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Karl Rove On The Tactics of 2016, And Also Of Defunding Obamacare

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HH: Now I follow it up with the Architect himself, Karl Rove, longtime senior aide to former President Bush, author of Courage and Conscience. I think it got it right. Did I get it right, Karl?

KR: Courage And Consequence, but that’s all right.

HH: Consequence. Close enough. Close…

KR: Close. It was one of those C words.

HH: Yeah, it was. It was a great book, though, and Karl, I just spent last hour talking to Ted Cruz, and I put forward the proposition to him that the Republicans are going to be led in 2016 by one of nine people – himself, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, John Thune, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Rick Perry or Paul Ryan. Do you agree with my premise?

KR: I’d agree that there are going to be probably eleven. I would say that Governor Snyder of Michigan is thinking about it, and Governor Jindal of Louisiana is thinking about it. So I agree with you that we’re going to have probably four senators, six governors and one member of Congress who are thinking about it.

HH: All right, so of these eleven, then, make the universe bigger, and I probably should have added Jindal. Snyder is frankly a surprise to me. But let’s put it all on there. I said to Ted Cruz, I’ve read Jonathan Alter’s book, and I’ve read Dan Balz’ book, our team just got blown out of the water on data collection, get out the vote, the blocking and tackling that you were so good at when you were orchestrating the dynamics behind George W. Bush’s two presidential wins. Do we have to get in this game earlier? Do we have to start the campaign now?

KR: Well, we have to get in the game earlier to have the tools and the processes and the mechanisms that allow us to do it. For example, you mentioned data. You know, we had a robust data effort from 2001 through the 2004 election. In fact, thereafter, we had it. But we have not had it over the last several years. And we need to reenergize that whole part of our activity. Let’s put this in context, though. If you read the documents about the Democratic data effort, you get the strong whiff that they say look, we know the Republicans would have more contacts. They have a bigger volunteer base, and they’d have a bigger quantity of contacts. So we, the Democrats, had to have a better quality of contact. And that’s how they aimed their technology. Now what advantage was it to them? There’s an interesting study done by a couple of political science professors where they looked at 38 media markets shared between battleground and non-battleground states like Cincinnati, Ohio. Everybody in Cincinnati, Southwestern Ohio sees TV ads, but so do people in Southeastern Indiana and Northern Kentucky. So the study looked at those media markets that are divided between battleground and non-battleground. They found two things. One, turnout was four and a half points bigger in the battleground portions of those media markets than in the non-battleground. So television had an impact everywhere, but the ground game drove four and a half perfect more voters out in the battleground states. And second, they found that the Democrats had a one point five percent advantage over the Republicans because of that effort. So if we’d close that gap so there was no gap, then we would have taken Virginia and Florida. If we had a one and a half point advantage, we would have taken Ohio and Colorado, and the election as well. So I’m sort of optimistic. I know the people who are working on this. There’s an effort to restructure and modernize the data trust. They have a chief technology officer who’s double-hatted at the RNC named Andy Burkett, who was a big dog at Facebook, and they are hiring smart engineers, and they are actively working on closing the data gap. And I think they will.

HH: All right, then there’s a second aspect of it. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read Peter Hamby’s Shorenstein Center paper, Did Twitter Kill The Boys On The Bus?

KR: I have.

HH: Have you read that, Karl?

KR: Yes, I have.

HH: We just are flat-footed. I’m not. You’re not. But a lot of our Congressional staff, a lot of our media people, a lot of our old dogs are, they don’t like new tricks at all. What do we do?

KR: Well, look, again, things don’t change overnight. And there are a lot more people who are involved in sort of the social media and the application of the internet and data to campaigns, which in a way is a throwback to an old style campaign. I mean, one of the interesting things to me is this really is getting back to that letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1840, make a perfect list of the voters, ascertain with certainty for whom they will vote, have the undecideds talked to by someone they hold in confidence, and on Election Day, make certain that every Whig is brought to the polls. The Democrats did a better job than we did on point number three, have the undecideds talked to by someone they hold in confidence. The way they did this is they microtargeted not only the voters, but they also microtargeted the volunteers and donors, and then they swept their social networks so they knew who was on their Facebook page, and whose Facebook page they were on, and then who was in their LinkedIn network, or their Twitter feed, or whatever. And then, they matched a volunteer with someone who was a target that they knew. And if nobody knew the target voter, they matched a volunteer who thought and looked like them. So you didn’t have the, you know, if you had the Vietnam-era veteran, you didn’t have them being called upon by a 23 year old college kid. You had him called on by a Vietnam-era, you know, maybe it wasn’t a veteran, but a Vietnam-era person who shared their outlook.

