OTR Interviews

Rove: Trump the 'Flavor of the Week'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 20, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: We suspect that Karl Rove thinks there's is no way Donald Trump can pull off a win. He's even called a run for president by Trump a "joke."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR/FORMER BUSH SENIOR ADVISER: He's an interesting candidate who had a business background and could have contributed to the dialogue. But his full -- full embrace of the birther issue means that he's off there in the nutty right and is now an inconsequential candidate. I'm shocked. The guy's smarter than this. And you know, the idea that President Obama was not born in Hawaii, I mean, you know, making that the centerpiece of his campaign, means that he's just, you know, now a -- you know, a joke candidate. Let him go ahead and announce for election on "The Apprentice." The American people are not going to be hiring him, and certainly, the Republicans are not going to be hiring him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: But is Karl Rove right? In at least one new poll -- and there are lots of polls out there -- Donald Trump leads the pack. Out of eight big possible presidential contenders, Donald Trump is nabbing 26 percent of the vote, 9 points more than the next name, Governor Mike Huckabee.

Joining us is Karl Rove, former senior adviser to President George W. Bush and author of the book "Courage and Consequence." And Karl, I should note -- good evening, Karl, by the way -- is that the Washington Post has a new poll with ABC, and Governor Mitt Romney is at 15 percent, Donald Trump is down at 8 percent.

ROVE: Yes. Look, the poll in question that has him in the lead in the Republican primary is by PPP, a Democrat-oriented firm -- not a Democrat-oriented firm, a Democrat firm in North Carolina, a left-wing operation. I don't trust its numbers. I'll give you a poll...

VAN SUSTEREN: You don't trust them -- how they don't do it, or are they trying to skew it?

ROVE: I think -- don't think they do a good job polling Republican primaries. But I will give you a poll in which he does lead. The Pew Charitable Trust poll came out today and asked the question of, Whose name has been mentioned more than anybody else's name? And among Republicans, 39 percent said in recent weeks, Trump's name had been mentioned more than anybody else's. Romney's 12, 4 percent Palin's. That's why he's, in the PPP poll, doing well and doing well in some other polls, not leading, but you know, 8 percent in the ABC/Washington Post poll.

It's because he's jumped out there. He's grabbed -- he's an energetic personality. He gets on television and he says outrageous things. He goes everywhere on television that will accept him. And right now, he's the flavor of the week. But I don't think he's going to be as durable as some might expect him to be.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, the birther issue -- and you and I have discussed that and it made lots of headlines and everyone seized upon it. Everyone's asking the birther questions, so that seems to be -- you know, consume everybody. But let me ask you about the issues instead.

ROVE: And on birther...

VAN SUSTEREN: OK.

ROVE: Just one point. You'll notice he said 75 percent of Republicans agree with him that Obama was not born in the United States. That's simply not true. There's not a single poll that shows that 75 percent of Republicans agree with Donald Trump that Barack Obama was born someplace outside the United States of America.

VAN SUSTEREN: You say he's making it up?

ROVE: Well, what I'm saying is that he's made a series of statements like this. For example, at one point, he said, you know, Nobody knows who this guy was. I mean, nobody saw him as a young person. The governor of Hawaii attended graduate school with his father and saw him as a young child. At one point, Trump said, Nobody knows him from college. One of my White House deputies was his classmate at Harvard Law School and helped get him elected president of the Law Review.

So you know, it's one thing to say, I'm -- you know, the president ought to put forth his birth certificate and I don't understand why he isn't. But it's another thing to go out there and do what Trump has done, which is to feed this paranoia that President Obama was somehow not born in the United States of America.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I think, to some extent, the media is a little complicit in this because every time he gets on a television, people ask him.

ROVE: Sure. In fact, Donald Trump's consigliero, Michael Cohen, told me this weekend that this was not Trump's fault, it was the media's fault because the media was always asking Trump about this and that Trump wanted to talk about other things. I said, Well, fine. Gratuitous advice. Next time the media asks about it, say, I've said all I'm going to say about the issue. I want to talk about the big issues in America, concerns -- concern about deficits, debt, jobs and the respect for America in the world.

