After announcing his resignation this week (and effective at the end of the month), Karl Rove was the main attraction on all of the Sunday morning talk shows (save for This Week with George Stephanopoulos, which hosted instead a debate with the Democratic Presidential candidates). Everyone threw Rove softballs, let him lie without contradiction or setting the record straight.
The Video & Transcript of Meet the Press's
Guest host David Gregory lets Karl Rove filibuster and spin, and then Gregory schmoozes with a roundtable of rightwing and mainstream media personalities (Kate O'Beirne, Matt Cooper, John Harwood and Ron Brownstein):
The roundtable discuss Rove's performance.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Our issues this Sunday: The architect of the Bush presidency is leaving the White House. After 14 years by Bush’s side, what political legacy does Karl Rove leave behind? And what is the future of the Republican Party? Our guest, the outgoing deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove.
Then, the presidential campaign in full swing: Still testing the waters, Republican Fred Thompson makes his first visit to Iowa; Obama on the offensive against Clinton; and Giuliani wants his strained family relationship left out of the campaign. Insights and analysis from our political roundtable—Ron Brownstein of the LA Times, Matt Cooper of Conde Nast Portfolio, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, and Kate O’Beirne of the National Review.
But first, Karl Rove.
Good morning and welcome.
MR. KARL ROVE: Morning, David.
MR. GREGORY: You were here on this program the day after the president was inaugurated back in 2001. You were headed to the National Cathedral for a prayer service. Tim Russert asked you about that.
(Videotape, January 21, 2001)
MR. TIM RUSSERT: What are you going to pray for?
MR. ROVE: Wisdom and patience. Humility. That’s important, I think, for people who come here, to realize that we are here for only a time, and we have an obligation of service, and we need to keep things in perspective.
MR. RUSSERT: We’re going to save this tape, Karl Rove. Three good virtues.
MR. GREGORY: We did save that tape, and as you’re leaving the White House now, how do you think you measured up against those virtues?
MR. ROVE: Not enough wisdom and, clearly, not enough patience.
MR. GREGORY: Humility?
MR. ROVE: I’ll let others decide on that. I—I’m, I’m humbled because, I, I, I—I’m—I know what—I saw—I was there. I saw the incredible strength of the man that we serve, I saw the strength of our country in some very trying and difficult times. I saw colleagues who made huge sacrifices to serve and whose talents are, you know, put you in awe. So I’m, I’m—I was humbled by that experience, you bet.
MR. GREGORY: Your critics, would they think you were humble and patient?
MR. ROVE: Oh, well, my critics think all kinds of bad things about me. I don’t really care.
MR. GREGORY: Let’s talk about the state of the Republican Party. You’ve been called the architect of the second term by the president. Many people feel you’re the...
MR. ROVE: I don’t—I was, I was called the architect of the...
MR. GREGORY: Of the re-election.
MR. ROVE: ...campaign strategy for the re-election. Let’s, let’s keep it in perspective.
MR. GREGORY: But you had a big role in shaping the Republican Party during the Bush years. And let’s look at the, the plight of the GOP as it now stands and put a chart up on the screen. Back in 2000, 30 governors, now 22 governors; House members 223, now 202; senators down 55 to 49. Also a chart about public feelings about the Republican Party: Those who identify themselves as Republican back in 2001 at 41 percent, now 35; positive feelings, 57 in 2001, now 28; negative feelings, 22 percent back in 2001, now 49 percent. What’s happened?
MR. ROVE: Let’s take back—let’s step back and take an even broader frame. In 2000 this president won an election that he shouldn’t have won. Every one of the academic prognosticators that got together at a conference in September of 2000 said Bush is going to lose the presidential election. We’re at a time of apparent peace and prosperity. In fact, the best number I think the president got was 46 percent out of--46-to-54 in a survey—or in a, in a forecast done by Jim Campbell of SUNY Buffalo. Every one of them said we’re going to lose, and we won.
2002, this president led his party to victory in the off-year congressional elections. Only the second president, the other was FDR in 1934, who was able to help his party gain seats in the House and Senate in the first off-year election.
2004 he ran for re-election. Unpopular war, Democratic Party united. The Republicans outspent by $124 million because of the Democratic 527s. Not only did the president become the first candidate since 1988 to get a majority of the vote, win 81 percent of the countings in America, but he also did something that’s only been done one time before in American politics, and that is he helped his party gain seats in both the House and the Senate at the same time he won re-election.
MR. GREGORY: Nevertheless, we...
MR. ROVE: Let, let, let me finish. Let me finish. And in 2006, sure, we lost. But if you look at history, the second midterm elections, the White House party has lost an average of 30 seats in the House—excuse me, 28 seats in the House, we lost 30, and five seats in the Senate, and we lost six. And it was a very close election. Eighty-five thousand votes out of 82 million cast determined control of the U.S. House of Representatives. And control of the U.S. Senate was determined by 3,562 votes out of 60 million cast.
MR. GREGORY: All right, but if, but if we’re comparing the state of the Republican Party today vs. when this president came into office, it’s also has to do with the issues and whether there’s a party advantage for Republicans or Democrats on the issues. Look at this from the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Issue after issue, advantage goes to Democrats: global warming; health care; gas prices; reducing the deficit, a conservative principle; education, where you had made strides with No Child Left Behind; and it goes on from there, controlling government spending; Iraq, the Democrats with a 15 point advantage; Immigration; ethics in government. Let me just continue.
MR. ROVE: No, no. David, David, I accept all this. But, but here’s the fact. You go back and take a look at the polls in the summer of 1999, and you’ll see a similar advantage for the Democrats. At the end of the contest, let’s see how it all plays out. Is the Republican Party a little bit behind the curve? You bet. Do we need to take a clear and candid look at this and realize the American people want to know...
MR. GREGORY: Well, why is it behind the curve?
MR. ROVE: Well...
MR. GREGORY: What’s happened?
