Former Bush Adviser Karl Rove on Barack Obama's 'Bitter' Comments and Rev. Wright

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," April 14, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: It was another big weekend on the campaign trail. First, Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, lashed out at FOX News, including my partner, Sean Hannity, over the weekend.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: What? Little old me?

COLMES: How could he? Take a listen to the audio.


REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, RETIRED PASTOR, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: FOX News can't understand that. O'Reilly will never get that. Sean Hannity's stupid fantasy will keep him forever stuck on stupid when it comes to comprehending how you can love a brother who does not believe what you believe."


COLMES: You're not stupid.

HANNITY: I — little old me? Whoa.

COLMES: Little ol' you...

HANNITY: Come back on the program, Jeremiah Wright.

COLMES: Yes, all right. We'd love to have you.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama's comment about bitterness in small towns has provoked a heated back and forth between all three presidential candidates, I should say, among all three presidential candidates. But there is evidence tonight that the story could be hurting Senator Obama right now.

According to news reports out of Montana Yellowstone County commissioner Bill Kennedy and Montana superdelegate — he is a Montana superdelegate — endorsed Hillary Clinton today because of Obama's comments.

Joining us now with more on these two big stories, FOX News contributor, Karl Rove.

Karl, it's hurt him in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and among the — with the superdelegate perceived in the general, if you look at the numbers that Barack Obama is still leading Hillary Clinton by a substantial margin. So does it help him or hurt him overall?

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISER: Well, look, this is not good news for him, and the more people hear about this and the more people listen to the entire speech, the more they're going to find this tone of arrogance and elitism come through. He not only — I suspect one of the reasons why the county commissioner of Montana may have come out for Senator Clinton was he also had sort of self-deprecating comments about people in Montana and Idaho, basically saying, look, I'm so good and I'm so strong, I'm even getting people in crazy out of the place — out of the way places like Butte, Missoula, Montana and people in Idaho to be supportive of me. This is not one of his better moments.

Watch our interview with Karl Rove

Watch the second half of our interview with Karl Rove

COLMES: You know, I just came up the other night with Andy Card. We were talking about how sometimes conservatives will say, you know, "San Francisco values" or talk about elites in big cities. Is that kind of the same thing, though, where people on the right will use those kind of words to besmirch another part of the country?

ROVE: Well, there is a sense in places like San Francisco that the, you know, that United States consists of a narrow sliver on the East Coast and the narrow sliver on the west coast and the rest of the country is uninteresting and unimportant, and that kind of attitude was evidenced in Senator Obama's comments, yes.

COLMES: If you were advising Barack Obama, what would you ask — tell him to do about this?

ROVE: Well, he shouldn't do what he did. He made the statement. He then tried to soften it before the actual words got out. They said well, here's what he really said, which is not what he really said. They then said it's true. He went out and said people are upset because this is true. He then made a half-hearted apology, then he went on the offense, and said shame on you, Hillary Clinton, shame on you, and then today at the Associated Press [gathering] he sort of basically said it was not his fault, it was everybody else's fault because it was how these remarks were interpreted. It was people deliberately misinterpreting these remarks where he said they'll cling to their guns or religion.

So, don't go through a six-step process from making the mistake to blaming it on somebody else. He shouldn't come out and say...

COLMES: He should make one clarification statement and let — and hope that gets it to go away, is what you're saying.

ROVE: That's right. And — that's right.

COLMES: He did say "some of the words I chose, I chose badly, they were subject to misinterpretation, and I regret that deeply." And I'm sure he does. Don't you see that as an opportunity for him to apologize?

ROVE: Well, I'm sure he does — he is sorry about those remarks because there're hurting him, but it was after that half-hearted apology that he went on the offense against Senator Clinton for even bringing up the issue.

My colleague — former colleague friend, Pete Wehner had an interesting piece today on National Review online in which he pointed out that Obama's attitude seems to be if you ever question me, it is wrong for you to question me and inappropriate, and that's where he's ended up this dialogue by saying it's not my fault, it's people misinterpreting me, and how dare you even bring this issue up.

HANNITY: Hey, Karl, actually Pete was on this program on Friday night, and I read the same piece. My first question is actually from his piece, and that is, he said this in a private setting in San Francisco, but does this expose a particular world view that he has, that he's been hiding?

ROVE: Sure, look, this is who he is. He's a Harvard-educated elitist whose attitude of — you know, sort of rural America was evinced in those — that short phrase. It's not the only example, however, in the speech of elitism.

