OTR Interviews

Rove: Obama will benefit and suffer from gay marriage stance, but issue isn't a game-changer

Karl Rove takes on the politics of the president's gay marriage stance, the new job numbers and much more


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 10, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: The November election stakes are high. They could not be higher. So what do you think are the biggest topics on the news websites today? If you guessed jobs, the economy or even health care, you guessed wrong! The news websites' top stories are whether Mitt Romney was a bully 50 years ago and who is dining with President Obama at the fund-raiser at George Clooney's Hollywood house.

Chances are, if you are like 12 million other unfortunate Americans and do not have a job, you may have time to read all about that stuff. But no doubt, you would much rather have a job. A job is what really matters to you.

So with so many Americans still out of work, do voters really care what Governor Romney did when he was a teenager or who the president's having dinner with tonight?

Karl Rove joins us. Good evening, Karl.


VAN SUSTEREN: I'm very well. You want to take a stab at that one, Karl, about how the news media seems to be at least not completely or totally but at least certainly there's a significant amount of discussion about Governor Romney 50 years ago and the dining tonight of President Obama.

ROVE: Yes. Well, the George Clooney fund-raiser in Los Angeles is catnip to the press because it brings together the president and a celebrity in Hollywood with a lot of people who walk the red carpet at the Academy Awards.

It's not substantive. It really has very little impact on the outcome of the election, but they like covering it because it melds a couple of things they like.

The other one's interesting to me. The Washington Post's rather extensive story looking at what Mitt Romney may or may not have done when was in high school, as you say, nearly 50 years ago -- that clearly is rather odd journalism. I'm not certain we learn much about that.

Governor Romney said, If I did anything that offended people, I apologize, I don't remember the incident in question. I'm not sure that it adds much to our knowledge of him, and really, frankly, is a waste of time and energy and effort by what used to be one of the great newspapers in America.

They're devoting this kind of resources to this kind of a story on the Republican candidate? I don't remember them, you know, examining some of, you know, the lost -- Barack Obama's lost years at Occidental or what he did as a community organizer or an in-depth large story investigating, you know, his -- Reverend Wright's comments. I just don't remember that. Maybe there was there and I missed it. But it seems to me to be silly journalism.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, jobs -- that's what so many Americans talk to when you actually get out from the Beltway and you go across the country. People are scared to death. Their houses are underwater. They can't sell their houses to move to a job because they can't get rid of the house.

How -- I mean, is jobs still the quintessential -- the issue for November?

ROVE: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Every poll you see has the economy and jobs way out in front of any other issue. Everything pales by significance. It is generally followed by deficits and health care and debt, but I mean, way out in front is the economy and jobs.

This is why the administration welcomes things like a discussion of celebrity dinners in Los Angeles or Governor Romney's pranks when he was in high school. They'd like to be talking about anything but jobs.

There's a reason why, and it all has to do with numbers, Greta. Remember the jobs report last week? For every one person who got a job, there were three people who dropped out of the workforce altogether. One out of every six Americans is unemployed, working part-time but needing desperately to get full-time work, or so discouraged, they've dropped out of the workforce.

And we know people -- everybody knows somebody who's in that one out of six. Seventy-five to eighty percent of the American people think we're still in a recession. Two thirds of the American people think that the president's policies have either had no effect on the economy or have hurt the economy.

And then we saw this poll today from Gallup that was released. People -- they were asked if -- After the election, do you think if Mitt Romney wins, will he do a good job on the economy or do you think President Obama will? And 61-33 say that about Romney, 52-44 say it about President Obama. This is why they -- team Obama wants to talk about anything but jobs, economy and what are we going to do to get our country going again.

VAN SUSTEREN: But as a candidate, either the president or Governor Romney, between now and November -- I mean, what can you really say on jobs that you haven't already said ad nauseam to the point where we all practically can mouth their speeches? Doesn't it really matter how the numbers actually play out, and come November, how it really is and not what is said between now and November? Because we've all heard it now!

ROVE: Yes. Well, we have, but we also want to hear the next step. And this is what's really important for Romney. It's not simply for Romney to critique, as I've just done, what President Obama's done. The challenge for Mitt Romney is to find a way between now and the November elections to systematically lay out what it is that he will do in order to get the economy growing again. What is it that he's going to do? And to say it in terms that people can get their hands around and have a discussion with the American people where they get comfortable with it.

You're right, we know -- the numbers themselves will have a big impact. But at end of the day, it will be the numbers themselves plus a vision on the part of Mitt Romney that will decide whether or not he wins. And it will be a -- it will be the numbers and a vision on behalf of Barack Obama to see whether or not he can stay in office.

And his vision is going to principally be, I think, trying to paint his opponent, Mitt Romney, as a rich guy who only cares about rich people. I was taken aback -- in the president's speeches, the kickoff speeches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Ohio State University, he said Governor Romney sincerely believes that if millionaires like him are prosperous and get along, then that's all that's needed. Everybody else will do OK.

Well, really, did Governor Romney ever say that any place? I'm not familiar with it. But that's the tone that we're going to hear during the campaign.

VAN SUSTEREN: What I don't understand -- and maybe it doesn't poll well, but I haven't heard any candidates -- I mean, it's either, you know, raise taxes or cut spending. Put -- I mean, that's -- that's a sort of a crass way to say it, but that's essentially what this argument boils down to, besides the issue about whether we should cut regulations and things like that.