MR. ROVE: Well, look. I’ll tell you what’s behind—why. Because we’re in an unpopular war and because we got defeated in the last elections, but—you know what the number one issue was in the last election for people who voted Democrat in ‘06 and voted Republican in ‘04? It was corruption. They looked at what we did in Congress, they looked at all the scandals. They looked at Duke Cunningham, they looked at Abramoff, and they said, “We’re sick of it.” The number two issue was spending, particularly epitomized in earmarks, where they said, “Look, that’s foolish. We don’t want you to be spending our money that way.”
MR. GREGORY: On national security, a signature issue for this president, you said this past week the Democrats have a problem on that issue. Back in 2002 you said this is an issue that Republicans can take to the American people because they, they trust Republicans to do a better job protecting Americans. And yet today, which party would do a better job, according to our recent polling, it’s actually a tie.
MR. ROVE: Yeah. I—look, first of all, we could go to polls all day long, and I—you quote polls, I’ll quote polls. But here’s the fundamental line: At the end of the day, a contest is decided by the candidates talking about the issues and appealing to the American people on the basis of an optimistic, forward-looking agenda. And I am very confident that we’ve got good candidates who, at the end of the day, will carry—one of them will carry the day in the primary and will stand an excellent chance of carrying the day in the general election despite the fact it’s very tough for a party to win the White House a third time. But I’m confident we’ve got an excellent shot to do so because of the quality of our candidates and the nature of the issues.
MR. GREGORY: You talk about the candidates. Here is Mitt Romney, winning the straw poll in Iowa just as George W. Bush did back in 1999. He wasn’t talking about the Bush legacy at all. Watch.
MR. MITT ROMNEY: If there’s ever been a time that we needed to see change in Washington, it’s now.
(End of videotape)
MR. ROVE: Good for him. Every president...
MR. GREGORY: He’s talking about change after the Bush years.
MR. ROVE: No, look, look. Every presidential election’s about change. Do you know who said something very similar to that in 1988? The vice president to Ronald Reagan, George. H. W. Bush. Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson and all those—you know, all of our major candidates get it, that the election has got to be about the future. Democrats want to make it about the past. The Republicans want to make it about the future, and he was doing exactly the right thing.
MR. GREGORY: How difficult will it be, in your judgment, for a Republican to win next year?
MR. ROVE: It’s going to be a tough, contentious election year. It’s going to be tough for a Democrat or a Republican to win. One of them will win, but only after a very tough, long time.
MR. GREGORY: But why? You say the Republicans are now behind the curve. Will that make it harder for Republicans?
MR. ROVE: Well, just historically. Just historically. Look, it was...
MR. GREGORY: Is that simply a matter of it being, the country being at war?
MR. ROVE: No. No, it’s, we have a, we have a contentious war. And it just, look, it’s just difficult. That’s what American history’s about. It’s really—it was—you know, Andrew Jackson ran, served two terms. His vice president won. But it—that’s a rare incidence in American politics. It’s just tough. Ronald Reagan ran twice and won. His vice president won. But it’s just naturally tough. There is something about change, and if you have a candidate, like in 2000, who rested on his laurels and talked about the past rather than articulating a vision for the future, you become vulnerable. And we seized that vulnerability in 2000 and won an election we should not have won.
MR. GREGORY: Do you feel responsible for the fortunes of the Republican Party today?
MR. ROVE: I—look, I’m an avid Republican. I want my party to win. I’ve, I’ve spent my adult life fighting for the Republican Party because I believe in its fundamental principles and I believe it represents a, a, a optimistic and a hopeful way for America. So do I want my party to win? You betcha.
MR. GREGORY: But do you feel responsible for its current state?
MR. ROVE: Well, look, every, every person who identifies with the Republican Party ought to, ought to, ought to feel some responsibility.
MR. GREGORY: You, you do more than just identify with the Republican Party. You’ve been a key figure in shaping the party’s agenda.
MR. ROVE: Our party has a positive and optimistic—think about what we’ve been able to achieve. Our party, when this president came in, we faced a recession, we had corporate scandals, we had an attack on our, on our homeland on 9/11 that devastated our economy. A million people lost their jobs in the aftermath of 9/11. This president and Republicans in Congress cut taxes and have given us four years of very strong economic growth. Our economy is dynamic and powerful, providing jobs and increases in real income for people. This president, when he came into office, came in at a time of apparent peace. But on 9/11 we realized we’re at war, and this president has put us on a war footing in a, in a, in a dangerous new kind of conflict that will shape this new young century.
You look at education reform, you look at energy, you look at higher education, you look at welfare, and you look at the compassion agenda, you look at faith-based, you look at AIDS in Africa, you look at trade—on a whole range of issues, this president has been able to offer a bold and optimistic agenda and get it done. He’s also had the courage, because he understands the responsibility of a president to take on big challenges where it isn’t so easy to win—immigration and Social Security reform. American people don’t want a president to be sitting there wetting their fingers, sticking it in the air and saying, “You know, I’m only going to go for issues for which it’s an 80/20 winner or a 90/10 sure thing.” They want presidents to take on big challenges, and the challenge of entitlements and the resolving this thorny situation of immigration is vital for the future of the country.
MR. GREGORY: You list your accomplishments. A prominent Republican, close to this White House, I spoke to this week, said, “The issue for us was not vision and ideology, it was one of performance on the issues that mattered most, like Iraq, like Katrina.” You agree with that?
MR. ROVE: I, I—look, every president gets judged by their vision, by their accomplishments, by their record, by their performance. I—the—we’re in a tough war, no doubt about it. I remember, though, just a year ago...
MR. GREGORY: It’s not about it being a tough war. It’s the handling of the war.
