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Rove On The Elections, The Agenda and NPR

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Here’s the transcript of my interview with Karl Rove from today’s program:

HH: I begin this hour with Karl Rove, the Architect himself. Karl, I was reading Courage And Consequences today to get ready for our conversation on Friday night, and I was struck by you saying that in some elections, like 1966 and 1970, parties have structural advantages. This must be one of them. How much more of a structural advantage do the GOP have this year than other off-year elections?

KR: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. If you take a look at the generic ballot in Gallup, for example, the Republican advantage on the generic ballot is twice as big as it was in 1994 when we picked up 52 seats in the House. If you take a look at the Pew Charitable Trust on the intensity gap, you will see that it’s twice as big as it was in 1994. If you take a look at the issue agenda, and take a look at all the top issues – the economy, jobs, spending, deficit, health care and so forth, you’ll find the Republicans have an advantage on virtually every issue, with the exception of the environment. And on health care, the Democrat advantage that they have had since the beginning of the Gallup Poll, where they have an advantage over the Republicans of, you know, in the high 20s or low 30s, has been essentially erased. And that’s the biggest dynamic we have going here. The generic ballot and the intensity gap is a function of the American people being upset about what they see going on in Washington, and the policies, the specific policies, of the Obama administration.
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HH: Now in 2004, again drawing on Courage And Consequences, your memoir, John Kerry spent time attacking you. Here you are, you’re being attacked again. But as you say in your memoir, that was a strategic error by Kerry. Has it been an error by President Obama again?

KR: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I’m mystified. I thought this guy was politically smart and had a White Houses stuffed with very smart political tacticians and strategists. And for him, three weeks or four weeks before the end of the election to go give a speech in Bowie, Maryland, in which he attacked the Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads, and me by name as supposedly, you know, flooding American politics with illicit foreign contributions, and then repeating it, repeating my name several times in a speech that day, and then continuing the assault…since December of 2007, think about that, nearly three years ago, the American public has considered the issue of jobs and the economy to be the number one issue facing America. So as we come down to the election day this year, is the President talking about jobs or economy or prosperity or spending or deficits or debt, or even that vaunted health care bill? No. He’s talking about Karl Rove, who has about as much relationship to what individual voters are trying to make up their minds and make a decision about as the man in the Moon.

HH: So Karl, looking forward, and we will talk about the individual races in Denver on Friday night. But I want to ask you about, assuming that the House changes, and assuming that the Republicans make significant gains in the Senate, they’ll be confronted with a ‘what do I do now’ moment. And what Mike Pence said last week on this program, no compromise, we’re not winning the House in order to go back and negotiate with the President, a less bad version of Obamacare or whatever, what’s your advice to the Republican new majority, if in fact it materializes a week from tonight?

KR: Well first of all, remember they’re not voting for you because they love you. They’re voting for you because you are the best alternative to a bad situation, and you’re on probation. So be bold, do in office what you said you would do, and be clear about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Second of all, be, not only do things like vote to repeal Obamacare, which is going to get stuck in the Senate because it requires sixty votes, and if it gets passed, it’s going to be vetoed by the President. So what? Get it done. Pass it, let the American people know you’re fighting. But in addition to that, you have to be proposing positive things. For example, if you’re fighting about health care, fine. Look for ways to cut, trim, repeal, modify, change, kill elements of Obamacare. But also, be out there saying we ought to be doing positive things like allowing people to have, buy insurance across state lines. We ought to be allowing small business people to pool the risk. We ought to have medical liability reform. We ought to have, change it so the tax advantage of providing health insurance just doesn’t go to the company. It ought to go to the individual as well. So as we fight these battles, don’t forget that what they want us to do is to stop what Obama and the Democrats have been doing and reverse it, but they want us to have positive, constructive, conservative answers for the future. And the final thing is this. We have to be clear that the battle is not simply to accept the status quo. And this is going to be one of the first battles that Republicans are going to face, even before the new members elected next Tuesday get sworn into office, because guess what? We are sitting here four weeks into the fiscal year, the new fiscal year, without a single one of the thirteen appropriations bills passed by the Congress and signed by the President. So they’re going to have to fight on the budget. And what the President’s going to do, I’d bet you a dime to a dollar he comes out and says all right, I’m going to compromise with Republicans, I’m going to offer up, let’s just freeze government spending. Well wait a minute. We’ve blown it up 25% in less than a year. We’re going to have to roll it back. So the budget is not oh well, we’ll just keep the same exaggerated levels of FY ’10. We’ve got to roll them back for FY ’11 to the way that they were when this man came into office.

