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Karl Rove, the Architect, analyzes the significance of the tea parties yesterday.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

HH: Joined now by Karl Rove, long time assistant to President Bush. Karl has a piece in today’s Opinion Journal on the tea parties. Karl, why don’t you summarize for us the significance of yesterday’s hundreds of thousands of people turning out in thousands of locations?

KR: Yeah, well first of all, it was spontaneous, decentralized, frequently amateurish, sometimes shrill, and as a result, very significant. This was not something that could be put together by any organization. It had to happen from the intense, personal concerns of people about what they see happening in the country, and as a result, politicians will ignore these tea parties at their own peril. I think it’s happening because of three reasons. First of all, it’s happening because state and local governments in many parts of the country at a time of economic recession are talking about raising taxes, and are, like in California, actually doing it. The second reason is that I think a lot of people are concerned about what they see about, and this is a principal driver, the gigantic increases in spending coming out of the Obama administration, because the American voters are sophisticated enough to understand if you spend a lot of money, and you’re borrowing the money to do it, ultimately somebody’s got to pick up the tab, and that’s going to come in the form of future tax increases and less economic growth in the future. And finally, I think people are just getting irritated with the complexity of the code, the tax code, and they’re beginning to feel it’s unfair. There are certain kinds of activities like purchasing a hybrid car which are blessed by the tax code, so you get a tax benefit. And while we’re getting these tax advantages handed willy-nilly to small groups of people, and the cost of it is picked up by everybody else.

HH: Karl Rove, you hit on something that a lot of people missed, that the California and New York…but I live in California, so I’m aware, massive tax hike, took effect on April 1, people’s car tax have doubled, the sales tax has gone up, the income tax has soared. On the ballot are six measures in May. If those six measures, which are very deceptively framed, but nevertheless appear to be losing widely, if they go down to defeat, will that tell you that a genuine tax revolt is at hand?

KR: Well, I think yesterday was evidence that there is. I mean, whether people want to acknowledge it, whether politicians in Washington and some of the pundits want to acknowledge it, there’s something going on out there with people saying you know what, these state and local tax increases are already tapping my pocket, and that’s the tip of the iceberg, because look at what the federal government is doing in wasting all this money, spending all this money, borrowing all this money. But you know, California and New York are passing, contemplating and passing big tax increases. There are ten other states that are looking at tax increases. And then remember, we’ve already got a bunch of states like Michigan, Michigan two years ago had a billion dollar tax increase promised by the governor who said this will wipe out the red ink we’ve got on our books, and leave us in a good position for years to come. And of course, they immediately the next year had to have, had to look at more tax increases, because the budget cratered. You raise taxes, particularly if the economy like Michigan is fragile for institutional reasons, and you’re creating economic difficulty. You raise taxes in the middle of a recession like we’ve got, and particularly in states that have been hard hit by it, California, and it’s going to simply make things worse.

HH: Now you are a consultant to Fox News, and so we disclose that. I’m not. I appear on whoever wants to have me. But I was embarrassed by CNN’s coverage yesterday, especially the reporter in Chicago, Susan Roesgen I guess her name is. What did you make of the attempt by non-Fox networks to categorize what was a huge story as essentially astroturfing, and ginned up by Fox?

KR: Well, I thought it was interesting, though, one of the people who called it Astroturf was Nancy Pelosi. It sounded like CNN and others were taking their cues from the leadership of the House Democratic caucus. Look, you could not look at these things and not be impressed with the spontaneity, and the intenseness, and the…this was amateur hour. These were people who were coming out not because some well-oiled machine generated them out. It was because they felt intensely about these concerns about taxes and spending, and what’s happening to our country. And look, these people couldn’t find each other before the 15th of April. They may not be able to find themselves again easily after the 15th of April. They sort of poured out. It was a convenient place, you know, it’s tax day, you know, show up at the Post Office and people showed up. But this was, this is the tone deafness of people like Nancy Pelosi. She looked at this and dismissed this as the creation of some vast right wing conspiracy, and reality, it is an expression of ordinary Americans, some of them Democrats, some of the Republicans, many of them independents…remember, we’ve seen these people before. They popped up in 1992, and they were concerned deeply about deficits and the debt, and the course of the country. And they were the people who unglued the electorate in 1990 and 1992. They’re the people who largely supplied the votes for Ross Perot, but provided the fluidity in the system that caused the election of Bill Clinton. And then two years later, caused massive reaction to the election of Clinton by the election of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate in Washington.

HH: Karl Rove, do you see conditions developing that could lead to the kind of election we had in 1994, meaning an attempt to restore balance to an unbalanced Washington D.C?

