OTR Interviews

Rove's Take: Obama's Jobs Plan and the Key to Victory for the GOP Candidates

Former senior Bush adviser takes on the failure of president's jobs plan in Senate, 2012 road to the White House and more


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 21, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: President Obama's approval rating plummets to an all-time low! Former adviser to President Bush Karl Rove joins us live from Los Angeles. Good evening, Karl.

And I know we're 13 months out, but approval ratings -- we still pay a lot of attention to them and usually want a direction going up. His are going down. Your thoughts on the president's new numbers?

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR/FORMER BUSH SENIOR ADVISER: Well, he can't be happy. It's a 41 percent in the 11th quarter of his presidency. This in the modern era since Dwight Eisenhower only been exceeded by Jimmy Carter, who was at 31 percent at this point. No president's ever been reelected with approval numbers as low in the Gallup as President Obama's are now.

Now, the good news for him is, is that it's the next quarter and the quarter after that -- that is to say, the last three months of 2011 and the first three months of 2012 that seem to have a greater relationship to the actual outcome. But this is not going to a good place for the White House to be in. The 262 quarters that Gallup has done this analysis since the end of the Truman administration, this ranks in the bottom 16 percent.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it's sort of interesting, though. He's had - - I think most people would say he had -- well, he had success with Usama bin Laden, getting him. We have Qaddafi, of course. That's in another quarter and that's in NATO, but nonetheless, he gets credit. It's under his watch. And you've Al-Awlaki. I mean, he's had some foreign policy, military things that have happened that have been extremely favorable. Yet he doesn't seem to get the bounce. Are the approval ratings unrelated to your successes on the battlefield?

ROVE: They're related to the principal issue that exists during that time. If the country's dominated by war and you're successful in war, then your approval ratings rise. However, if, as in this case, the -- the issue of -- agenda is dominated by jobs and economy and you're not having great success there, you're in trouble.

I was taken aback by a September 1st Washington Post/ABC poll which showed that, I think it was, like, 47 percent said the president's economic plan -- economic program had not had any effect at all, and like, 37 percent said it had actually hurt the economy. So you had over 80 percent of the people saying What you have done, spending that $862 billion on the stimulus program and everything that you've done since has not made a positive difference for us. Either things are just as bad as they were or they've actually gotten worse as a direct result of your policies.

So these foreign policy successes -- remember, Usama bin Laden was killed in the last quarter. So it should have been reflected in those numbers, and whatever bounce he got from the killing of Usama bin Laden was small and short.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if those numbers, as you say -- or I mean, if those are the numbers -- I'll tell you why his latest jobs plan, which in many ways reflects the stimulus bill of February of '09, which is now it's only $447 billion -- it's about half -- but if you're telling me that 80 percent didn't like that or didn't feel an impact on it, he's now trying to do stimulus 2, and he's not going to win those 80 percent back at all. I mean, they're just going to say, Why are you doing this? Try something new.

ROVE: Yes. Well, that's what I put in my column yesterday in The Wall Street Journal. I -- you know, looking at this jobs plan, the president is basically saying, OK, I had a failed stimulus program before, so let's try the same thing again.

And this stimulus 2 has many provisions that are repeats of past policies that have not had an impact. For example, look, $175 billion, the largest element out of $477 billion stimulus 2 plan, goes to continuing the payroll tax holiday. Now, that undermines the solvency of Social Security.

But look, since we instituted the payroll tax holiday last December, the economy has not gotten appreciably better. And why not? Because temporary measures don't have a significant impact. People know it's a holiday, and holidays go away. So rather than investing the money or going out and purchasing a new car or whatever, they're using it to pay down their credit card debt and to squirrel it away.

You know, look, this is not going to work. I got to tell you, there was a vote today -- or excuse me, yesterday in Congress on this -- in the Senate, on the president's measure. He's now taking the stimulus 2 measure and breaking it up and sending it to the Congress. And obviously, the most powerful, most popular provision he thinks he's got going for him is the $35 billion to keep what he says -- keep from -- states from laying off teachers.