But I never hear anyone seizing upon the enormous amount of waste in our government because, I mean, it is so extraordinary. Does it not poll well? Because there is just so much waste. And it's, like, night after night after night, we talk about billions and millions. I mean, it's just -- it's extraordinary, this government! But nobody runs on that.

ROVE: Yes. Well, look, President Obama did run on it in 2008. He said, quote, "I'll scrub the budget line by line and end government programs that do not work." But he's had three-and-a-half years to do it, and it's not simply credible for him to make that argument.

Romney's been making that argument by saying we need to put our fiscal house in order and cut unnecessary spending. But again, he's going to have to give a little substance to that. He's going to have to give a little proof that he -- about what he's talking about.

Now, look, there's plenty of time, 180-some-odd days left. There's plenty of time to do it, but there has to be a systematic plan. The Romney campaign and the Obama campaign both have to have a clear idea of what they want to talk about and when they want to talk about it, and then go deliver that in a way that gets inside the hearts and minds of Americans.

But there are plenty of time left, but neither one of them -- you know, President Obama's got a problem in that he's got a record to deal with. Governor Romney's got a problem in that he's got to lay out a vision in order to add to the critique that's been laid out of the president's economic policies.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the issue of gay marriage, which is so -- which is so much in the news today, in light of the president's statement yesterday that he's in favor of -- personally of gay marriage -- is that going to be any factor in the race I guess for President Obama predominantly, since -- or even for Governor Romney -- come November?

ROVE: Yes. It'll be a factor, but it's going to pale in significance to the economy, but it will have an impact. It'll have both a positive and a negative impact for President Obama. It will energize gay activists. It will get him some more money. It will help him among younger voters.

But it's going to probably mean that -- you know, look, he announced it the day after the North Carolina referenda on amending the constitution to add a definition of traditional marriage, you know, 61-39. This is a battleground state he won by 15,000 votes.

I think he probably in North Carolina suffers among both advocates and proponents -- excuse me, advocates and opponents of -- of gay marriage because he made his statement the day afterwards.

But I think it's going to have something of an impact. It will matter in a couple of close states. I don't think it's going to decide the contest because the contest is going to be economy, jobs, deficit spending, Affordable Care Act, and throughout that all, the question of leadership.

In fact, I think the biggest difficulty for the president in this is probably leadership because, look, it looked like Joe Biden forced him to do this. And then in the cleanup afterwards, the Obama White House said, You know what? The president was going to do this, but closer to the convention, and you know, Biden got over his skis and we sort of felt like we had to do it now.

Well, what that says is the president had made a political determination that he was going to make a decision on -- make an announcement on this issue at a time calculated to give him the biggest political benefit, and his regret is, is that he was sort of forced into it by his vice president speaking his mind on a Sunday morning talk program. That ain't exactly the sign of a good leader.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, your -- the Karl Rove electoral map tonight. If the election were tonight, who wins, who losses, and where's the focus?

ROVE: Yes. Well, first of all, don't look at that map. And I want to caution everybody. You can go to the -- sign up at Rove.com and we'll send you the map every two weeks, and eventually, we'll start doing it every week.

But look, the map is unchanged from two weeks ago. It points towards if the election were held today, Barack Obama would be closer. The blue states would bring him closer to an electoral victory than -- than Romney, who's represented by the red and pink states.

But the fact of the matter is, this election is going to be very close. And this map trails the national polls. For example, in the national polls, we now have Gallup and Rasmussen and Politico Battleground all showing Governor Romney tied or ahead, and yet this map shows him behind in the Electoral College and that's because the poll -- this map relies upon polls that may be months old.

Take South Carolina, for example, on that map. That map shows South Carolina as a toss-up state. There's no way South Carolina's going to be a toss-up state, but the last poll and the only poll that we have access to is December of last year, during a contentious primary in which Mitt Romney was briefly behind President Obama. I don't think that's how it's going to turn out.

But I wanted to start the map. The time to really pay attention to this map is later on. But if you want to sign up now so you can begin to get your biweekly hit of political opium, do so at Rove.com and I'll send you a free link to it every two weeks.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I think that the -- the primary yesterday in Wisconsin -- you have Wisconsin -- of course, it's my home state and I pay a lot of attention to it -- as a state that's going to be won by President Obama. He won it in 2008 by a huge margin.

I think in light of the fact that Governor Scott Walker got more votes than the Democrats combined in the primary and an enormous number of Republican votes -- I think that -- that could change the dynamics in that state.

ROVE: Yes. Absolutely. Look, I think Wisconsin -- the interesting thing is going to be where are we on the morning of June 6th. If Scott Walker wins this by a margin of, you know, 52-48, 53-47, then Wisconsin is going to be Wisconsin of 2000 and 2004.

You may remember Bush narrowly lost by less than 5,000 votes, I think it was, Wisconsin in 2000 and half a percent in 2004. If Walker wins, then Wisconsin could be a battleground state. If Walker loses or if it's a very a narrow, narrow, narrow, narrow victory, then Wisconsin could be more like 2008, where Barack Obama won with a double-digit win.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, thank you...

ROVE: But I think you're right. This is going to be an interesting state to watch. Thanks, Greta.