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Karl Rove begins to handicap the next presidential and Senatorial cycle

Thursday, January 20, 2011

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HH: Joined now by Karl Rove, author most recently of Courage And Consequence. Karl, Happy New Year to you.

KR: Same to you. How are you?

HH: I’m great. I’ve got to ask you about this state dinner tonight featuring Barbra Streisand, as well as all of the Chinese that are in town. Did you guys do them in the Red Room and dress in red to honor the Red Chinese when they showed up?

KR: Oh, they showed up in 2006, and they were not honored with a state dinner. And I’m frankly, I’m mystified by this. I’m trying to understand what this is all about. I don’t think somebody thought this thing through. We’re giving the highest honor a president could offer to a foreign head of state, which is an official state visit, climaxed by an official state dinner. He’s done it for only two others. He did it for Calderon of Mexico, and Singh of India. And yet he is honoring this guy, the head of a regime which has given us fits in Iran, which has been of little or no significant help to us in North Korea, and which has looked for way to bedevil us around the world. And we are honoring them with a state dinner. I mean, if you’re sitting there in South Korea, or Japan, or take little, tiny Singapore, our seventh largest trading partner in the world. You’re scratching your head and saying why is the United States honoring Hu Jintao and the Chinese with us, and not honoring us, their staunch allies? It’s a little odd.

HH: It’s all in red, too. I mean, it’s very odd at the Red Room with the First Lady in this beautiful red dress. But I’ll put that aside. That’s a subject for another day. The human rights record is astonishing. Karl, I want to talk some politics with you, beginning with a story in Politico today. Politico says the first debate is slated for spring, and that Politico and NBC is running that. I frankly think that’s puff talk. I don’t think it’s going to happen. I don’t think it should happen. What do you think? Should the Republican presidential candidates be debating in the spring?

KR: Well, it depends upon what you define as spring. If you’re talking May or June, there may be a debate. But if it’s earlier than that, there may not be a debate, because we’ve had several candidates say, basically, prospective candidates, I’m not going to make a decision about whether or not I run until the end of my legislative session – Governor Barbour, Governor Daniels among them. And obviously, a couple of other candidates, prospective candidates, would like not to be forced to make an early decision to become a public candidate. This time around, look, let’s not kid ourselves. Anybody who’s thinking about running is out there, whether they’ve made the final decision or not. They’re doing the things to lay the predicate to run. But it is better for them to do that on a longer time frame than on a shorter time frame. So if MSNBC, or NBC wants to try and provoke this, I understood they were working through the Reagan Library to try and get a debate in April or March. And that would be problematic from the perspective of a lot of candidates.

HH: Should the Republican nominees allow Politico and NBC to be the people to frame their first meeting, to ask those questions? Or should some other organization representing center-right journalists, and center-right opinion makers, or forum presenters organize that, Karl Rove?

KR: Well, or at least in partial. I mean, you know, Politico has some very strong writers for it, but I mean, NBC, who are we going to have? One of the…Brian Williams? Are we going to have some of the MSNBC talent there? I mean, this has not exactly been a network that has been hospitable. And yeah, I think that it would be better if it were, you know, I like the Reagan Library connection, but I would like it if there was something that was a little bit more impartial to start off.

HH: I had John Harris on this week to argue with him about Politico’s leftward lurch. And I think it’s real. Have you noticed it, Karl Rove?

KR: I have, but you know what? I try and follow some of the writers for Politico whom I think are more fair and insightful, and interesting to read, Jonathan Martin, for example. But you know, they have been lurching a little bit to the left, I think.

HH: Let me ask you, I also had Ryan Lizza on about the New Yorker profile of Darrell Issa. Have you had a chance to read that yet?

KR: Man, that is one tough piece. Now the interesting thing is that all that stuff has been out in the public record before. So what’s the utility of recycling it? Maybe their thought is hey, we’ve got an interesting story that we can write here that while it’s out in the record, hasn’t been known and he’s got a new position. But it was a, I thought it was a very tough piece, and in many ways, unfair. I mean, it focused a lot on sort of weaving in a view of who he was without being completely honest about how it had all, how each of these incidents had subsequently been framed out.

HH: I talked with Lizza at length about it yesterday on air. The transcript’s up. But what I wonder is, are Republicans still three steps behind in understanding how media works, Karl Rove? I can’t understand Darrell Issa doing that interview?

KR: I can’t, either. And look, I understand that there’s a lot of pressure, particularly when you’re in a new position like he is as chairman of the committee that all these people come swarming through your doors. But look, pay attention to your business. I thought it was revealing that one of this aides said that his job was to basically make him a national figure. Well, you know, wait a minute. The Congressman’s work as chairman of a committee ought to stand on its own merits. The idea that he’s got a young aide whose object is to go out and make him into a national figure is, makes me a little bit nervous.