He also makes a similarly damaging comment about foreign policy. He says foreign policy's the area where I am most confident that I know and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain, and goes on to cite as evidence the fact that he lived in Indonesia for four years as a pre-teen, that he studied international affairs at Columbia, that he traveled to Pakistan in college, and that he has family that he said is impoverished, living in small villages in Africa, as if these four things were enough to say that I know and understand the world more and better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain.

HANNITY: Yes, you also pointed out the way he went about defending this. The first remarks that he made about this, Karl, was that I said something that everybody knows is true!

That, what, people in parts of this country — people that get up in the morning, work hard, play by the rules, pay the taxes, make this country great, that they're bitter, clinging to their guns, clinging to their religion, that they're bigoted?

ROVE: Right.

HANNITY: That was amazing.

ROVE: That's actually — that's right. But that was actually the third thing he did. He made the statement. The second thing he did is his campaign issued — said well, here's what he really said, tried to put out some language that they thought would soften it, and then when the language came out, he then came on and said well, it's just true.

I mean we've seen this story before. We saw it on Reverend Wright where he came out first and said he never said anything controversial, and then it was, I wasn't in the pew when he said these things, then it was they were reprehensible, but I can't disavow them, and finally we got, well, if he hadn't left, the pastorage there at Trinity Church, I probably would have left the church.

HANNITY: Well, what do we make of this? There's this public persona of Barack Obama, that is, you know, discipline, optimistic, he gives a good speech, he's positive, and then there's the comments of Michelle Obama, then there's the Reverend Wright, then there's, well, he went to the Million Man March, then there's the friendship, he's friendly with an unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayres. Which Obama is the real Obama?

ROVE: Yes. There are two narratives here which he cannot allow to be developed for the general election, because both of them are destructive to him. One is that he's Adlai Stevenson, an elitist, smarter than everybody else, and feels that way. And the other one is that he is very left wing. The problem for him is, both are accurate narratives. He is an elitist, he does think he's smarter than other people. He is arrogant.


ROVE: And he is very, very left wing.

HANNITY: All right. More with the architect Karl Rove.

Coming up after the break, as we continue, breaking down the Obama "bitter" comment windfall. Will his controversy — remarks in this case, will it cost him a victory in Pennsylvania?



BARACK OBAMA, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I said something that everybody knows is true, which is that there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my hometown in Illinois who are bitter.



Senator Clinton and Senator McCain seem to be singing from the same hymn book saying I'm out of touch. I'm an elitist. It may be that I chose my words badly. It's not the first time or it won't be the last. But when I hear my opponents, both of whom spent decades in Washington saying I'm out of touch, it's time to cut through the rhetoric and look at the reality.


HANNITY: That was Senator Barack Obama attempting to explain on multiple occasions exactly what he meant when he said people in small town America are bitter and they're clinging to their guns and to their religion and so on and so forth.

We continue now with the architect, Karl Rove. Well, that was the explanation you just gave us in the last segment, Karl. I want to ask you this. We're going to show tape to our audience in a few minutes of Reverend Wright attacking me, Bill Ayres has attacked me. By the way, he mentioned you in the speech we're going to show a little bit later tonight.

Do you think it's good for Barack Obama to have Reverend Wright and Bill Ayres attacking me now on a regular basis because we've talked about these associations?

ROVE: No, they ought to be ignoring you, Sean. They shouldn't be attacking you.

HANNITY: Oh, that's not.

ROVE: It shows how sensitive they are to you.

HANNITY: Well — but in all serious, I would think that if I'm Barack Obama I would be telling Reverend Wright to try and stay out of controversy, wouldn't you?

ROVE: Yes, I'm not certain, incidentally, how much control he would have over Reverend Wright anymore, particularly after — you know, in his speech he defended him, but then in a follow-up interview, he basically said if he hadn't left the church, he would have — he — Senator Obama...


ROVE: ...would probably have left the congregation. I'm certain Reverend Wright isn't very happy about that.

HANNITY: All right. Let's talk a little bit about Hillary Clinton's response. She went out drinking over the weekend, and she's obviously been trying to exploit this gaff of Barack Obama's to maximize her political gain here. Do you think she's handled it well? Do you think if we look at, you know, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Oregon, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, obviously, a week from tomorrow, that she can come back?

ROVE: Well, she's helped herself in how she handled this. This is one of the first good attacks that she's made on him in a while. She launched it in an appropriate way, had well-modulated language, hung in there even when some of Obama's supporters were critical of her. And I think she made it — she made up some headway here, certainly blunted his drive in Pennsylvania and helped herself in Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, places with a lot of small towns where they do go to look — go to church and they do like their guns, and they are worried about the security of our borders.

