OTR Interviews

The road to the White House: The keys to victory for both Obama and Romney

Karl Rove on why undecided voters could be the key to victory for both sides, the Republican National Convention and more


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 23, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Right now, brace yourself! Rush Limbaugh says President Obama's second term is not the country's biggest worry. He says something else is. So what is it? Here's Rush.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think that the country could survive four more years of Obama, but I don't believe the country can survive in a country full of people who would reelect him. That's -- that's -- that's the great fear that I -- you know, we can handle Obama. But if -- if -- I don't know what we can do about a majority of people who would reelect the guy!

Bob Tyrrell, American Spectator, has a column out today says bluntly, Obama's is going for the moron vote, these people that hang around with their mouths open all the time because they don't know what else to do. Idiots.

And he makes it plain Obama's going for the moron vote! And there's no question Obama's going for the moron vote! And Democrats have calculated that there are a majority of morons that are going to vote, and they can win them and that they're content to let Romney and Ryan get serious and talk about these things that really matter because the Obama people don't give a rat's rear end about this! They don't want to think about this stuff seriously.

All they want to know is, is there going to be an interruption of what they're getting. And if it there might be an interruption of what they're getting, they're not going to vote for the people they think are going to cause the interruption. That's what Obama's calculation is.

And it's always boiled down to that for us. I know it has for you, too. Four years -- you know, we can handle Obama, but can we handle a country with a majority of people that would reelect the guy?


VAN SUSTEREN: Karl Rove joins us. Good evening, Karl.

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR/FORMER BUSH SENIOR ADVISER: Good evening, Greta. And that is pink, isn't it.


VAN SUSTEREN: That is pink. It's to get your attention. Anyway, it got Sean Hannity's attention earlier. I guess -- I may have to retire this jacket, I've been teased so much. But anyway, I guess it's pretty...

ROVE: No, no. It's great. It's great.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you. I guess it's pretty plain where Rush Limbaugh stands on this election. Any gray area with Rush?

ROVE: No, not at all. But remember, he was quoting Bob Tyrrell's piece on this. So he -- you know, this all starts with Bob Tyrrell, who's -- who's -- who's quite a wordsmith.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I guess there's no doubt where Bob Tyrrell then stands on the election going into this November vote.

ROVE: Yes, I'd have a slightly more nuanced view. I do think President Obama's campaign has made a very cynical decision that they can win this election without offering a concrete and positive and that the principal thing that they've got to do and which they've focused their efforts since May 15th on is trashing in the battleground states the reputation, the persona, the character of Mitt Romney by accusing him of things like outsourcing jobs to China, a charge so ridiculous that even The Washington Post ran an editorial calling it bunk.

So I think they do believe that -- they are cynically looking at the voters and making a decision that, You know, look, we can just trash this guy. We can put out our -- our advocates and our television ads and call him a felon. We can run out the ads that suggest he killed a -- killed a woman with cancer through his own indifference. We can do these things and create such a negative reputation and image of Mitt Romney that he can't win.

I also think that there are a lot of people concerned about the fact that we do have an increasing amount of people in America who are dependent upon government for most of their livelihood and that, you know, people want to protect -- as Rush alluded to, want to protect what they've got.

Now, I've got a slightly more optimistic view. I think a lot of people that -- you hear the statistic one out of every two voters gets -- you know, gets most of their money from the government. Well, that includes people who paid into Social Security and that's their money that they paid in.

And you know, I've found older Americans, senior Americans are those among the most concerned about deficits, debt and the future of the country and are gravely concerned about the direction of the country and want to get it going in the right direction.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think one other strategy -- and this is sort of a recent one -- we hear a lot from the Obama campaign about this war on women. I think they looked at the polls. I think they saw the gender gap between the two candidates, and I think that they're going for broke on this, you know, trying to -- because they know that since 1980, more women have voted in the elections than men. And there's giant current gender gap.

And reading your op-ed piece today, I was curious -- you said that President Bush in 2004 narrowed that gender gap that Democrats have always had the higher number on that. How did he -- how did he narrow that gender gap in 2004?

