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Karl Rove on the eve of Arizona & Michigan primaries, with advice on Afghanistan

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HH: Karl Rove, of course, the Architect, Hello, Karl, have you read Sean’s new book, yet?

KR :I haven’t, but I need to get it.

HH: He has a quarrel with your theory on realignments, but his prognostication for the President is he’s in big trouble because his coalition is narrow and deep, and built largely on African-American votes, which are statistically not as significant in the states where 2012’s going to be decided. What do you think of that?

KR: I think with a few exceptions, that’s probably accurate. North Carolina and Virginia would be the two states that I would say where a…if Obama’s able to duplicate the extraordinary turnout among the African-American vote that he did in 2008, and still get the 97-3 margin that he did, that he might be able to, at least in North Carolina and Virginia, carry off a victory. But I don’t see that the African-American turnout is going to be that intense, nor do I see that he’s going to be able to carry it 97-3. It may be 94-6, but I think it’s going to be, it’s going to tick down in terms of….they’re just…I mean, a lot of people in the African-American community thought we’d get, if we get Obama in as president, we’re going to have jobs, we’re going to have prosperity, we’re going to have opportunity, and they haven’t gotten it.

HH: Now Karl, I want to talk about your foreign policy piece with Ed Gillespie. Before I do, go up to 30,000 feet on this Battleground Poll that came out today. In fact, we’ve got three different polls. We’ve got Politico saying the President’s ahead, Rasmussen saying he’s trailing Romney, and the USA Today poll showing that the battleground states are the battleground states. Where do you think we are looking at November, not the Republican race, but the November race right now?

KR: I think the President is in very difficult straits. His difficulty is obscured to some degree by the fact that Republicans are going at each other. There’s blood on the floor, and so there’s a point or two or three of the electorate that are nominally Republican, and are likely, very likely to end up in the Republican column, who are saying well, if it’s that other guy, if it’s not my guy but it’s another guy in the Republican primary, I’m not going to be for him. So I think the President is in bad shape. If you take a look at it, you know, it’s like Rasmussen – 43-45 Romney vs. Obama. In a political battleground is 53-43, which I think is too rich. USA Today/Gallup is 47-47. I mean, I think the President, there have been only a handful of polls in the last six months in which he has been able to get above 50% of the vote. And his number is going to be what his number is going to be. There are very few undecideds at the end of this race who are going to break for President Obama.

HH: Now Carl, let’s talk about this very interesting piece by you and Ed Gillespie over at Foreign Policy. It’s available at, if people just want to go and read it. And a data point to go into this, Act Of Valor, a very patriotic movie about the SEALs, blew away box office estimates, made $25 million dollars this weekend and stunned Hollywood. A lot of people are trying to figure out what that means, but I think it plays into your arguments about the tone that the Republican nominee ought to take in the fall. Tell people what that tone is.

KR: Well, first of all, I went and saw the movie myself, and I know a couple of the guys in the movie, and a couple of SEALs. And it was interesting. I’m in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., watching the movie, and when it finishes, the entire theater began to applaud.

HH: That is remarkable.

KR: That says something, doesn’t it? I mean, you expect that in Orange County, you’d expect that in Salt Lake City, you’d expect that in Dallas, Texas. But you’re talking Washington, D.C., and a very young crowd. I’m sitting next to a guy and his brother, they introduced themselves. The brother, the older brother, wants to serve in the military, and is working on getting, he’s going to have, I think, Lasik eye surgery in order to get his eyes right. And I mean, it was really…I’m not a movie guy. This is a fantastic movie. People ought to go see it. If you love our country, if you want to see our Special Operators in action, if you want to see some really decent human beings, not actors, these guys are by and large, the Navy SEALs who are the focal point of this, are just ordinary Navy SEALs. They’re not, you know, this is not George Clooney in camo. And it is spectacular. It is a really fun movie, and very inspiring and deeply uplifting, and you’ll, if you like shoot-em-up movies, go see this shoot-em-up movie.

HH: I know for a fact one of the guys, Lt. Rorke, who’s a friend of mine, has met your old boss.

KR: Friend of mine, too.

HH: Yeah, met your old boss down in Texas, and very proud to have served under him. Of course, never says anything bad about the current president, but it goes to your point in the Foreign Policy piece, the Republican nominee should adopt a confident, nationalist tone emphasizing American exceptionalism, expressing pride in the United States as a force for good in the world, and advocating for an America that is once again respected, and in some quarters, feared as the preeminent global power. I think that success of the movie plays right into this, Karl, and you must have written this before the box office was known.