MR. ROVE: May I finish? I understand, and I’m going to get to your question, if you wouldn’t interrupt.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
MR. ROVE: Think about a year ago. We had the leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate say Anbar province is gone, the war is lost. And today we know from every report that Anbar province, because of the—this president saying, “Let us implement a new strategy that will deal with this issue,” that Anbar province has made a tremendous turnaround, where the Sunni tribesmen have aligned themselves with the central government and have turned on the, on the, on the, on al-Qaeda and, and the terrorists. So, yes, OK, fine, judge us by our performance. But let’s not get in a society—let’s not be a society that says, “We’re going to judge these things instantaneously from moment to moment to moment.” Let’s have the ability to stand back and understand that wars are difficult.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. ROVE: Could you imagine sitting there and saying, reading the reports about the bungled U.S.—when the U.S. went into North Africa, which is heavily criticized, we had our, our—in World War II. What would’ve happened if we’d said, “Oh, you know what, our tanks were mauled there in Tunisia. FDR, you’ve done a lousy job of managing the war”? American troops go, go aboard, go ashore in Italy in World War II, suffer horrific casualties. What would’ve happened if, if we’d said at the end of D-Day, “Oh, you know what? We’ve suffered too many casualties. Let us, let us, let us step back from this important battle”?
MR. GREGORY: You talk about taking a wider perspective on the war. Then former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney spoke about the decision not to go into Baghdad during the first Gulf War, and he did this back in 1994, and I’ll put it up on the screen so our viewers can see. This is what Dick Cheney said. “Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? If you take down the central government of Iraq, you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off.
“It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad and took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? And our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.” That was the former secretary of defense back in 1994. It seems like he’s...
MR. ROVE: And you know what? And you know what?
MR. GREGORY: Hold on one second. It seems like he’s describing Iraq of 2007.
MR. ROVE: And you’re right, 1994. He, he was describing the conditions in 1994. By 2003 the world had changed. It changed on 9/11, and it became clear—it should be clear to every American that we live in a dangerous world where we cannot let emerging threats fully materialize in attacks on our homeland. Between 1994 and 2003 Saddam Hussein ignored a total—between 1991 and 2003, 16 UN resolutions that said “live up to the agreement that you made in the aftermath of the first Gulf war to disclose your weapons of mass destruction and to account for them.” He didn’t. He was thumbing his nose at the international inspection regime. He was taking money from Oil For Food and putting it into programs to maintain his state security apparatus. He was funding terrorists. He was supporting terrorists, harboring terrorists. He became a dangerous threat, and people are entitled over time to look at the conditions and change their mind, and that’s exactly what Dick Cheney did...
MR. GREGORY: But were his words...
MR. ROVE: ...between 1994 and 2003.
MR. GREGORY: ...words, which don’t have to do with whether he’s a threat, it has to do with what you encounter when you take Saddam Hussein on and remove him from power, was that part of the debate about going in and taking over the government?
MR. ROVE: It—look, there, there are all kinds of contingencies that are discussed and, and, and evaluated and planned for and thought about. And—but look, the world changed. Again, I repeat, it is fine to have a 1994 mind-set in 1994. It is not longer acceptable to have a 1994 mind-set after September 11th. America needs to think and act differently. We face a brutal enemy who will kill the innocent for one purpose and that is to gain control of the Middle East and to use the leverage of oil to bring down the West, and to attack us again.
MR. GREGORY: And what—when you, when you think about how the war was executed and you look at misjudgments: WMD, there were none; we’d be greeted as liberators, we were not.
MR. ROVE: Can we—could we just—let’s, let’s take them one at a time.
MR. GREGORY: Let me—if I can just...
MR. ROVE: Can we take them one at a time?
MR. GREGORY: Let me, let me just lay it out. The cost of the war was misestimated, the level of sectarian violence was wrong, the, the depth and, and the force of the insurgency, the idea that oil revenues would be used to pay for the war. Would you acknowledge there were fundamental misjudgments in the execution of the war?
MR. ROVE: Let’s take these—let’s take these one at a time, if we could. Could you start the list again and give them to me one at a time?
MR. GREGORY: There were no WMD.
MR. ROVE: Absolutely. Absolutely were not. But you know what, the whole world thought there was. In fact, Saddam Hussein’s own commanders, we know now, in the moments—in the days after the invasion, thought they had weapons of mass destruction available to be deployed against our troops. Think about this. This man was under an onerous regime of inspections by the United Nations because he refused to cough up what he had in the way of WMD. He could have gotten out of that regime of inspections and restraints on his government and on his people if all he’d done is said, “I don’t have any anymore.” But...
MR. GREGORY: But, Karl, I’m asking you a specific question about whether misjudgments were made and whether you acknowledge those.
MR. ROVE: I understand. I understand, but I want to deal with each one of these because I want to acknowledge, I want to acknowledge the reality behind each one of them. You say, for example, you make the assertion that oil revenues are not being used to pay for reconstruction. You’re absolutely wrong.
MR. GREGORY: The predication was they would pay for the war.
MR. ROVE: The Iraqi—let me finish—the Iraqi government has a capacity $41 billion budget, $10 billion, most of which comes from oil revenues, $10 billion of which goes to reconstruction. And so are they using their own resources to reconstruct the country? You bet. But, look, it’s one thing to rattle off all of these, and it’s a nice tactic. I appreciate—I applaud you for doing so. But if you take a moment and look at each one of these you’ll find that in each one of these there is a reasonable—you know, look, was everything done perfectly? No. But it—was this the right thing to do? You bet. And has the policy worked out exactly as people planned? Look, Napoleon said that your battle plan doesn’t survive the first contact with the enemy, but you still have to have a plan. And did everything work out like people expected and hoped? No. But is it the right thing to do and is it vital for the security interests of the United States? If we were to leave Iraq with the job undone, we would be running the risk of seeing the entire region plunge into violence. We would see Iran emboldened. We would see Hezbollah, Hamas and the al-Qaeda emboldened. We could see a terrorist state emerge in the heart of the Middle East. Not in Afghanistan with no natural resources, but in the very heart of the Middle East with the third largest oil reserves in the world. And we could see an increasing danger for our friends and allies in the region from Turkey to Lebanon to Jordan to Israel to Egypt to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
MR. GREGORY: Let me move on to Iran. One of the things you said this week in, in some of your interviews was that one legacy of the Bush administration would be the Bush doctrine that would be—that would live on. This is how The Wall Street Journal reported it in Paul Gigot’s column. “On foreign affairs, [Rove] predicts that [part] of the Bush doctrine will live on: the policy that if you harbor a terrorist, you are” “culpable as a terrorist.”