And of course, you know, Cohen called me back later and said, Oh, Mr. Trump is going to do exactly that. And then, of course, Monday, he went out and did what he did, which is to say, I've got deep doubts about it and give these series of interviews in which he's continued to escalate the issue, not step back from it.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you think he escalates it and it's not so much the media escalating it.

ROVE: I think it's everybody. I mean, it's a -- look, he's good television, and so -- and he likes doing these things. So you know, he's out there carrying around a bag of grenades and reaching into it and pulling a pin and throwing them, and the media love that. And you know, they may -- they may look at him a little skeptically, but George Stephanopoulos loved having him on and asking, Well, what did your investigators do when you sent them to Hawaii? I mean, and Trump loved having that question asked.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, I actually -- I was going to ask you whether or not he could set aside all the birther issues and controversy and noise and actually be a serious candidate and even -- I was going to go through some of the issues like health care, something he has taken a position that's consistent with many Republicans, which is that the mandate is not constitutional.

ROVE: Well, he's also, however, written a book in which he said, We need to have universal health care like Canada, which is suspiciously very much like "Obama care." So you know, he has written a book in which he has in black and white said, We ought to have a system like Canada. I know it's anathema to our -- to, you know, free enterprise values, but by God, we got to do it because that's the way people are going to get health care. So we got a little bit of a conflict here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I guess then you've got the same situation with the abortion issue.

ROVE: Right. He was pro -- pro- abortion and now he says he's pro-life. Same on taxes. He's endorsed a -- you know, a millionaires' tax, a tax on rich people, raising taxes on the wealthy. And now today he says -- in fact, this week, apparently, has signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge and says he will not support a tax increase.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does it make him impossible to be a candidate? I mean -- I mean, he -- I mean, based on those -- you know, those changes of views, I mean, has he -- will the Republican Party forgive him, so to speak, and allow him to change or to emerge or say, you know, circumstances of the world have changed, or is he just -- he's dead in the water?

ROVE: You know, we'll see. But I mean, if you say -- if you belittle Ronald Reagan saying, I'm not certain there's anything there behind the smile, and you attack George W. Bush as a standard routine in your stump speech, that's not going to win you a lot of friends in the -- you know, if you call Nancy Pelosi the best, if you say Barack Obama's the greatest -- I mean, these kind of things will come back to haunt you in a Republican primary.

VAN SUSTEREN: So I guess what you're saying, he's dead in the water.

ROVE: Well, I don't know about that. We'll see. I mean (INAUDIBLE) question is will people want entertainment. I think at the end of the day, they're going to want substance and a concrete plan to get our country going in the right direction.

I don't think they're going to be eager to go for a guy -- look, this is a guy -- his priorities, take a look, Opensecrets.com has got all of his political contributions, in fact, every American's political contributions that have been filed with the Federal Election Commission in there. Donald Trump's given roughly $400,000 over the last 20 years to federal candidates and committees. Biggest recipient, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, nearly $100,000. Among others who routinely received campaign contributions from him, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Charlie Rangel, Tom Daschle, Harry Reid.

I mean, these are people who the average Republican is not going to be too enthusiastic about somebody who thought those kind of people were worthy of their consistent political support.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, he certainly has hit some nerves with things like, you know, having, you know, Iraq pay for the war or having -- you know, this things -- what he says about China. I mean, he's hitting a huge nerve. I mean, he is moving the -- the dial.

ROVE: He's getting attention. I'm not certain he's moving the dial. He is moving the dial on some things like his protectionist language about getting tough with China. But I think things like saying, You know what? We're going to take all of Libya's oil and we're going to tell the -- we're going to leave our troops in Iraq and tell the Iraqis they're going to remain there until they give us $1.4 trillion in oil -- you know, it sounds good at first, but then think about it. That would be an invitation to an open shooting war in Iraq. We've now decided to occupy the country and tell them that we're not leaving until we got $1.4 trillion. If that's the case, let's go back and occupy Great Britain. They owe us a lot of money from World War II.