ROVE: Well, by making an appeal to what were then called "security moms," by making it clear that he would keep the country safe and that he would do everything to keep Americans -- the American homeland safe from foreign -- from additional foreign attacks.

You know, though, let me step back for just a minute, though. President Bush won the male vote, the men vote, in 2004 by roughly the margin that most Republican candidates do. He narrowed the gap among women.

The problem for President Obama is this. You're right there's a big gender gap, but the bigger gender gap is among men. President Obama is losing among men by a much larger margin than do the normal Democrat. He's trying to offset that by trying to run up the numbers among women. He's made a determination -- his camp has made a determination that it's tougher to narrow the gap among men than it is to try and widen the gap among women, which is why they have done things like, you know, the war on women.

So there is a gender gap, but let's be clear what it is. It is that President Obama is running way behind where a normal Democrat does among men, and as a result, he's trying to offset that by running up the numbers among women.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so he would ideally -- President Obama would love to peel off some male votes from president -- or from Governor Romney and Governor Romney would love to peel off the women votes that are -- that are -- seem to be weighted towards President Obama. So I'm curious. You know, how -- how do...

ROVE: Well, I think you're right about -- I think you're -- I think you're right about Governor Romney. I think he wants to narrow the gap among women. But I think you're wrong about President Obama. I think his attitude is, I can't win any more male votes, so I got to try and extend my lead among women.

VAN SUSTEREN: So how -- OK, so let me -- let me then zero in on Governor Romney and the women vote. What does he do at this -- you know, at this late -- at this date in the campaign -- what does he do to get the women votes? How does he -- how does he get the women to be convinced that they should leave President Obama and go over to his side of the ledger?

ROVE: Well, first of all, by talking about the issues that women, and ironically enough, men, both care about, talking about jobs, economy, deficit, debt spending, health care, Medicare.

Remember, in most families, I suspect -- and this may be the case in your household -- it is the woman who is generally the caregiver and in charge of the family's health. They know the doctors who the kids go to. They're the people who know the -- you know, the policy numbers and who's in the network and who's not. They're intimately familiar with what -- you know, Grandma's health care, what the docs are giving her, what Medicare will cover, and so forth.

So you know, in talking about these issues of jobs, the economy, deficit, debt and health care and treating everybody alike but making certain that you talk to women, that you're seen with women, that you're -- you know, that you put your wife out there in order to talk about these substantive issues is important.

The second thing is, is that it strikes me Mitt Romney has a big challenge in sharing more of who he is. Both men and women -- and I think this is particularly true among women -- want to know what makes him tick. Where did he come from? What's the arc of his life? What are the values that are ingrained in his heart? What is it that he seems authentically concerned about doing?

And the more that they get to know him -- you said late in the game. Remember, for the people who have not yet made up their minds, this, you know, 6 to 8 to 10 percent that are undecided, the 12 to 15 to 18 percent who might be persuadable or are undecided, you know, this is still relatively early.

They have heard about the campaign. They've paid attention about it. But they don't know as much as they want to know, and they're going to start absorbing more information here in the next couple of weeks to help them make up their minds.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so how does a candidate, candidate Governor Romney, get the narrative over to the issue of jobs and economy, if the media prefers -- and I think the media does -- at least, now they like the sort of the sexier -- the gaffe-type stuff, which -- I mean, how does a candidate get the attention on those issues because Medicare and jobs -- those are very important, but you know, we've heard so much about it that, you know, sometimes it gets way down in the weeds, and I think that it's really hard to drive the message home on whatever your program is.

ROVE: Yes. Well, next week, they'll have the convention and they'll be able to showcase elements of his plan each and every day. You do it like he did today with the Hobbs, New Mexico, and talked about his energy plan, laid out a concrete plan.

These are the things that are sort of the elemental blocking and tackling of the party. But you're -- of a presidential campaign. But you're right, this week they were having a good debate about Medicare, and then along came Todd Akin and his unfortunate comment on Sunday, and that's dominated more of the coverage this week than Governor Romney and his team would like to have, I'm sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now let me go to the convention. You said that he has to sort of -- I've heard from you and also from Reince Priebus last night that this is the chance for a candidate, here Governor Romney, to sort of introduce himself. Is every -- I mean, is so much riding on this speech on the last night, when he accepts the nomination? Is it that big a -- you know, is that that important?