Now, this is really amazing. We actually ought to read these bills. I actually have read the bill. In the original stimulus 2 bill, which they've now broken up into pieces and sent to the Congress, there is Subtitle B, Section 209 that says the following. "The secretary -- the secretary of education shall not allocate funds to states unless, A, the state maintains for 2012 the state support for K through 12 in the aggregate or on the basis of expenditure per pupil at no less than the level of such support for state fiscal year 2011."

In other words, you got to spend as much money in 2012 as you did in 2011. And then it goes on to say the state will maintain support for K through 12 at the percentage of total revenues available at equal or greater the percentage provided for state fiscal year 2011. And then it goes on to say you got to do those things for 2013, as well -- excuse me, 2012 as well, next year.

So I mean, in other words, we've got to give $35 billion to the states in order to keep them from firing teachers, but in order for you to receive the funds, you've got to spend as much money as you spent last year and guarantee that you'll spend at least that much more money next year, as well.

In other words, you're not going to have to fire any teachers in order to get this money. This is to plus up. This is to encourage the state to hire more teachers or to pay them bigger salaries. So every working man and every working woman in America who's struggling to get by is going to have to pay money to the government or suffer a big increase in their -- in the debt that they're obligated for in order to pay public employees more money and to hire more of them!

That just doesn't make sense. It's called maintenance of effort, and it's in the bill!

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if he doesn't get any traction with the American people on politics, if 80 percent are not going to -- didn't like stimulus 1, 80 percent not likely going to like Stimulus 2 -- if his legislative agenda on jobs, as you've just outlined, he's hitting a wall, even losing some Democrats, probably the best thing he has going for him going into this election may be the Republican candidates themselves because you've got Governor Romney, who can't seem to get -- can't seem to move his numbers up -- Herman Cain today created a little bit of confusion over his position on abortion.

Representative Bachmann is reportedly losing her staff in New Hampshire. I don't know if any of this stuff is true, but there is that perception, and perception's very effective in politics. You've got Governor Rick Perry, who's taken a swing or two at each other -- I mean, that may be his -- what he's got going for him is the fact that the Republicans don't seem to have a dazzler.

ROVE: Well, look, we didn't look like we had a dazzler at this point 1979, either, and Jimmy Carter went down to defeat. I'm absolutely confident that at the end of the day, the Republican presidential primary process is going to nominate somebody who can beat President Obama.

Today, he is losing to Governor Romney in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, and he's losing to a generic Republican in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. And none of these Republicans are as well known or as seen as sharply and crisply as the president is.

You know, the president's in bad shape today. You have touched on an essential truth, however. He can't win by running for reelection on the basis of my great stimulus program, the spending, the deficits and the debt that I've run up, or the Affordable Care Act, "Obama care." He can't run on the basis of his big domestic accomplishments, so he's going to be stuck by trying to irradiate his Republican opponent.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, tell me this. I'm going to put you -- let me give you some hypotheticals. Speaker Gingrich just called up and said, Look, I want you to tell me, you know, my path to getting this nomination. What do you tell him to do?

ROVE: Well, he's had a good debate performance. What he's got to now do is take those debate performances, in which he has appeared as an adult on the stage, he set the right tone in many of the debates -- he is -- you know, he's getting a -- it's getting a little bit worn when he attacks the media. But Speaker Gingrich has clearly shown as the most knowledgeable and well-informed person on the stage.

He needs to take that off of the debate stage and start putting it in town hall meetings in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He needs to be as energetic in the campaign in those early states as he is during the 90 minutes in which he's on the debate stage and show as much information and as much knowledge and as much experience and understanding as he does during those debates.

But he's virtually, you know, invisible in those early states. And you can't just win this by showing up for, you know, 10 or 12 debates and not go in and pressing the flesh in the early states in a very aggressive fashion.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I have...

ROVE: I was in Chicago recently...


ROVE: I was in Chicago recently, and a guy said to me, he said, Newt Gingrich isn't going to win. And I said, Really? That's a pretty strong statement. Why do you say that? He said, Because I'm the board of the Field Museum, and last Saturday, Speaker Gingrich spent the entire day looking at our dinosaur collection.