HANNITY: Was she in trouble prior to this because of the Bosnia sniper issue?

ROVE: Oh sure.

HANNITY: Look at her firing a shot there. She's drinking a beer. But was she in trouble based on the fact that she had lied about the sniper fire, her husband came up with this cockamamie lie about it in response. All of this got blunted because of the Obama controversy. She's one of the luckiest politicians in that sense, right?

ROVE: Well, she is, and again, it's a self-inflicted wound that's helping her, not necessarily her. I mean it's — this campaign, she's run an appallingly bad campaign, she's been saved several times by the mistakes of others or by circumstances, and I suspect this probably seals her victory in Pennsylvania and does give her an advantage in Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia.

HANNITY: Yes. All right..

ROVE: What's interesting to me is North — whether or not it will help her in North Carolina where a strong African-American population and then a relatively liberal Democratic Party in some of the big cities are going to help Obama. But is this going to help put her in the balance of the state?

HANNITY: Yes. Should — what should Senator McCain's reaction be here,in your view?

ROVE: Well, I think he did a good thing the other day. He stepped up and said, you know, Senator Obama was wrong to suggest that people cling to their guns, their faiths and their beliefs because they're bitter and identified it as being elitist, and — which it is, and that — and arrogant, which it is, and I think he did himself some good that way as well.

COLMES: Karl, do you think there's any truth to what Obama said? Do you think there are some people who might be bitter, angry, feel that life didn't give them a fair shake, who may cling on to whatever it is that they cling on to as a response? Is there any truth whatsoever to that?

ROVE: Alan, Alan, the point he was making was this is the dominant culture in rural America. It wasn't that there might be a person or two who feels this way. But this is how he characterized rural America.

My view of rural America is different. I find people in rural America are people of deep faith, they love the outdoors, many of them make a conscious decision to remain in rural America because of the quality of life and because they have ties to the land or they want their children to grow up in that kind of an environment.

I don't find a lot of people in rural America, I certainly don't find the dominant view to be I'm so bitter that I'm going to hold on to my gun or I'm going to — you know it was almost Marxisian, in this, that "they cling to their religion." I mean it's sort of like "it's the opiate of the masses" instead of this is something that fulfills their lives and gives them a great of...

COLMES: I'm not sure he was talking about most people. I think he may — he didn't use the word some people, but I wonder if that's truly what he meant to say, that there are people who do fall into that category.

ROVE: Well.

COLMES: I'm not sure he meant to say the overwhelming majority of people.

ROVE: Well, I've listened to the tape, and it is clear the implication is this is what small-town America is about in places in Pennsylvania and all across the Midwest. He — he clearly didn't say, here's the dominant — frame of people in rural America, and here's the small frame of some people who are bitter. He uses this in broad brush strokes to characterize people in rural America.

COLMES: I want to give you an opportunity to respond to what we're going to play a tape a little bit of Bill Ayres, who references you, and he says Karl Rove participated in voter suppression as a chief tactic. We have a tape we'll be playing later of him saying that.

ROVE: Yes.

COLMES: How do you react to that?

ROVE: Well, absolutely not true, in fact, President Bush got 12 million more votes in 2004 than he got in 2000. If we're trying to suppress the vote, why did we get more votes? And look, I don't think I need to be lectured by a guy who's an unrepentant terrorist who has no apologies to make for bombing U.S. military installations and government offices in the 1970s and saying the things that he said then and still defends today.

COLMES: Let me go back to the issue of Obama and the issue of elitism. You know it seems to me that the Republicans would say very often about John Kerry, look how liberal he is, every Democratic candidate — you know, every four years liberal, liberal, liberal, elitist, and now we're talking about Obama being an elitist. Is this the typical Republican playbook against Democratic candidates?

ROVE: Yes — no, look, I remember the 2000 election slightly differently than just going out and saying liberal, liberal, liberal. In fact, I remember it quite differently than that. But was John — was John Kerry a liberal? Yes. Was he an elitist? You bet you. Is Barack Obama a liberal? Yes, he is. Is he an elitist? I think we're beginning to see that he is.

COLMES: As far as the liberal part, not that there's anything wrong with that,


COLMES: Nothing wrong with that.

ROVE: That's right, Alan.

COLMES: Thank you very much for being with us.

ROVE: Thank you.

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