And then we think about Iran. The State Department’s called Iran the world’s most active sponsor of terrorism. Just this week the administration sought to designate Iran’s revolutionary guard as a global terrorist organization. Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell has talked about Iran helping terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. How does this square with the Bush doctrine?
MR. ROVE: It—you confront...
MR. GREGORY: When, when at the same time there are conversations, talks going on, between this administration...
MR. ROVE: Because...
MR. GREGORY: ...and Iran?
MR. ROVE: Because you confront terrorism by calling it by its name, and you use all your available tools—economic, diplomatic, intelligence and, if need be, military to deal with it. And what we’re doing here is, in a very measured tone, sending a signal that we will use all of these tools in an appropriate time and in an appropriate way. And, and I don’t want to get deeper into it. There, there are things that are going—that are being discussed, many of which I’m not privy to, though I’m confident the policy will be laid out at a—in, in due time. But the point is, is that we have a variety of tools, and we will employ all those tools to deal with the threat of global terrorism.
MR. GREGORY: Will Iran face serious consequences if talks break down?
MR. ROVE: Let’s, let, let’s have confidence that Iran will understand the difficulties that it will place itself in and that the talks will go well.
MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about the CIA leak case, of which you were obviously a, a central part. This is what the president said in 2003 after the identity of Valerie Plame was divulged in a Robert Novak column. Watch.
(Videotape, September 30, 2003)
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: If there’s a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated laws, that person will be taken care of.
MR. GREGORY: Robert Novak, who divulged Valerie Plame’s name in his column, appeared on this program with Tim Russert back in July, and Tim asked about his book. Watch.
(Videotape, July 15, 2007)
MR. RUSSERT: Then you go on to say, in the book, “Senior White House adviser Karl Rove returned my call late that afternoon [July 8th, 2003],” the same day. “I mentioned I had heard that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA in the counterproliferation section and that she had suggested Wilson be sent to Niger. I distinctly remember Rove’s reply, ‘Oh, you know that, too.’ Rove and I also discussed other aspects of Wilson’s mission, but since he never has disclosed them publicly, neither have I.” So you considered Rove’s comments, “Oh, you know that, too,” as a confirmation?
MR. ROBERT NOVAK: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Were you a confirming source for Robert Novak?
MR. ROVE: No. And I, I remember it slightly differently. I remember saying, “I’ve heard that, too.” Let, let me say this. There is a civil lawsuit filed by Mr. Wilson and Ms. Plame. It has been tossed out at the district court level. They’ve announced their intention to appeal. I think it is better that I not add anything beyond what is already in the public record until that suit is resolved. But, as I’m—my recollection is that I said, “I heard that, too.” We—I would point you to...
MR. GREGORY: Where, where had you heard that?
MR. ROVE: You’ll have to wait.
MR. GREGORY: But that’s an important distinction, because the—you—“I heard that, too,” suggests that you heard it from somebody else rather than knowing it yourself.
MR. ROVE: That’s correct.
MR. GREGORY: But he, he took those notes down just as you said them.
MR. ROVE: Well, but I—my recollection is, “I’ve heard that, too.” So—but the point is, if, if, if a journalist had said to me, “I’d like you to confirm this,” my answer would have been, “I can’t. I don’t know. I’ve heard that, too.”
MR. GREGORY: It, it, it’s important to point out that the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, declined to bring any criminal charges against you. But given the president’s emphatic statement about getting to the bottom of this, were you ever held to account by the president for what you did?
MR. ROVE: You know, I acted in an appropriate manner, made all the appropriate individuals aware of, of, of my contact. I met with the FBI right at the beginning of this, told them everything. You’re right, the special prosecutor declined to take any action at all. I was never a target. In fact, it’s—what’s interesting to me is that the person who did give the name, Richard Armitage, we found out at the end of the process, did, did have the conversation with Novak, took no action against him either.
MR. GREGORY: Was it an inappropriate investigation?
MR. ROVE: It’s entirely appropriate to look into these kind of things, sure.
MR. GREGORY: Should Armitage have come forward sooner, do you think, to the administration?
MR. ROVE: That’s—that was his decision, and those are the people who were advising him. That’s fine.
MR. GREGORY: The president seemed frustrated that he didn’t.
MR. ROVE: I, I’m, I’m going to leave it there.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think you owe Valerie Plame an apology?
MR. ROVE: No.
MR. GREGORY: You do not?
MR. ROVE: No.
MR. GREGORY: You considered her fair game in this debate?
MR. ROVE: No. And you know what? Fair game, that wasn’t my phrase. That’s a phrase of a journalist. In fact, a colleague of yours.
MR. GREGORY: Was she an appropriate target in this debate?
MR. ROVE: No.
MR. GREGORY: She was not.
MR. ROVE: No. Look, her husband wrote a op-ed that we now know by—in a statement issued on July 11th by the director of the CIA, backed by a report by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, was misleading and inaccurate. The vice president, the White House and the director of the CIA did not send Mr. Wilson to Africa to look into—to the question of uranium cake from Niger to Iraq. We also know that he did—he came—the information he came back with was not dispositive, was not conclusive, did not disprove the British intelligence finding that the Iraqis had attempted to acquire uranium cake. In fact, we now know that he brought back information not disclosed in his article that added to the belief, that confirmed the British intelligence report that the Iraqis had attempted to acquire uranium cake. He brought back information about a previously unknown contact where the Iraqis, working through a third party, attempted to bring and did bring to Niger a trade delegation. And since the only thing Niger had to sell was uranium cake that was on a U.N. sanctions list, they declined to do any business. He brought back information that affirmed the, the British intelligence report. After this all came out, the British did a study, did a review, appointed a commission to review their intelligence finding and came back and confirmed that they stood by their original assessment that, that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium yellow cake from Niger in—and exactly as was in the president’s speech.