(LAUGHTER)

ROVE: Let's go take Germany and France. I mean, you know...

VAN SUSTEREN: Actually, Great Britain might not be so bad! I sort of like London!

ROVE: Exactly.

VAN SUSTEREN: We better hurry before the wedding, though!

ROVE: But my sense is the Brits, the French and the Germans wouldn't like it if we said, We're staying until you pay -- until you give us money that we've now decided you owe us, and neither will the Iraqis.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. OK. Well, let's move on to President Obama. And actually, you got an op-ed piece coming out tomorrow in The Wall Street Journal having to do with the whole fight over the deficit and the -- and the debt.

ROVE: Yes. Look, I think the president is trying to set the Republicans up. I was intrigued, Geithner -- Secretary of Treasury Geithner -- on Sunday said on -- on -- on the Sunday morning talk programs, if they don't pass the debt ceiling, it's the Republicans' responsibility for whatever happens in the economy.

On Monday, Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said -- even though he voted against raising the debt ceiling in '06, said if the Republicans don't vote to raise the debt ceiling, a clean debt ceiling bill without encumbering it with any provisions that rein in spending, the economy is their fault.

On Tuesday, Peter Welch issues -- a congressman from Vermont -- issues a letter signed by 114 Democrats and then personally attacks Republican majority leader Eric Cantor by saying that if the Republicans stand in the way of a clean debt ceiling bill, it will be -- Eric Cantor will be responsible for letting loose, you know, financial dogs of war, or something like that.

There's clear what's happening. We got S&P -- Standard & Poor comes out and says, We're downgrading the U.S. debt picture. We have the Federal Reserve getting ready to wrap its QE2, where it was pumping up the economy. It's going to warp it up in June and stop buying -- printing money to buy U.S. treasuries, which drove up stock prices and kept interest rates down.

So what I think they're doing is, they're saying, OK, let's sort of rope-a-dope the Republicans. We hit the debt ceiling in May, but we can take care of it until July. And then when the economy starts, if there's any kind of concern in the economy about this, if QE2 begins to inject a little instability into the bond markets or the stock market, then we, the Democrats, blame the Republicans for insisting on something other than a clean debt ceiling.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you're right, the Republicans are sitting there, ignoring this.

ROVE: Well, that was my point. My point was, Get ahead of it. Republicans are talking about this, but my point was, in the piece, is the Republicans in the House and Senate ought to be talking to each other, and sooner rather than later ought to sort of agree on a proposal that puts tough spending and deficit caps into that vote on the debt ceiling and get a position so that it's not the Republicans without a position and Obama saying clean debt ceiling vote, it is the Republicans with tough efforts to rein in spending and put the deficit going down, not up. And let the president then try and play that game.

VAN SUSTEREN: But aren't the Republicans doing that? I mean, everybody's out of town. Some of it has been outsourced to these little -- you know, these little -- like the "gang of six" is doing it with Democrats, Republicans. I mean, everything's being sort of outsourced a little bit.

ROVE: Well, what...

VAN SUSTEREN: Are they -- are they really talking to each other?

ROVE: Well, that's what provoked it. I had -- I happened to have -- I happened to have a series of meetings with House and Senate Republicans, conversations with people who are deeply interested in this issue, going back over the last two weeks. And what I found was there were people with some interesting ideas in either the House or the Senate, but they weren't talking to each other.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why?

ROVE: Well, it's just -- you know, the -- you got to have -- you got to encourage people. So one of the...

VAN SUSTEREN: But you're saying that the Democrats have got this whole sort of elaborate plan!

ROVE: Sure, they do.

VAN SUSTEREN: They're outfoxing...

ROVE: Think about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... the Republicans!