HH: Let me ask you, of that list of eleven, going from the very granular to the very big picture, I asked Ted Cruz what had happened to the party of Reagan, and by extension, the party of George W. Bush on foreign affairs, because the sequester is killing the military, just killing it. And Reagan ran on a 600 ship Navy, and George W. Bush ran on winning wars that we had to wage, not on retreating everywhere. Are any of those eleven robustly in the party of Reagan and W. when it comes to national security? And I will add, for that matter, Herbert Walker Bush, who was himself quite the military supporter…

KR: Right.

HH: …and would never allow the American military to slip this way.

KR: Well, I think so. I mean, you know, Marco Rubio would be one, Chris Christie would be another. I think Scott Walker would be another. But look, here’s the deal. This is why this is going to be so interesting. I was listening to your conversation with Senator Cruz, and you were trying to get him to say I’m going to be a candidate. These guys are not going to say they’re going to be candidates for some time. But they’re going to be doing the things necessary in order to run. For example, I heard Senator Cruz this morning talking to the auto dealers here in Washington, and he was talking about how he’d set up this website, and had gotten something like four million people to sign a petition on defunding Obamacare. Well, why is he doing that? In part, because he wants to build a bigger list of people that he can reach to for a potential presidential campaign. So a lot of these guys are doing that stuff now. And that’s healthy. And that’s good. And they’re smart not to say I’m going to be a candidate, because rarely does the first person into the race escape scrutiny and tough hits. So they’re going to try and diminish the number of months they’ve got to be a presidential candidate. But let’s not kid ourselves. Every one of those eleven people is thinking seriously about it. And virtually every one of them is doing something actively to lay the groundwork for being a candidate.

HH: Now much money are they going to have to raise? This is the other thing I didn’t get a chance to talk to Senator Cruz about. The scale of the financial commitment is going to dwarf, I think, what happened the last time, because we now sort of know how to do this, and Crossroads GPS will be back in the game, I hope so, at least. But that’s why I think you have to also start earlier, is that people don’t like coy. They want to the bold, go. If you’re going to take Vienna, take Vienna, as Napoleon said.

KR: Yeah, well look, there are three ways to raise money. There are lots of ways to raise money, but three big ways. One way is the traditional way of building a network of people who will go ask other people to write checks for the maximum amount. And every one of those people is thinking through this issue right now. The second way is to build our own donor base through your election campaigns, through mail and events and so forth. And to the degree that each of them can do that, they’re attempting to do it. And then the final one, the one that’s going to be most interesting, is look, the internet has in many ways sped up the ability of people to raise significant sums of money, and particularized it. That is to say on the internet, events drive giving. So that’s why Ted Cruz is working so hard to mine the internet for fundraising while people are concerned about the defund strategy. It’s why Scott Walker, you know, made certain he did a robust effort to raise money outside of Wisconsin. He needed to for his special election campaign, but also, you know, in the back of his mind, I’m sure part of it was if I want to be a candidate for president, I need to do this. The same with Marco Rubio, who for example, is asking his donors to contribute to Tom Cotton in the Arkansas Senate race. Part of it is that he’s a strong proponent of Tom Cotton who would be another one of those Reagan strong Defense people that you talked about, but also because it helps exercise the muscle of his donors, and helps thereby strengthen his own fundraising capacity.

HH: One minute left, Karl Rove. I’m so happy the way this Obamacare thing is working out, because the House is going to vote tomorrow not to fund it, it’s going to go to the Senate, there’s going to be a filibuster, it’s going to be a teach-in. Do you see it that way, a great opportunity to message into the United States what Obamacare is, and the utter disaster that it is?

KR: Yeah, look, any opportunity to talk about how bad Obamacare is, is good. The problem is, is that we’d better not let ourselves be in a place where we get stuck with a government shutdown, because in 1995, we’d passed seven of the thirteen appropriations bills, including the two that funded the military, and most of the rest of the agencies, most of the government was fully funded for all of the fiscal year, and some of the government was not, but they had enough money to sort of last for 21 days and so forth. But this is different. Not a single appropriations bill has been passed, and so every single part of the government will be without forward-looking funds, and nobody, including military families, will be able to be paid the first week of October. So I mean, Senator Cruz said yesterday he’d welcome the House decision to have this vote, but acknowledged that the Senate, that Harry Reid had the votes to simply amend this and send it back to the House. So let’s look at this as a teaching moment. Let’s not find ourselves in a place where we’re trying to use it as a moment to shut down the government, because the public doesn’t want that, particularly independent voters.

HH: Karl Rove, always a pleasure, thank you, Karl.

End of interview.

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