MR. GREGORY: In our remaining moments, I want to talk about the 2008 campaign. Now, you’ve said—you haven’t ruled anything out, but you said you’re not going to go work for another candidate. But you also said that you’re an opinionated guy. And some of those opinions came flowing out this week, including your conversation with Rush Limbaugh this week about Senator Hillary Clinton. Watch.
MR. ROVE: I think she’s likely to be the nominee, and I think she’s fatally flawed.
MR. GREGORY: “Fatally flawed” how?
MR. ROVE: She enters the general election campaign with the highest negatives of any candidate in the history of the Gallup Poll.
MR. GREGORY: The president has much higher negatives than she, however.
MR. ROVE: She enters the presidential contest with higher negatives. The only person who come close is—she—her’s are at 49--the only other candidate to come close was Al Gore with 34, I believe.
MR. GREGORY: And how does that hurt her?
MR. ROVE: Well, it just says people have made an opinion about her. It’s hard to change opinions once you’ve been a high profile person in the public eye, as she has, for 16 or 17 years.
MR. GREGORY: There are prominent Republicans, yourself included, who seem to be really talking Hillary Clinton up as a kind of inevitable nominee. Is that who Republicans want?
MR. ROVE: I, I, I—I’m, I’m just, I’m just responding from questions to journalists. Don’t ask me, don’t blame it on me. It’s you guys’ fault.
MR. GREGORY: Well, but you’re not the only Republican who has said that she is the inevitable nominee. Is there a desire by the Republican Party for her to be the nominee? Is that who you want to run against?
MR. ROVE: It’s going to be what it’s going to be. Democrats are going to choose the Democratic nominee, and Republicans are going to choose the Republican nominee.
MR. GREGORY: She responded this week in a campaign ad, not directly to that, but to—attacked the White House. And let’s watch that.
(Videotape of Clinton ad)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: And I never thought I would see that our soldiers who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan would be treated as though they were invisible as well. Americans from all walks of life across our country may be invisible to this president, but they’re not invisible to me, and they won’t be invisible to the next president of the United States.
MR. GREGORY: Reaction?
MR. ROVE: First of all, it’s laughable that this president does not have a strong relationship with the military and military families. Most of the ad was devoted to health care, which really to me was a sign of defensiveness. She understands she’s got a weakness on this. Hillary Clinton voted against providing seniors with a prescription drug benefit. Hillary Clinton voted against allowing people to save tax free for their out-of-pocket medical expenses. Hillary Clinton voted against medical liability reform so that docs are not forced out of practice by junk lawsuits. She opposes leveling the playing field so that people who pay for health insurance out of their own pocket get the same tax break the big corporations get for providing health care benefits to their employees. She’s against allowing people to shop for health insurance across state lines like we do with auto insurance so the consumers would have more choices and there’d be competition to get your business, give you more for less.
She is a person who now—she was opposed to and voted against allowing seniors to have a choice of keeping their current doc and their current health care plan through a private form of Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and now she’s voting for penalizing seniors who have those private health care plans through Medicare. This woman’s got one idea on health care, which is to let the government do it all, and she’s voted against all these very positive reforms which would allow the doctor and the patient to be in charge of health care.
MR. GREGORY: Has Barack Obama measured up to the hype surrounding him?
MR. ROVE: You know what? I’m going to let you ask your—you’ve got an excellent panel coming on, I think, later in the program. Why don’t you ask them this question.
MR. GREGORY: You haven’t shied away from talking about Hillary Clinton.
MR. ROVE: Well, I’m just, I’m just going to let, I’m going to let—I’ve said enough. I’ve got to, I’ve got to save a little bit more for later.
MR. GREGORY: Do you really fear Barack Obama? That’s why you’re spending all this time attacking Hillary Clinton?
MR. ROVE: You know, I—you know, I read that in the LA Times this morning. Those, those guys really out in LA have got to get clued in. I mean, come on.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you quickly about the, the investigation into the firing of U.S. attorneys. You have defended the firing of those attorneys. You’ve done so publicly. Why not then testify about that under oath as Congress wants you to?
MR. ROVE: Yeah, look, here’s the issue. There is a tension between Congress and the executive. Congress wants to be able to call the—this Congress in particular—wants to be able to call presidential aides up at its whim and convenience and have them testify. That would have a chilling effect on the ability of a president to get candid, straightforward advice from his aides. We have a constitutional separation of powers. The founders talk about this. They, they understood this issue, and they wanted to insulate the judicial, the executive and the legislative from each other in this respect. Imagine the outcry if the executive branch said, “We have a right to pull up any congressional aide we want and ask you at any time what advice you’re giving your member about a vote.” Imagine the outcry in the country if we said Supreme Court clerks can be called before Congress or called before the executive at any time to talk about what they’re, what they’re advising the Supreme Court Justices as they write their opinions.
The counsel’s office had made a very generous offer. If they want to find out what Harriet Miers and I said and did, we’d be happy to go up there and have a visit with them about it. But we would—have an obligation, when we’re sworn in as an officer inside the White House, a commissioned officer, we swear to uphold the Constitution, and the Constitution has a separation of powers. It should not—the Constitution should not be weakened, and we should not weaken the prerogatives of the power of the presidency just because somebody wants to have kind of show hearing on the Hill.
MR. GREGORY: But...
MR. ROVE: If they want to hear from me, the counsel’s office had made a generous offer. They didn’t take us up on it.
MR. GREGORY: Before we let you go, if anybody questions whether politics has been in your blood for many, many years, they only have to go back to January 18th, 1972 when a much younger Karl Rove spoke about Richard Nixon. Watch.