KR: You know, it could. We are, there are a couple of things that first mitigate against us. One is that we’re at the tail end of a decade. You know, you set these patterns into play with redistricting at the beginning of a decade. And by the end of the decade, they’ve pretty well, you know, you’re pretty well locked in. It’s also…look, Barack Obama is personally popular. There’s a growing divide between the popularity of his person and the popularity of his policies. But nonetheless, he’s still pretty popular. And third, the Republicans have yet to get their act together. Having said that, since World War II, the White House party has lost an average of two seats in the Senate, and 26 seats in the House in the first off-year election. And if the Republicans get their act together and candidate recruitment goes well, I think we’re going to see significant Republicans gains at least in the House. The Senate’s a little bit of a different deal, because they’ve got 2-1. For every two seats the Republicans have to defend, the Democrats have to defend one.

HH: How do you assess candidate recruitment that you’ve seen so far? I was in Colorado campaigning for Tom Lucero in Congressional 4th, which was a Republican seat that went blue in the last time, a great candidate. But what do you see across the country?

KR: You know, I haven’t…I don’t want to make the definitive judgment, because I’ve only been in parts of the country. And look, each state has its own sort of unique dynamic. In some states, they tend to get out there earlier, in some states, they tend to get out there later. But I’m feeling good about what I’m hearing, but I think it’s going to be the fall before we have a real good sense. Do we have good candidates out there and are they raising the kind of money and getting the kind of volunteer enthusiasm that they need to have? I will tell you this. I’ve gone and done three Lincoln Day dinners in the last couple of, in the last five or six weeks. I spoke to the Northwest Cook County townships, these are Republican organizations, six townships up in the northwest corner in Cook County in Chicago. The dinner this year sold out, and it was twice as big as last year when there was a presidential election year. That was on a Monday night. Tuesday night, I spoke in Cleveland to the Cuyahoga County Republican Lincoln Day dinner. Last year, Rob Portman, who is a terrific guy, spoke at their Lincoln Day dinner, and they had a pretty good one. This year, they had me, not as good as Portman, and twice as many people showed up this year. They sold out the room. In fact, they said we have the biggest venue we could get in town, and we sold every table, and we had to turn people away that night.

HH: What, did you have Brady Quinn or something, Karl?

KR: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know. I think it’s just sort of the enthusiasm and the energy that people are getting in the aftermath of the election. I was, two night ago, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. This is in Luzerne County. It’s got 110,000 registered Democrats, 60,000 registered Republicans. And yet we came within 4,000 votes of winning it in 2004. They had had a Lincoln Day dinner with like 60 people last year. You know, party organization was moribund. A new chairman came in, in June of last year. They had 600 people at a dinner, largest dinner they ever had, raised more money than they ever had. And the enthusiasm of the grass roots volunteers, the committee people, the activists, the volunteers, was pretty remarkable.

HH: Let’s cover three things. We’ve got two minutes left, Karl Rove. Rob Portman, I want to spend time on him, I want to talk about Toomey-Specter in Pennsylvania, and I want to talk about Twitter. Take it at your leisure.

KR: Rob Portman – terrific, very thoughtful guy, strong conservative, moderate demeanor, good fundraiser, great family man, fun guy to be around, people like him. I think he’s going to have an excellent shot at keeping the Voinovich seat in Republican hands. He’s reporting pretty good numbers, he’s raised more money than the Democrat who reported so far, Fisher, former attorney general now lieutenant governor. It’s going to be a tough race, because Ohio is a battleground state, and the Democrats have had a couple of good years here. Twitter – I’m still trying to figure it out, man. You must be referring to the fact that I do Twitter. My assistant, my chief of staff Sheena Tahilramani, who’s from Orange County, California, is, she’s a Columbia Journalism School grad, that’s where she got her master’s degree in new media, and so she’s been encouraging me to Twitter, and I’m still trying to figure it out.

HH: It’s going well, @karlrove is your call sign there, and people can sign up for that. What about Toomey-Specter? Does Specter have to get the nomination to hold the seat?

KR: It’s going to be tough. The state is going to be tough. The Democrat presidential primary last April energized, drew a lot of people into politics who registered as Democrat. They may have been Republicans, they may have been unregistered, may have been independents. But they registered Democrats and participated in the caucus. There’s now a one million registration advantage for the Democrats. The Republicans are going to have an uphill fight there. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out. I think that frankly, the marketplace of ideas, whoever wins the Republican nomination is going to, I think, frankly be the better person for us to have in the fall. But I can’t tell you how the Pennsylvania voters are going to deal with that just yet.

HH: Karl Rove, always a pleasure, great piece in today’s Wall Street Journal, look forward to talking again soon.

End of interview.

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