You don't spend a Saturday in the fall before an election year in Chicago, not an early primary state, looking at the dinosaur collection. You spend it in Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada in another early primary state.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, hypothetical two. Now you're running Herman Cain's campaign. How does he win? What do you tell him to do?

ROVE: You need to get serious and stop shooting yourself. I mean, his comments on abortion have created questions. How he has handled the rollout of "9-9-9," has handled questions. You know, he does have some good news. Here's the -- the high-tech graphics department has given me this very snazzy graphic here. This is the average in tonight's RealClearPolitics average. Herman Cain at 26, average of the recent polls, Mitt Romney 25.5, Perry at 13, Gingrich at 9, and Ron Paul at 8.5.

Now, this is a temporary snapshot, of course. At this point four years ago, it was Rudy Giuliani front, Fred Thompson in second place and a distant third was John McCain. Now, this is the good news.

The bad news is that if you look inside the average and look at the individual polls, it appears that Herman Cain had peaked somewhere between the 6th and the 10th of October, and for the last 10 days or two weeks has been sliding in the polls and will probably move behind Mitt Romney in the next round of polls, unless his debate performance last week gave him a boost, rather than a decline. And I think it did give him a decline. He got -- he got beat up pretty bad about 9-9-9 and he hasn't been able to artfully defend it, and these comments about abortion are only going to add to his problems.

So the first thing is, focus on getting a message. Stick to the message. Explain it. Look informed. And don't be talking off of the cuff like you're talking, in a way that get questions -- raises questions in people's minds as to whether or not you're up to the job.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, Congressman Ron Paul because (INAUDIBLE) get a lot of e-mails. He's got a lot of people who are very passionate about him. If you run his campaign tonight, what are you going to -- how are you going to do this one?

ROVE: Well, look, he does have a small group that's very passionate about him. In fact, tonight, he is finishing up a so-called "money bomb," an Internet fund-raising event, that's going to raise him several million dollars.

The problem is, again, I'm not certain -- you know, he goes to Iowa, he goes to New Hampshire, he goes to South Carolina not as much as he probably should. But -- and he should do more, but he also seems to be having a message that -- and events that only take the people who are already for him and reconnect him to them.

He needs to broaden his base. He needs to figure out a message that reaches outside of the people that he's already got for him. They're passionate. They're well organized. But they seem to spend a lot of time talking to themselves, and he spends a lot of time talking to them and not people outside of those universes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Santorum, what are you going to do for him?

ROVE: Iowa. Got to spend all of your time in Iowa. And look, he's had good debate performances, except I think the other night, I think he was a little bit too aggressive and over the top. He looked -- he looked - - he looked unpleasant. And you got to launch your attacks, but you got to launch your attacks in a way that people don't -- you know, don't say, You know what? I -- I didn't like the attacker or the attack.

And -- but he's got -- he's got to camp out in Iowa and hope that he can break on through. Herman Cain gave him an advantage today. Now he's got a -- you know, his principle opposition in Iowa probably are Cain and Bachmann. He's got to grab people who are today for them. And Herman Cain, by saying what he said about abortion, has created an opening for him. Let's see if Rick is able to pick up some of that support.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, Governor Sarah Palin is not running, but everyone -- a lot of people are angling for her endorsement. If you get her endorsement, how do you use that?

ROVE: Well, you need to try and work her network because -- look, endorsements are great, but you get about half their supporters and all their detractors. And -- you know, and so it is -- it is good to get them, but you then need to make the best use of it by, in essence, having them work their networks or work your network in a way to encourage additional support.

For example, when Romney got Chris Christie's endorsement just before the last debate, the debate before last, I thought it was very interesting that that same day, the Romney campaign sent out to its donors a fund- raising appeal from Chris Christie. And I thought that was a smart move. And then you'll notice since then, there's not been -- you know, he hasn't sort of campaigned with him aggressively. It's because he wants him to touch his own network.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, it's always nice to see you. And this is going to be a fascinating, fascinating race because it certainly is far from over. Thank you, Karl.

ROVE: You bet. Absolutely. You bet. Thank you, Greta.