MR. DAN RATHER: Down in the basement of party headquarters is the operation aimed at embarrassing pundits who say Nixon doesn’t appeal to youth. The people in charge here are from the 18-to-21-year-old bracket.
MR. ROVE (GOP College Director): First of all, voter registration’s probably the most important function that we are undertaking now. We’re also seeking to train college students to run voter registration drives and, and to work towards involving young people in campaigns. You can’t get a 35-year-old to, to teach the Republican Party how to get the young people. You just can’t, can’t rely on it. Young people have got to reach other young people, and that’s what we’re seeking to do.
MR. GREGORY: Even then, you were telling the Republican Party how to get it done.
MR. ROVE: I had a lot of hair back then, didn’t I? You know what—there was—I want to correct something. Once again, the media’s got it wrong. It was not the basement of the national committee, it was the sub-basement. It was under the parking garage. It was a fun time.
MR. GREGORY: Karl Rove, good luck.
MR. ROVE: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you very much.
MR. ROVE: Appreciate it. Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Coming next, Republican and Democratic presidential candidates descend on key voting states across the country. Our political roundtable—Ron Brownstein, Matt Cooper, John Harwood and Kate O’Beirne—are next right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: Our political roundtable with Brownstein, Cooper, Harwood and O’Beirne after this brief station break.
MR. GREGORY: We are back. Welcome all.
Ron Brownstein, the political legacy of Karl Rove, what do you think it is?
MR. RON BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think they came into office with a very clear strategy that linked together both their legislative and their political vision, and on both fronts their focus was on unifying their own party. And they accepted polarization of the country as the price for mobilizing their own side. And in his first term, in Bush’s first term, this worked pretty well. Republicans in Congress voted together at a rate not seen since the beginning of the 20th century, and he was able to pass much more than seemed possible, given the size of his victory in 2000 and their majority in Congress. And in 2002 and 2004, they generated an enormous turnout of the Republican base, and they were able to, as Karl Rove said, to gain seats and to win re-election, winning a majority for the first time since 1988.
But in the second term, I think the limits of this strategy have become increasingly apparent. Even when he won re-election, at his high point, his margin of victory measured as a share of the popular vote, was the smallest ever in American history for a successfully re-elected president. Left him very little margin for error, little, little cushion of good will when things started to go against him. And you saw also, in the second term, that the price of focusing so much on mobilizing their base was at times—Terri Schiavo, Social Security—pull—putting forward an agenda that drove away—energized Democrats and drove away independents. And it came together, I think, in 2006. They suffered a severe erosion among independent voters in both the House races and the big Senate races. They’ve become more of a regional party under Karl Rove. They’re strong in the culturally conservative parts of the country, but in the Northeast and the West Coast there—they’ve lost a lot of ground.
So on balance, I think that he has been a brilliant tactician in the service of a fundamentally flawed strategy, and I don’t believe another president will try to govern in a manner that accepts so much division in the country as the price of exciting their own side.
MR. GREGORY: Kate O’Beirne, is the Republican Party better off or worse off after the Bush years?
MS. KATE O’BEIRNE: Unclear. David, you could throw up the same kind of charts we looked at with Karl Rove when Bill Clinton left office, right? I mean, within two years...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: And many people did.
MS. O’BEIRNE: Exactly. Within two years. Of course, they had lost after holding it for far longer. He had lost the House. And the Democratic Party, I think, was demonstrably weaker following eight years of the Clinton administration. And yet, we have an unpopular war in Iraq, a Republican majority that seemed to run out of steam, and therefore, look at what these—the partisan advantage the Democrats now have. Those same polls, of course, show that the public is not thrilled with the Democratic Congress either, of course.
I think Karl Rove’s—the legacy, of course, is premature and mixed, but it certainly has to be said that he is largely responsible for three enormously successful races in 2000, 2002 and 2004. And even in 2006 the president did increase his margins across demographic groups, not just among conservatives.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: He lost ground among independents in 2000 and 2004, even while winning...
MS. O’BEIRNE: Well, it was the...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...re-election.
MS. O’BEIRNE: ...first president, of course, in a, in a midst of an unpopular war to win a majority of the vote. That hadn’t, obviously, happened since ‘88.
MR. GREGORY: Matt Cooper, let’s pick up on an aspect of the interview with, with Karl Rove having to do with the leak case, the CIA leak case, that you were part of as well. And something’s that’s very interesting, he, he went out of his way to say, “I would not have been a confirming source on this kind of information” and taking issue with, with Novak’s testimony in his column that he knew who Valerie Plame was. He said he would never confirm that information. That’s different from your experience with him.
MR. MATT COOPER: Yeah, I, I think he was dissembling, to put it charitably. Look, Karl Rove told me about Valerie Plame’s identity on July 11th, 2003. I called him because Ambassador Wilson was in the news that week. I didn’t know Ambassador Wilson even had a wife until I talked to Karl Rove and he said that she worked at the agency and she worked on WMD. I mean, to imply that he didn’t know about it or that this was all the leak...
MR. GREGORY: Or that he had heard it from somebody else...
MR. COOPER: ...by someone else, or he heard it as some rumor out in the hallway is, is nonsense.
MR. GREGORY: But he makes no apologies to Valerie Plame.
MR. COOPER: Karl Rove never apologizes. That’s not what he does.
MR. GREGORY: John Harwood, back to politics and Karl Rove leading the charge, in some cases, against Hillary Clinton. That was a very well-thought political attack on Hillary Clinton’s views in some of her past votes. What about the fact that he wouldn’t talk about Barack Obama? And some are speculating that just like in 2004 when they were building up John Kerry that the Republicans were—that’s what they want to do here, to run against Hillary Clinton.