HH: Now in terms of the budget calendar, as you know from your many years in the White House, it’s a very slow process. And you know, first they pass the budget resolutions, then appropriations bills show up in October next year if they ever show up. What’s your advice to the Republicans about pushing that agenda forward fast, so that that confrontation…as Grant said, I intend to fight on this line if it takes all summer. You’ve got to engage before you can make progress, Karl Rove.

KR: Well guess what? It is a slow process. But guess what? It is so slow, we haven’t finished last year’s process. They were supposed to pass the budget resolution in March to allow them to begin consideration of appropriations bills in April, so that they could get them passed by the various houses in the spring and early summer, sent to the Appropriations Committee, the Appropriations Conference Committees, in July and September, and pass the final versions of the bills so they could be in force by October 1. So it moved so slow, none of that has happened. They’re going to have to deal with it immediately, including in the lame duck session. So they’re going to have to immediately deal with this.

HH: Karl, would your advice be, just as a side issue, but highly symbolic, that the Republicans in this Congress, before it changes over, make a stand on NPR funding in light of the Juan Williams issue? Should they try and defund NPR?

KR: Absolutely. Now it may be because we don’t control the subcommittee, we don’t control any committees, that this ends up being on the floor, and there may be devices that allow them to limit the number of amendments. But yeah, it’s a small amount of money, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but we ought to defund it. And there’ll be a lot of intense pressure, because the NPR understood that what they needed to do was to reduce the pressure on that budget item. So it funds the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds local stations. And then NPR gets that money back by in essence charging them big subscription and management and association fees. So what’ll happen is every Congressman is going to get his local public radio affiliate in there saying oh, we desperately need this money, when they need that money in order to pay off NPR. And after what that woman said about Juan Williams, look, Juan Williams is a liberal. I don’t agree with him a lot. I like him a lot, though, because he’s a man of integrity who speaks his mind. And for NPR to treat him the way they did demonstrates that this is a left wing, political correct operation that needs to be told the American people don’t want it. I mean, they fired him because he had made a perfectly reasonable observation on Bill O’Reilly, and they have taken people like Nina Totenberg, who said she hoped Jesse Helms or his grandchildren would suffer from AIDS contracted through a blood transfusion, and that that woman is their star Supreme Court correspondent. And she says that stuff every weekend on opinion shows, and they don’t act against her. But instead, the head of NPR says Juan Williams ought to consult his psychiatrist or his publicist?

HH: Yeah.

KR: I mean, I’ve got to tell you, I’m so spun up about it, I can’t see straight.

HH: Well, I hope that they follow through, because I think that’s one of those issues that’s cut through the noise, that touched something very deep in the American electorate, and it matters. Karl, last two minutes, I want to talk about the West Coast, Washington and California specifically. In any order you want to take, can the Republicans win the two Senate races, can Whitman win?

KR: Absolutely. Now it’s, as you know, a difficult part of the country, but I’d say a couple of things. First of all, Patty, neither Patty Murray nor Barbara Boxer can get above 50%, and they are, and Dino Rossi in Washington State, and Carly Fiorina in California, are right on the tail of the Democrat incumbents. And if you’re an incumbent who’s been there eighteen years, and you can’t get above 50%, you’re going to have to count on election day the undecideds breaking for you. And very rarely do they do that, because look, they’ve had eighteen years to commit to you. And the fact that in two blue states like that, you have blue Senators who are in such difficulty says to me real problems. The same with Jerry Brown in a way, because look, he is the former governor. He is in essence the pseudo-incumbent. And he can’t get above 50%. And I think it’s all going to come down to turnout, and Meg Whitman has invested a lot of money, as you know, in her campaign, and through county and the state party organization out there, on get out the vote, and we’ll see how well that all works. But yeah, absolutely, you have in essence two incumbents in Murray in Washington State and Boxer in California, and you have one pseudo-incumbent in Jerry Brown in California, the guy who’s been the fixture on the public scene. And if they can’t get above 50% in these blue states in the polls, it’s a sign of weakness. And anything can happen, and I hope it does on election day. We can take the Senate if we win Washington or California Senate races. If we take them both, we absolutely take the Senate, which would be a miracle given that we started at 41 at the beginning of this year.

HH: Karl Rove, we’ll continue the conversation Friday night in Denver. Thank you, Karl.

End of interview.


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