Karl Rove on Clinton, Obama Complaining Over 'Tough' Debate Questions

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," April 18, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, CO-HOST: Well, from the pope to politics, and there is plenty of it tonight.

Hillary and Bill Clinton double teaming Obama, slamming him for complaining about his treatment at Wednesday night's debate in Philadelphia. The Clintons suggesting Obama is a whiner who can't take the heat.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY), 2008 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that some of my opponent's supporters and my opponent are kind of complaining about the hard questions. Well, having been in the White House for eight years and seeing what happens in terms of the pressures and stresses on a president; that was nothing.


H. CLINTON: I'm with Harry Truman on this: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. And just speaking for myself, I am very comfortable in the kitchen, so —

BILL CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Well, they've been beating up on her for 15 months. I didn't hear her whining when he said she was untruthful in Iowa or called her the Senator from Punjab.


KELLY: Here with us now: FOX News Contributor Karl Rove, former chief strategist for President Bush and the man known as the architect of Mr. Bush's campaigns. Hi, Karl.


KELLY: I'm well, thanks.

Click here to watch the interview

Late today, Obama's campaign responded to those attacks, saying and I quote, "Considering the fact that Senator Clinton sat onstage at the last debate and complained to all of America that she always gets the first question, her blatant hypocrisy here is stunning." That according to her campaign spokesman.

So, Karl, who's got the better argument, that Obama's the whiner or his retort that she's whined a little bit herself in the past?

ROVE: Well, I hate to say it, but I think Bill Clinton's got the best argument. But none of them have a particularly good argument, in my opinion. This is not exactly the note that I think that is good for the Clintons to end on, and it certainly not a good note for Obama to end his Pennsylvania campaign on.

But, I think, Bill Clinton got it close which he said, you know, in essence, I see that Obama is complaining, but I didn't hear, you know, him complaining or anybody else complaining when these unfair attacks were launched on Hillary earlier in the campaign. That's the best of the three notes but not the best that could be.

KELLY: Well, I'll tell you. The controversy over this debate, Karl, is not dying down. There are folks on the left that who are outraged that the first 40 to 45 minutes were spent talking about what some would say are issues of character, what others say are just things that only political insiders talk about.

And MoveOn.org, this left wing George Soros organization, guess who they blame — you. They said in a petition — they have a petition that reads and I quote, "Moderators George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson spent the first 50 minutes obsessed with distractions that only political insiders care about — channeling Karl Rove, they directed a video question to Barack Obama asking if he loves the American flag or not. Seriously."

Now, in fact, the question was, they wanted to ask him why he doesn't wear the flag on his lapel pin.

But, Karl, have you been talking to George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson, do you feel that they were channeling you on Wednesday night's debate?

ROVE: Well, there is no evidence that I talked to either Gibson or Stephanopoulos, therefore, I must have been talking to them and manipulating them. I'm really that good.
Now, look. Can I offer what I think the right answer would have been for both the Clintons and for Obama?

The best answer for the Clintons would have been to say, look, we understand he didn't like that but these are kind of tough questions that are going to be asked by the Republicans and by voters in the general election. And if you can't answer them now inside your own primary, it's going to be a sign of your electability in the fall and that really matters to us. It's really important for us to elect a Democrat because — and then bridge back to the big arguments and the issues that you want to talk about.

They got stuck in the process. They're stuck in arguments about the process, is this fair, is that not fair, nah nah, boo, boo — instead of, you know, bridging to the point that they want to make. Look, he's going to get these tough questions sooner or later and then going back to the thing that they want to end on, which is the reasons why Pennsylvania ought to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Obama's best argument was to say nothing. Don't engage on this stuff. Just go on. You know, he has succeeded in the race thus far when he's been, you know, sort of the aspiring aspirational figure. He doesn't look particularly good when he brings himself down to be just another ordinary politician, a senator from the south side of Chicago, which is what he had been for much of the last several weeks.

KELLY: But, why on earth do you think he did that? Why did he come out and say, "Oh, you know, she was twisting the knife" and talking about how the American people don't want to hear those kinds of questions? I mean, you've advised President Bush in the course of two campaigns for president successfully. I'm sure there were plenty of debates where he came back saying, "I thought they were harder than me than the other guy." How do you advise a presidential candidate? I mean, what would have made Obama do this?

ROVE: Yes. Well, Megyn, you need to realize what's going on right now inside the campaign. Right now inside the campaign, it's high stakes.

Remember, a couple of weeks ago, Obama probably thought: I've got a chance to take away Pennsylvania and thereby end the contest. And now they've had a couple of missteps, the "bitter" comment, a poor debate performance, a couple of other things. And as a result, I think it's pretty well conventional wisdom now that what — the momentum he had in closing the race has stalled and she's got a chance to win Pennsylvania and stay alive until May 6.
So, inside the campaign, they're angry. You know, they're frustrated. They're exhausted. They've been at this for a year and a half. Pressure is high. Emotions are running high and people get angry. And when they get angry and lose their objectivity, they do things like they did this afternoon and make this comment.

KELLY: Karl Rove, thanks so much for being here. Good luck with that MoveOn petition.

ROVE: You bet, Megyn. Thanks, Megyn.

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