MR. JOHN HARWOOD: Well, it’s hard to sort this stuff out. In some respects he’s making a statement of obvious fact. Hillary Clinton is the front-runner, she is the likely nominee of the Democratic Party, although we’ve got a long way to go in this race, and she is a flawed candidate. But, of course, we have an entire field of flawed candidates in both parties. So—and if you look at everybody running for president right now, her flaws are smaller than anybody’s else’s because she’s leading, she’s got a party that’s on the march in terms of public sentiment. So was he not going after Obama to—because that’s who he really fears? It, it’s hard to say.
I just want to point out a couple of things about Karl’s record. I agree with my colleagues he is brilliant, he’s driven, he’s unusually involved and interested in history and policy, fundamentally different in that way from somebody like James Carville, who was essentially a political tactician and strategist for Bill Clinton. But let’s don’t exaggerate what happened. Republicans won five out of eight presidential elections before George Bush won in 2000. It wasn’t long ago that we were talking about a Republican lock on the presidency.
MS. O’BEIRNE: Lock. Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. HARWOOD: He did adapt modern conservatism to the post-Cold War era, compassionate conservatism was a useful function. But he didn’t create the national Republican majority, and I think it also has to be said that he didn’t create the Iraq war, which fundamentally is the largest thing that is dragging down the president right now.
MR. GREGORY: Let’s, let’s move on. I want to put up some recent polling, look at the Republican field right now and look at some of the recent polling here. Giuliani still on top, but his numbers down a little bit. Look at Fred Thompson, who was out in Iowa for the first time this week. His numbers down July to July.
Kate O’Beirne, a lot of questions about whether Fred Thompson has waited too long to get into the race.
MS. O’BEIRNE: Well, it’s obviously he has to play catch-up here. He’s behind with respect to raising money, with respect to organization, not—people aren’t quite sure yet what that message is going to be, although he’s clearly going to be trying to attempt to appeal to conservatives. You know, none of that would be the case had he gone in a year ago, but a year ago there was no rationale for a Fred Thompson candidacy, right? McCain was the front-runner and when George Allen won his Virginia Senate seat, George Allen was going to be that conservative in the race.
So, exactly—exactly. So he has catching up to do. He’s a talented politician. The Republican field’s far more fluid than the Democratic field, so there could well be a perch for Fred Thompson. But the others have a real head start.
MR. GREGORY: And it’s very interesting, Rudy Giuliani still atop the polls, and it was striking this week when he was asked about his family—there’s obviously been a lot written about this—and this was his reply. We’ll put it on the screen for our viewers to see, as the Union Leader in New Hampshire reported it. “Giuliani was taken aback by a morning town hall meeting in New Hampshire by a question about his family. ‘I’m going to phrase it a lot more gentle than my nephew did, but he wanted to know how you could expect a loyal following of Americans when you are not getting it from your own family,’ a mother asked. Giuliani responded, ‘I love my family very, very much and will do anything for them. There are complexities in every family in America,’ Giuliani said quietly. ‘The best thing I can say is kind of leave my family alone, just like I’ll leave your family alone.’” Ron Brownstein:
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think it was a very genuine answer. Obviously the—there are other Republicans that think that family history is, is a vulnerability for, for Giuliani. But, you know, I think we learned during the Clinton impeachment that Americans sort of intuitively understand that in everybody’s life there are things they don’t want to read about on the front page of The Washington Post or The New York Times or the LA Times, and I think we saw that very kind of mature understanding. And, in the end, I think Giuliani will receive the same kind of verdict from the public. They will judge him on other grounds.
MR. HARWOOD: However, within the Republican primary, I think...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: There will be voters, sure.
MR. HARWOOD: ...Mitt Romney has fewer of those things that would be embarrassing to read on the front page of the paper.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. HARWOOD: And that’s going to help him. You see it when he talks about family at every opportunity.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Right. You bring up Mitt Romney.
And you wrote an article, Matt Cooper, in your, in your magazine, Conde Nast Portfolio, about Romney. And, and it was very interesting, a portion of it...
MR. COOPER: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...which I’ll put up on the screen about how a President Romney would approach the work at hand. “Romney’s always analytical,” you wrote, “the hallmark of the Bain”—Bain “Capital approach to both consulting and private equity. To this day, Romney likes his information ‘voluminous,’ says his campaign manager and gubernatorial chief of staff, Beth Myers. Romney might be a congenial panderer, but he isn’t someone who would look into Vladimir Putin’s soul and pronounce him a friend.” The contrast to President Bush. What do you mean?
MR. COOPER: That’s right. Well, you know, both he and George Bush, it’s irresistible to compare them. They’re both sons of Republican politicians who wanted to be president, they both got Harvard MBAs. But Bush is famously, you know, decides more from his gut. And Romney is very analytical and, to some degree, I think that’s a, that’s an enviable quality, a good quality in a president. But I, as I said in the piece, you know, he is also a panderer, and he’s clearly, you know, stretched his positions, to put it charitably. And, you know, that’s a—that may be a detriment.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: In addition to all of his analytical skill, he is the Republican candidate most going for the three yards and a cloud of dust. There is nothing very complex or nouvelle about the way he’s running for president. He’s making two assumptions. The way you win the Republican primary is to consolidate conservatives to the greatest extent that you can and to focus on those early states, in Iowa and New Hampshire. While Giuliani has talked about putting more focus later in the month, now you have this calendar shift where South Carolina is moving up to the middle of January, moving back Iowa and New Hampshire, and you have the possibility that this race could be largely decided, as it has been since 1980, by the continuum of those three states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. And he seems to be the most focused, at least initially, on those very first two states in a very kind of conventional way.
MR. GREGORY: John Harwood, Mitt Romney also answering questions about where some of his trust money goes. In a blind trust, he’s got a huge fortune, $250 million, according to estimates. Some of those investments, in conflict with his campaign positions, say on abortion or money in companies that may be investing in Sudan. Is this an issue for him?
MR. HARWOOD: You know, flipside of the issue affecting John Edwards, who’s got money invested with a hedge fund that had been involved in subprime mortgages, and he’s talking about championing the poor.