KR: Yeah, Ed Gillespie and I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, and look, President Obama, this goes to the heart of it. President Obama is seen by the American people, and more importantly, by other world leaders and important actors in the dramas in which we find ourselves, as weak. And his famous comment about yes, I believe in American exceptionalism just like I’m sure people in Honduras believe in Honduran exceptionalism, and Greek exceptionalism and British exceptionalism.

HH: Yup.

KR: No, wait a minute, Mr. President. You don’t get it. You just don’t get it. America is a strong, powerful force on the world stage, because it is an exceptional country. And so yes, the Republican…President Obama seems to think that this is a big strength for him. And in politics, a lot of times, the things that people think are their strengths are actually their weaknesses. And foreign policy is actually a weakness for the President.

HH: Now that brings us to the perilous situation in Afghanistan. And of course, you’re very well acquainted with the Karzai government, and with the very difficult situation that occurs when Americans are at work in defending a Muslim country against extremists. But I sense, just from talking to people, Karl Rove, that a lot of Americans have had it with the Afghanis, especially after this mayhem of the last week. And what’s your response to that? And what, how do you tell people they ought to assess this?

KR: Well, first of all, let’s put…the President was…a mistake was made, but it has been escalated and made a bigger part of the drama by the way that the administration has handled this. But I’d go back even further. President Obama has blown it. You know, you need to have a close, working relationship with the Iraqi leader and the Afghani leader in order to make this, these relationships work. And President Obama has treated Karzai with disdain. In fact, you know, when he was running in his last election, Karzai’s running for re-election. The administration allowed a high-profile Democrat political operative to become an advisor to one of this competitors, somebody with very close connections to Hillary Clinton, thereby creating an impression in Karzai’s mind that Obama was trying to get him out of office.

HH: Right.

KR: And then to go months and months and months without any personal contact, I know President Bush was in constant contact with Karzai in order to manage the relationship, in order to encourage him to do the right thing, in order to have a partnership that went in the right direction. And so why should we be surprised if President Obama first of all ignores President Karzai, and doesn’t establish this strong, working relationship, and then basically telegraphs I might, we’re out of here. Our combat troops are going to be gone, we’re out of here as quick as we can, in essence saying to him cut the best deal you can with the Taliban and the forces that you find, and then mishandles this recent incident, as grave as it is, by going out there and basically saying yes, we are at fault, we apologize, we’ve once again done something bad, instead of being resolute and strong. And it’s encouraged, it’s inflamed people.

HH: So what would you counsel Romney, Santorum, Gingrich or any other Republican who’s speaking to this issue to say?

KR: Well, look. First of all, don’t let me get into the business of advising them what to say. I do believe this. I do believe that a continued American presence in Afghanistan, to make certain that it does not fall into the hands of the Taliban, is absolutely vital. And let us remember Afghanistan is a means to an end. Stability in Afghanistan is a means towards stability in Pakistan, which is in our vital interest. A destabilized Pakistan with lots of nuclear weapons, and a contentious relationship with India, is not in America’s interest. So we want to have a stabilized Afghanistan so that once again we don’t have the country dominated by the Taliban, and an open sore, and a haven for terrorists. And we also want stability in that region in order to deal with Pakistan, which is itself a vital cog in that part of the world.

HH: All right, last question, Karl Rove, a minute left, where is the Republican race going? Is it effectively over? And do you hope that it’s over fairly soon?

KR: Well, I don’t think it’s over effectively soon. I do think that the arc of the primary will be deeply affected by the outcome on Tuesday night. If Romney takes Michigan and Arizona, it is going to bend the arc of this contest in a pretty strong way. And then a week later, we’ll have these ten contests. And the question is, is Romney able to sustain the momentum that he would get by winning Michigan and Arizona, by winning five or more of the contests and a majority of the delegates that day, which means Ohio becomes a vital state on the 6th of March.

HH: And in Ohio, how do you think Romney fares as a profile of an Ohio candidate?

KR: For the primary, I think it all depends on what happens in Michigan and Arizona. What we have found is the race tends to bounce around based on, you know, Romney does well, fights hard and loses South Carolina, falls behind in Florida, fights back to a victory in Florida, and then wins a victory in Nevada. And then, because he and Gingrich have been fighting it out in those two states, and he’s made three appearances in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri, and Gingrich has made two, while Santorum, who bypassed Florida and Nevada has made 22 appearances in those states, where no delegates are awarded, and yet wins the contests. He bumps up in the polls, and it becomes a contentious battle in the next round of primaries. I think the same thing’s going to happen Tuesday night. Whoever wins Tuesday night’s going to get a bump to help him on Super Tuesday, March 6th.

HH: Karl Rove, always a pleasure, thanks.

End of interview.


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