Human Events Reporter Hope Hodge spoke with Karl Rove, senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to former President George W. Bush, about presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney and key tenets of a winning strategy for the 2012 presidential campaign. She also captured his key points in an address to a Young America’s Foundation event at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Karl Rove: “Sure he can [win]. Will he? I don’t know; that’s what the election is all about.”
Romney’s biggest roadblocks
“I think the question is going to be how strong and powerful is (Romney’s) argument going to be for economic growth. How strong is his emphasis going to be on reform. If he comes across as a reform conservative who’s focused on growing the economy and putting America back to work, then he’s going to be in good shape.
“And we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks very strong strains of him. Talking about how we need to put America back to work, talking about how we need to reduce tax rates and simplify the code. Having him talk candidly about the problem with entitlements and endorsing things like premium support, those are all good signs.”
Issues in Romney’s favor
“The economy, the deficits, spending, entitlements. The [Patient Protection and] Affordable care act is a big issue. This is something that really matters to a lot of people, and him being able to go on the offense not only to say ‘let’s repeal it,’ but to say, ‘here’s what I’m going to do [that] is going to be really useful.”
States Romney needs to take
“Three, two, one—Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina. Three historically Republican states that went Democrat; Florida and Ohio—together they have 49 electoral college votes. Swung into the Democratic column in ’08, but were Republican in ’04 and swung by a smaller margin. And if Republicans win those five states, then all they need to win is one more state—New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, or Nevada.”
President Obama’s present position in the minds of the American people
“We’re right at the end of a really ugly Republican presidential process; it’s not over yet. Today [Tuesday, April 30] in the Gallup, it is Obama 46, Romney 47. Shouldn’t be that way. We have a popular incumbent. They like him; the American people like him. They don’t agree with a lot that he’s done as president, but he came into office with the best wishes of the American people and they like him. And he’s personally popular.
“But, they don’t like what he’s done in office. They expected something different. He had one of the best-run presidential campaigns, and you step back and take a look at the message of the 2008 campaign, it was like, you know, just watching Mickey Mantle pounding it out of the park. Some of the best lines of modern American politics: ‘I don’t want to be the president of red states or blue states, but the United States’—that’s a brilliant line.
“The American people were just ready to turn the page, and along came this guy who sounded like a centrist: ‘I’m going to cut taxes for everybody who makes less than 250K a year.’
“He spends roughly four words devoted to cutting taxes … for every word devoted to raising taxes.
“Also [he was] was really smart in how he talked about the deficit. Also talked about the deficits under the Bush years, saying ‘I’m going to cut them in half by the end of my first term in office.
“People had been led to believe (Obama) would be a centrist, and he has not been. And that’s the first and most important thing that Romney needs to understand.”
Romney should focus on three key strategic ingredients
“He needs to take President Obama on his own words and own actions, get him on video saying these things and hold him to account for it in a respectful manner. This is not about getting angry, this isn’t about getting belligerent, it isn’t about pounding the table. This is simply about saying, ‘this is what the president said he was going to do when he was in office, and here’s what he’s done’—the facts.
“The second [key strategic ingredient]: Mr. Romney needs to understand that he’s going to have to absorb a lot of blows. This is not going to be the normal presidential re-election year. The presidency is a powerful presence in American minds. You have a lot of authority and prestige in office and if you use it effectively, it makes it relatively easy for a president to get re-elected. But President Obama has not used the power and prestige of the office to prepare for his re-election.
“Last year—do you remember what the topics of the State of the Union were last year? Three of them. The most compelling and centered issues in America’s life as a nation: High speed rail, high speed Internet, and countless green jobs. The last one doesn’t sound too good after Solyndra. The first two are just plain weird.
“I defy you to tell me what the theme of this year’s State of the Union was. You think what are the two biggest signature accomplishments of president Obama—the stimulus bill, which got not one word in this year’s State of the Union address, and the Affordable Care Act, which got 44 words and two sentences.
“Obama campaign strategy: Kill Romney. We’re going to see this. We’re going to see it every day of the campaign. And it is not going to work to President Obama’s advantage unless and until Mitt Romney stops replying to it. They want to see where these attacks are going. We’re going to have this constantly throughout the campaign.
“Third key strategic ingredient for Romney campaign: understand it’s not merely enough to set the record straight or to use the president’s own words and own statements and his own pledges and promises and statements to hold him accountable, but it’s also very important for the American people to get a sense of who Mitt Romney is and what it is that he’ll do. They want to know what he’s going to do in office. They want to know that he’s got an idea of what he wants to achieve.
“Romney’s going to be tested. What’s he all about? How authentic is he? Who is he? You don’t have to agree with someone 100 percent of time to kind of cave and say, you know what, ‘I trust him.’
“Romney needs to lay out an agenda. And it needs to be what he believes. This is not just about Obama did or didn’t deliver. It’s not just about going toe to toe with Obama, ‘as he throws a punch at me I can defend myself and push back.’ It’s going to have to be ‘what is it am I going to do if I get elected.’ And that’s really tough for people to do. That’s conventional politics.
“The stuff of laying out a vision sometimes comes across to the media as prosaic. That’s strategic.”
A few useful tactics
“First of all, (the Romney camp) has to worry about money. I add it all up, Obama is likely to have $1.2 billion dollars. So Romney has to worry about money and close the gap. He can’t be like McCain… Obama vs. McCain $850 million to $525 million. So Romney needs to narrow that gap.
“Romney also needs to be careful about his travel and what states he focuses on. One way to look at this is 12—that’s how much closer the electoral college is going to be in 2012 if Romney only wins the states that McCain carried. Because between ’08 and ’12 we reapportioned the electoral college.
“This is going to be one of the most interesting contests in recent memory.”