ROVE: Geithner goes out on Sunday and says A. Monday, the ranking Democrat on Ways and Means Committee says, Let me repeat A. And on Tuesday, a guy speaking on behalf of 114 other Democrats says, Let me repeat A. (INAUDIBLE) see a pattern here.

VAN SUSTEREN: And the Republicans are just -- but the Republicans are just sitting there just watching!

ROVE: Well, and that's -- and that's why I wrote the column. I think the Republicans need to get ahead of this and they -- because it will give them the upper hand in the negotiations and it will help them win the public opinion war. American people don't want to pass a clean debt ceiling. That is to say, they don't want a blank check for more of what we've seen over the last two years.

President Obama has increased discretionary domestic spending by 84 percent...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: ... afraid not to vote for the debt ceiling to go up?

ROVE: Well, look -- look, if -- here's the deal. Put a reasonable effort out there. We had Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, a bipartisan effort to restrain spending during the 1980s. It worked. We ought to take a look at those kind of spending caps and deficit caps and put them into -- into -- into practice during the debt ceiling vote as part of the debt ceiling vote, so the American people can have confidence, and more importantly, the markets can have confidence that we're serious about restraining spending and getting this deficit moving down, not up.

The president did not issue -- in Sean's program, Governor Pataki made an excellent point. President Obama does not have a plan for deficit reduction. He has a doodle. And that doodle is...

VAN SUSTEREN: A doodle?

ROVE: A doodle.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: What's a doodle?

ROVE: The doodle is just...

VAN SUSTEREN: When you doodle on something? ... A doodle?

ROVE: Yes, he's just -- he's just, like, doodled on it. And his -- and his -- and his doodle is, is let me use this for politics. And the American people and the bond markets do not want, you know, that lack of seriousness. They want a serious effort to rein in spending and do something about these deficits.

VAN SUSTEREN: So who's the Republican leader?

ROVE: Well, look, you have McConnell in the Senate, you have Boehner in the House. But look, you've got...

VAN SUSTEREN: Are they leading?

ROVE: Well, yes, they are. But -- and today, I raised this issue with some leadership aides who said, yes, we're having this conversation. My point is, don't let them drag on. Don't let them dawdle. Move these -- move the conversations along and get a common sense common position sooner rather than later.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's talk about 2012 for just a few minutes. Nobody has officially declared...

ROVE: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... but nobody expects anyone -- is there someone who - - you know, looking ahead, who's got a very -- who's got a strategy that looks like a smart strategy? Not who do you want or -- who's got the smartest strategy?

ROVE: Well, look, so far, I mean, Haley Barbour is doing better than I think people anticipated. Tim Pawlenty is much improved as a candidate. Romney has sort of stood atop this process for a long period of time, you know, being very economical in his words and his actions, but clearly, underneath the surface, building a gigantic fund-raising machine that's now, you know, coughing its way into action, and I think we'll see results in July from it when he files his Federal Election Committee report. But you know, and -- and, you know, there are a lot of people who are thinking about doing it.

VAN SUSTEREN: But who's got the best strategy...

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: ... point is, we won't know the strategy until they actually get out there and begin to...

VAN SUSTEREN: You can't see it begin to happen and...

ROVE: We begin -- we can get the, you know, sort of vague outlines of it. You know, Governor -- Governor Barbour is going to, you know, make South Carolina a big one. Romney is going to make a strong effort in New Hampshire and is going to, I think, try and make a strong effort under the radar scope in Iowa so that he surprises people. Michele Bachmann going to make a big, big deal in her home state -- or you know, where she was...

VAN SUSTEREN: Born.

ROVE: ... born, Iowa, and -- because -- and represents a district next door. I mean, you know, you're going to see -- you know, you're going to see these efforts to sort of figure out how they're going to put together the puzzle. But I think we're going see the message, which is the most important element of what they have to say and do, become clear as the summer goes on.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, thank you. Always nice to see you.

ROVE: You bet. Thanks, Greta.