‘Moscow in the mountains’
Special to The Aspen Times
Karl Rove is many things to many people. To some he’s a leading light of the conservative movement and the most brilliant political strategist of his age. To others, he’s the Dark Lord — devious, conniving and evil to the core.
Whatever and whoever he is, George W. Bush’s top political adviser (who is now with the conservative political action committee American Crossroads) is smart. And interesting. And Thursday he brought his fertile mind and Texas wit to the Aspen Ideas Festival, appearing in a one-on-one conversation with Atlantic magazine editor James Bennet and later a panel discussion called “The Future of the Republican Party.”
In both conversations, Rove was thought-provoking and funny. He also told some revealing stories. A start-to-finish transcript could occupy multiple pages, but here are a few excerpts:
On appearing in left-leaning Aspen: “I have spent time in Aspen, Moscow in the mountains. After all, I live in Austin (Texas), which is Moscow on the Little Colorado.”
On voters who didn’t go to the polls in 2012: “We had an election in which the normal rules didn’t apply. … We had so many more people, particularly working-class whites in the industrial Midwest, who said, ‘I could never bring myself to vote for Obama — maybe I voted for him last time around, but I can’t bring myself to vote for him, and I can’t bring myself to vote for the plutocrat with the wife who’s an open, practicing, admitted equestrian.’ That’s Haley Barbour’s line, but I really like it.”
On how Republicans should have countered attacks on Mitt Romney and Bain Capital: “We should have found that young kid working at Staples who said, ‘You know, I started out stocking shelves, and now I’m a manager, and I’ve got a great life. And it’s because Mitt Romney helped turn around this company.’”
On the political trickiness of abortion rights: “This is a weird issue, and it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out in the years ahead. For example, millenials, 18- to 29-year-olds. They are the most fervent in favor of a woman’s right to choose. No ifs, ands or buts. They are also, among all the age groups, the part of the electorate most likely to deem abortion morally wrong in all instances. That’s a pretty harsh view. Morally wrong in all instances. Fifty-two percent of millenials carry that view.”
On the need for presidential candidates to reveal themselves personally: “We’ve now had two presidential candidates in a row — John McCain and Mitt Romney — both who, for different reasons, one because of a military upbringing and the other because of who he is, a reticence to talk about who they are. And the problem is, when you run for president, the American people want to know who you are. It’s not just where you are on Senate Bill 454; it’s who you are inside.”
On why donors are sticking with American Crossroads despite recent losses: “(Our donors) have confidence because we’re transparent in how we deal with them, and we are different. Most of these super-PACs are scams. Our cost of overhead in the last election was seven-tenths of 1 percent of the money we raised. Our cost of legal compliance, accounting and fund-raising was less than seven-tenths of 1 percent.”
On Crossroads’ intent to get involved in picking Republican candidates: “We’ve taken a beating from groups involved in choosing candidates like (Richard) Mourdock and (Todd) Akin, and they don’t want anybody else to be playing in their space. … Our rule before was we’re not going to be involved in primaries. Now we’re going to be involved in primaries because we’re sick and tired of putting up money for Sharron Angle and Ken Buck and Mourdock.”
On Republicans broadening their appeal among voters: “The percentage of the non-white vote has grown from 13 percent in 1984 to 28 percent in 2012. We’re becoming a more diverse country, and that’s going to continue for some time.”
On why passage of an immigration bill matters to Republicans: “It does matter. The problem in the House is that 148 members of the House are Republicans with less than 10 percent Hispanics in their district.”
On the recent Supreme Court decision striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act: “The idea that there are 13 states in the old Confederacy that somehow or another are still bastions of racism is, I think, ridiculous in our age. Bush did sign the renewal of this specific provision because Congress passed it, but we were dubious about its necessity. I think it is right that we treat every state in the union the same with regard to election laws.”
On President Obama’s poor relations with members of Congress: “This will shock you. I talk to Democrats. I will not destroy their reputations by mentioning their names. But if you think Republicans are harsh in their view of the president and his relationship with Congress, then you should talk to Democrats.”
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