HH: All right, let’s get to the presidential stuff. In the first hour of tonight’s program, Dick Morris, with whom I’m appearing tomorrow night at the Nixon Library, said flatly Mitt Romney cannot get the presidential nomination because of Massachusettscare. Do you agree with that?

KR: I think it’s too early to make that declarative sentence. But I do agree that this is the principal challenge that Mitt Romney’s candidacy would face if he were to become a candidate. But look, my view is this year is a year in which every candidate gets a chance to recognize their challenges, to recognize their strengths, and to overcome their challenges, and to bolster their strengths. And if Mitt Romney recognizes that his answer on why on what they did in Massachusetts looks so much like what Obama tried to do to the country, if he recognizes that is a problem, then he’ll work his way out of the problem. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. But right now, everybody, it’s better to describe the challenges they each face, than to make judgments about how they’re going to handle those challenges over the next six or seven months. If somebody says look, I think this is so and so’s challenge, and I don’t think they’re going to be able to overcome it, I don’t think that they’re going to be able to find an answer, that’s one thing. But to say look, it’s over right now, I’m not certain I would be that definitive.

HH: Of the people who are out there that are saying the most definitively they’re not running, one is Jeb Bush. Do you believe there’s any chance Jeb Bush would run?

KR: No. He’s a pretty straight shooter. I think the world of him. If his name was Jeb Jones, he would have been our nominee in 2008, and he’d be sitting in the White House today.

HH: All right, now in terms of a lot of conventional wisdom, Rick Perry cannot think about the White House, because he’s from Texas, and your boss is from Texas. Is Rick Perry potentially running?

KR: You know, he said during the campaign that he wasn’t, and that he planned to serve out his term as governor. And I take him at his word. I don’t think it’s dispositive that a Texan cannot be elected president, no.

HH: All right, who are you supporting in the race to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchinson?

KR: You know what? I’ve got a lot of friends who are thinking about making the race, and I’m going to watch from the sidelines and watch them perform, and end up casting my ballot in private in March of next year.

HH: Are there any of the nominees, of the potential nominees who have been floated out there, who present the same problems that some of the Tea Party candidates presented in 2010?

KR: Well, so far, you know, look at the cast of characters. Now I’m going to go from sort of their current titles. We have the current lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, who’s thinking about doing it, twice elected lieutenant governor, and accomplished business figure who served as the Land commissioner, most powerful job in Texas before becoming even more powerful as lieutenant governor. And the job of lieutenant governor has more constitutional authority in Texas than even the governor’s job. For example, our legislature meets for only 140 days every two years, and in between those legislative sessions, the legislative budget board is empowered to take certain vital decisions regarding the budget. And guess who chairs the legislative budget board? It ain’t the governor. It’s the lieutenant governor. And he’s done a good job in that, and is well thought of and well liked, and extremely well known across the state, and has a large personal fortune that he can draw on. We’ve got two members of our powerful railroad commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry. One is Michael Williams, an African-American Republican from Midland, Texas, who I think is maybe in his third term. He’s going to resign from the Railroad commission so he can run full time. And then Elizabeth Ames Jones, who’s a former state legislator from San Antonio, used to work for me, in fact, when she was many decades ago when I had a business in Austin. She and I worked together. She’s a firecracker, really well thought of, strong conservative. Then Roger Williams, who’s a former secretary of state, is thinking about doing it. Well actually, he’s in. He’s already in the race. He was going to run if there was a special election last year, and is in the race, and just won the endorsement of President George H.W. Bush. And he’s from Weatherford, Texas, and well known in the Tarrant County and the Fort Worth region. So already, we’ve got four strong candidates, all of them good conservatives, all of them with records of public service, and all of them having been active in politics and so unlikely to make the mistakes that first time candidates tend to make.

HH: All right, Karl, we’ve got about thirty seconds. The five other top tier Republican candidates are Gingrich, Huckabee, Palin, Pawlenty and Thune. Rank them in likelihood of getting the nomination.

KR: Well, I think that’s way too early. You know, look, I’m not certain that I’d agree that that’s all of the first tier. I think the interesting thing is that in all of these public polls, for the first time in my lifetime and yours, we don’t have a presumptive frontrunner. And as a result, we’re going to see a contest that can take lots of twists and turns. And there may be some people whom today we consider to be second tier, who show up at the end of the year running strong enough that they’re in the first tier, and similarly some who are in the first tier who fall into the second tier by not taking advantage of this year.

HH: Karl, we’re out of time. Karl Rove, always a pleasure. It’s the Hugh Hewitt Show.

End of interview.

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