving in the right direction better than I thought anyone could. And for the country, he has returned the House of Representatives to being more of the people’s body. I mean, this idea that…I had an interesting dinner with Boehner in, I think it was March of last year, very small group. I literally was invited because they didn’t have enough people to have dinner with him. Something had happened on the schedule, and they’d had a blank hole, so I went. And it was interesting, he said his biggest concern about the House, or biggest disappointment about the House, was that for two years, only five people mattered – the Speaker, the majority leader, the chairman of the Rules Committee, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and the chairman of whatever committee the bill was supposed to be coming from. And that’s who wrote all these bills. That’s why we got a 2,000 page monstrosity for health care that the Speaker said we’ve got to pass it in order to read it and figure out what’s in it. That’s why we got this dreadful stimulus bill stuffed full of every bad idea that had languished in the bottom drawer of Appropriations Chairman David Obey’s desk for 20 years. And it’s because it wasn’t the people’s…for two years, there was not a single open rule. That is to say not a single bill taken up by the House of Representatives under Speaker Pelosi that allowed for open amendments. And that is extraordinary. This is the House of Representatives.

HH: He has changed that. Karl Rove, always a pleasure, thank you, Karl.

End of interview.

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