MR. GREGORY: Foreclosing on Katrina victims in New Orleans.
MR. HARWOOD: Exactly. You know, I think this is a minor issue for Mitt Romney. He does have his money in a blind trust. They’re now going about trying to dissociate that trust, the, the trustee has said, from investments that are at odds with Romney’s positions. But I think people realize that we have a large and complex economy...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. HARWOOD: ...and it’s not easy to sort all this stuff out.
MR. GREGORY: But he’s been aggressive about all this. Back when he was running against Senator Kennedy, he said “the blind trust is an age-old ruse.” He was quoted as saying, “You give a blind trust rules. You can say to a blind trust, ‘Don’t invest in properties which might be in conflict of interest or, or where the seller might think they’re going to get an advantage from me.’” That was him going on the offensive about a blind trust against Senator Kennedy.
MR. HARWOOD: Well, on blind trusts, like on so many other things, that was then and this is now. The question for Romney, I think, he is a famous analyst of, of problems and issues. He did that in business. The challenge for him, he’s running in a belief party. How much does a belief party want to take somebody who appears to have calculated where he has to be on certain issues and decided to get there. He’s running against Giuliani. What Giuliani has going for him is the sense that there is some unbendable core inside him that’s—a spine of steel, if you will. That may be the—where we end up posing concerns.
MS. O’BEIRNE: Well, I—there’s an appetite, though, I think, on the part of Republican rank and file voters for that competence that they, that critics believe has been lacking. And I think Mitt Romney’s certainly going to be competitive in that respect. The implied criticisms, of course, are to these problems in the past couple of years. People used to say of Republicans, they might not like government very much, but they can run the place. Well, they’re no longer saying that. And I think Mitt Romney’s going to be extremely competitive there, based on the kinds of things Matt pointed out in his, in his article. He has a real track record with respect to management. And you’re exactly right, Ron, that is the kind of campaign he’s running.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Let me talk about the Democrats, and we’ll put up some of the recent polling numbers on the screen. First you look at the national poll numbers with Senator Clinton still with a sizeable advantage there. And now look at this California Democratic poll. Of course, California, one of the states in Super Tuesday, a significant margin there for Senator Clinton over Obama. And perhaps it explains some of what we’ve been seeing from Senator Obama on the campaign trail, really going after Senator Clinton. This is how The New York Times reported it on Friday. “Senator Barack Obama has moved in recent weeks to sharpen his tone noticeably as he fights for the Democratic presidential nomination, increasingly drawing sharp contrasts with his rivals and seeking to turn criticism of his foreign policy credentials into a fresh argument for change. The recalibration of the campaign is a marked departure from a laid-back tone Mr. Obama often had taken in the first six months of his candidacy. It comes as he is working to persuade voters of his judgment and erase perceptions among party leaders that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is establishing herself as the front-runner after a series of debates and what some Democrats have viewed as slip-ups by Mr. Obama.”
Matt Cooper, does he have to turn it on here?
MR. COOPER: I think he does. You know, my wife works for Hillary Clinton, so in the spirit of full disclosure. You know, look, I think Obama’s made this argument that she doesn’t really represent change and that he does. I think that might be compelling to a sliver of the Democratic Party. But I think Hillary Clinton is so different from George Bush, it’s hard to make the argument that a Clinton presidency would be a continuation of the Bush presidency. So I think this argument he’s gotten into is, is just not one that he’s going to win in the end.
MR. HARWOOD: But there’s no question, David, that he does have to turn it on. You look at the rolling averages at polls of these early states, Hillary Clinton’s now leading in Iowa, now leading in New Hampshire. If she isn’t stopped in one or both of those places by Barack Obama or John Edwards or both of them, she’s not going to be stopped for this nomination.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: In fact, she’s a real front-runner. And this is what you have when you have a front-runner. They, they lead everywhere. I think Obama has to make this argument. I think, I think the Democratic—the structure of the Democratic race is coming together in a way the Republican race isn’t. Basically, you have an argument about what kind of change and how much change. Obama is basically arguing that he can bring more fundamental change to Washington on a variety of different levels than Hillary Clinton. It’s not so much an ideological argument, because he’s talking about unifying the country after the Bush years. She’s arguing that she brings the perfect blend of change and experience, that she has the experience to deliver the change that others talk about. And you know, John Edwards is still out there, especially in Iowa, making kind of an edgier ideological argument, saying, “I’m going to have the big, bold liberal ideas,” in some ways reminiscent of Dick Gephardt’s indictment against Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. So those different kind of dimensions.
Right now I think the problem that Edwards and Obama has, as Matt suggests, is that Hillary Clinton is more competitive with them on change than they are with her on experience. She dominates them in all of these polls about who do you trust in a crisis, who’s the strongest leader, who has the best experience to be president? And I think as long as that dynamic is in place—I remember what one of Obama’s advisers said to me, “Strength was a leading indicator of success in presidential politics.” They have to challenge her on that ground or else it’s going to be very difficult.
MR. GREGORY: And yet, Kate O’Beirne, is he succeeding in some of these frontal attacks on her?
MS. O’BEIRNE: I don’t think so. I think his message about unifying the country is not a message for the Democratic primary base. It seems to be that Hillary Clinton better knows that, that, that population when she’s running anti-Bush ads, which is what she’s been doing lately now. Of course, she’s not running against George Bush. In fact, come ‘08 I don’t think she’ll even be running against a Bush Republican. But she knows what unifies the base, and I don’t think it’s a call for unifying the country.
MR. HARWOOD: You know, I think the real wild card in this race is going to be Fred Thompson, as Kate was talking about earlier, when he gets in. The way that he has tried to make up lately some of the lost ground, saying that he’s going to talk straight on entitlements, that sort of thing, how—what, what is he going to say that’s going to appeal to the Republican base, but also not hurt him badly in a general election?
MR. GREGORY: All, all right. We’re going to leave it there. Thanks to you all.