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Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter on the legacy of Karl Rove, and hints that the GOP candidate Hillary Clinton least wants to run against is Mitt Romney.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

HH: Joined now, America, on the Hugh Hewitt Show by Jonathan Alter. He’s a Newsweek columnist, he’s the author most recently of The Defining Moment: FDR’s 100 Days and the Triumph of Hope. Jonathan, welcome back to the program, good to have you.

JA: Hey, Hugh, how are you doing?

HH: Well, great. I had intended, and I will talk with you about Ames, but before I do that, I’ve got to find out your reaction to the decision of Karl Rove to head for the exits at the White House.

JA: Well, I think it’s a very good thing for him, and for the country. It’s good for him, because it takes a lot of heat out of the Congressional efforts to nail him, so it’ll make his life a little bit less unpleasant, and he doesn’t have to deal with all that. He’ll still have to deal with some of it. He’ll still be called to testify, but it won’t be as intense. So I think it’s good for him. And I think it’s good for the country, partly for the same reasons, so as to spare us a lot of Sturm und Drang on Capitol Hill. But I also think it’s good for the country because, and this is something you and I would strongly disagree on, I think he was bad for the country in higher office, and he was extremely powerful for six years, and he basically was a brilliant guy, one of the most brilliant political strategists in the whole history of this country, but he sought to use the presidency to be, to reverse his boss’ dictum, which he probably wrote, to be a divider instead of a uniter. He used wedge issues, he used 9/11 to try to create division in the country in order to win elections, and it was a bad thing for America.

HH: You know, there are a half dozen people in American politics who’ve done what Rove had done. One of them you know quite well, Louis Howe, who was FDR’s Rove.

JA: Right.

HH: What are the differences, or what are the similarities between Louie Howe and Karl Rove, Jonathan Alter?

JA: Well, actually, Louie Howe was as powerful as Rove before FDR came to the presidency, and helped make him president. And he had a lot in common with Rove in terms of their sort of personal style. But Howe suffered some ill health, and after Roosevelt became president, he died about three years after Roosevelt took office, and was ailing for much of that time. So he ultimately will not be seen as nearly as influential as Rove. And Mark Hanna, by the way, who Rove is also compared to a lot, who was William McKinley’s handler, he entered the Senate on his own, and so he also is not really comparable to Rove. I think that Rove will go down in history as the most powerful presidential aide, you know, staff guy, ever.

HH: Do you think that when Kay Bailey Hutchison retires, or John Cornyn is elevated to the Court, or whatever happens down there in Texas, you might see a Rove run for the Senate?

JA: You know, I don’t think so. I don’t think that he would play that well as a candidate. He’s more of a behind the scenes guy, but you know, I’m sure Texas Republicans like him, so I guess I couldn’t rule it out. But Karl is an intellectual, and what I look for from him are some good books, and I know he has some in him, and that he’ll write very, very well, and very perceptively about politics.

HH: Now let me ask you about another analogy. I’ve just finished reading the Legacy Of Ashes book by Timothy Weiner, which is a fantastic book. Have you read that yet?

JA: You know, I haven’t had a chance to read it, but I’ve dipped into it a little bit. So I mean, I’m familiar with the theme and his reporting over the years.

HH: Well, the portrait that comes out of Robert Kennedy Jr. during the Kennedy presidency is of the political genius, the enforcer, and the guy who would do whatever it took to get things done.

JA: Yeah, yeah.

HH: There’s an analogy there with Rove as well.

JA: Oh, absolutely. Well, you know, I wasn’t including Robert Kennedy as an aide, because he was Attorney General. But I think you’re right that that would be very comparable in the way Bobby Kennedy threw his weight around in the Kennedy administration. But you know, President Bush has been in office a lot longer than John Kennedy. So Rove has been powerful a lot longer than Bobby Kennedy was.

HH: Right, right.

JA: And we forget that six years, that’s a long time, and at a level…and it’s impossible, I think, to overestimate how much influence he had. He had his fingers in policy early on, long before people recognized it, and in foreign policy pretty early on, although it wasn’t until after the 2004 election that he actually got the title of deputy chief of staff.

HH: Now let me ask you about your last column, or two columns ago in Newsweek, by the leak probe matters. You’re still writing about the Plame case of which Rove is connected.

JA: No, no, no. That came up on the internet. I haven’t…really?

HH: It looked like July 25. Maybe it’s last year, maybe it’s last July 25.

JA: I think it’s last year.

HH: Well, do you still think it matters?

JA: Not that much. You know, that piece is from a long time ago.

HH: Then I wanted to ask you anyway…

JA: But what I do think matters is what they did last week, where they shredded the 4th Amendment, the President and the Congress shredded the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. It should matter to you, too, Hugh.

HH: No, it doesn’t shred the 4th Amendment. We disagree. I want to go back to Plame, though, and ask you the question which I’ve written down.

JA: Yeah.

HH: Why wasn’t Armitage charged in your view, Jonathan Alter?

JA: That’s a great question, yeah, because he did leak it. I think that they’ve probably concluded that there was no intentionality there, which would also apply to Rove when Rove confirmed Plame’s identity to Matt Cooper, that should have put him in the same category as Armitage who was the original leaker, in that you know, they didn’t realize that they were doing something wrong. I mean, my position on Rove throughout that whole thing is that he deserved to have is security clearance lifted, because the terms of your…he shouldn’t have been prosecuted, but the terms of your security clearance is that you do not talk about who may or may not be in the CIA. It’s just simply verboten. Both Armitage and Rove did it, and you know, if you do that with the press, you deserve to have your security clearance lifted, which didn’t happen.

HH: All right, now to Ames.

JA: Yes.

HH: What did you make of the results of Ames on Saturday?

JA: I think the winner was Mike Huckabee. You know, I think that what happens in politics is that expectations become really important, and people that argue this accounted for the expectations that you know, Mitt Romney was going to win, and it obviously helps Romney, too, and you know, it puts Romney…and I read your book, which I felt was very, very interesting, Romney has a very good shot of winning this nomination. And so that the Straw Poll which continues to be of at least some importance as an early indication of where things are, was helpful in solidifying Romney’s place in the top tier, and helpful in giving Huckabee a little bit of oxygen, and getting people to maybe take another look at him. And I think a lot of people might find what they like.

HH: Jonathan, 30 seconds, if you’re Hillary Clinton, who don’t you want to run against as the Republican nominee?

JA: I think you don’t want to run against Romney. I think that she could take Giuliani more easily than she could take Mitt Romney in a general election.

HH: Why? Well, that’s…actually, we’re out of time. I’m going to leave that pregnant, Jonathan. You can deliver that thought the next time you’re back, because I agree with you, and we’ll find out if we agree for the same reason. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, thank you, my friend.

End of interview.

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