ROVE: It's that important. It's not the only thing that's important because, look, the convention is like -- you know, everybody knows they're contrived. They know that we no longer make big decisions there. They know it's a big, if you will, production. It's like putting and a play.

But you need to have a narrative of the play. The play needs to hang together. People need to be interested by it. They need to walk away learning something new. It needs to entertain them, keep their attention and be well produced. And they know it's all an event.

So -- but yes, at the end of the day, that speech is really important. The question is, do they say things in a way that are powerful and reinforce what they -- what the campaign wants to be the principal theme? Are there moments that work?

I mean, for example, look, Al Gore -- I thought at the time it was completely phony, but when he came out there and put the big, you know, smooch on Tipper Gore, I thought it was completely phony, but guess what? It worked.

On the other hand, I don't think it worked in 2004 when -- when John Kerry came out and gave the snappy salute and said, you know, John Kerry reporting for duty. I mean, it raised these issues of his -- you know, of the -- of the -- of the -- of his comments after he returned from Vietnam, where he basically slandered all those who had served in combat with him by accusing them of having, quote, you know, "raped and pillaged in a manner reminiscent of Genghis Khan," end quote. So there are moments that work.

Vice President George Bush had a great speech in 1988 that introduced him as the man who he was, the -- you know, the youngest aviator in -- naval aviator in World War II, a man, deep values, family values, a man of entrepreneurial background.

I mean, these things are important, and the speech becomes a vital part of the connection.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, both gentlemen have high negatives, and I imagine that a lot of people vote by who you like better, who you have sort of a gut reaction is the better candidate. What are the -- what are -- I'll ask you about Governor Romney since he's your candidate. How does he get his high negatives down to a better range?

ROVE: Yes, well, look, first of all, both of these guys negatives are essentially the same. I wrote about this today in my Wall Street Journal column. You know, both of them have their negatives in the high 40s. We've got the -- this is the worst condition that we've seen for both candidates for president in any modern recent presidential election.

But they've got different negatives. President Obama's negatives are performance. People think he's done a lousy job in the economy. May have inherited a bad situation, but he hasn't solved it. He's over-promised and under-delivered. And they don't think he's doing a good job on the big issue of the day, jobs, economy, deficit, debt, spending and health care.


ROVE: Mitt Romney's negatives are more diffuse. I'm sorry?

VAN SUSTEREN: No, go ahead.

ROVE: Yes, Mitt Romney's negatives are more diffuse. It is a question of who is he. Is he the vampire capitalist that he's been painted out to be? Is he a guy who rapes and pillages companies and outsources the jobs to China? Is he weird? Like, you know, the Obama campaign, David Axelrod, likes that word. Is he weird?

And so people want to know more about him and how he -- you know, where he came from and what he's all about and what it is that he's going to do.

So President Obama is going to find it hard to change the reality of the economy. On the other hand, most people don't know very much or an awful lot about Mitt Romney, and this is a chance for him to share more of what he's all about and what his family's about, what his life has been about, what it is that he wants to achieve for America, the concreteness of his plans.

Remember, more people are going to watch the convention next week, particularly that speech, than have watched any activity thus far in the campaign. And I don't mean by a little, but by a lot.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the race going to -- is the election night -- is it going be close?

ROVE: You know, I don't think we know. I think -- I think the greatest likelihood is that it's going to be very, very close. On the other hand, this could be like 1980, where in mid-August Jimmy Carter was leading Ronald Reagan. The race remained relatively close until the debates, and then at the debates, the American people said, Look, we've made a judgment about the incumbent. We've found him wanting. And this actor from California has given us the reassurance that we need to be able to vote for him.

So I think this is very much up in the air. If I were a betting man, I'd say this is going to be a very close, close election, and we're going to be spending election night well into the morning trying to figure out what's happening. But on the other hand, the debates -- by the debates, it may start to widen out just like it did in 1980.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, thank you. See you next week in Florida.