Karl Rove Weighs in on the Nasty Name Calling Between Clinton and Obama Camps

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," March 24, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Getting right to our top story tonight and it is the mudslinging going on between Democrats. On Friday, former President Clinton appeared to take a swipe at Barack Obama's patriotism, according to some, during a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina.


BILL CLINTON: I think it would be a great thing an election where you had two people who love this country and were devoted to the interests of the country and people could actually ask themselves who's right on all these issues instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude onto politics.


COLMES: Obama campaign co-chair retired general Tony McPeak responded over the weekend by comparing the former president to Joe McCarthy. That's just the beginning.

Last week, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson endorsed Barack Obama despite the fact that Richardson served in the Clinton administration and was personally lobbied hard by the former president on behalf of Senator Clinton. In yesterday's edition of the New York Times former Clinton campaign manager James Carville said Richardson's endorsement was an act of betrayal and compared him to Judas.


COLMES: Whoa is right.

Richardson then responded by saying that Clinton aides used gutter politics to get their way. Late today, Carville refused to apologize for the comparison. When asked and said that Richardson had committed a quote "egregious act." For the record, Clinton campaign communications director Howard Wolfson said today that he didn't agree with Carville.

Joining us now from Rosemary Beach, Florida, with more analysis of a bloody weekend for the Democrats is the "architect" Karl Rove. Karl I'm laughing, I'm guessing you're looking at this and sitting back and watching them go at it I guess, right, Karl?

Watch Part 1 of the Karl Rove interview

Watch Part 2 of the Karl Rove interview

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISOR: It as a pretty remarkable set of events. You have to go back just a little further, though, in order to understand why Carville was so spun up.

Apparently, two weeks ago Richardson called Obama and said I'm going to endorse you, and then late last week called Senator Clinton and told her that he was going to endorse the next day which he did, so he still has yet, he said, to call President Clinton. So I can understand the Clinton people were all exercised about this, but it was way over the top and probably words that Carville would like to take back, I suspect.

COLMES: Well, he said that he didn't want to take them back. But isn't it surprising, here is Bill Richardson, who was energy secretary because of the Clintons, U.N. secretary, certainly advanced his career. They got along very well in the debate. You almost got a sense he was auditioning for vice president at some point. This is quite a surprise, isn't it?

ROVE: Well yeah, incidentally U.N. ambassador. He wasn't made U.N. secretary, that's the job Bill Clinton wants for himself.

COLMES: U.N. ambassador, forgive me, yes.

ROVE: It was pretty -- it took me aback because you're right. Because during the debates, he was very supportive of Senator Clinton's comments, and also, look, he was a seven-term sort of semi-obscure member from New Mexico who the Clintons plucked out and added to their cabinet. And Bill Clinton made him first U.N. ambassador and then energy secretary. That gave him an national prominence, allowed him to go home and run for governor. A pretty remarkable turn of events.

But again, it's not helpful for any Democrat -- think about this. We had on Friday we had General McPeak accusing Bill Clinton of being a McCarthey-ite. On Saturday, we have Carville calling up the New York Times in order to lay this torpedo into Richardson. And then on Sunday morning we have Richardson saying I'm not going to get down into the gutter and then immediately getting into the gutter by saying "well that's how they do things and they have a sense of entitlement." And then we have Carville today, not stepping back.

COLMES: You don't believe, Karl, that the patriotism of anybody was being questioned by Bill Clinton, do you? I mean, I don't buy that. I think that he was saying let's have a campaign on the issues, two candidates, whoever they happen to be.

ROVE: I agree.

COLMES: I don't believe this attack on somebody's patriotism as some people are framing this, do you?

ROVE: No, I don't either. In fact, that was one of the good grace notes that Bill Richardson hit on Sunday morning on "FOX News Sunday" which was he said he disavowed McPeak's comments and said absolutely not, Bill Clinton was not questioning the good intentions of anybody, he was just emphasizing what he would see in a contest between Hillary Clinton and John McCain. So it was actually a good note. But why Richardson felt compelled then to get back into the gutter is beyond me, after having such a good grace note.

HANNITY: Hey,Karl, welcome back, Sean Hannity here. Let me read the full comment that Richardson made after he was called Judas by my debating partner, James Carville. He said "I'm not going to get into the gutter like that, and you know, that's typical of many of the people around Senator Clinton. They think they have a sense of entitlement to the presidency."

My question is this now heads probably toward the super delegates deciding this race. There is antipathy here at a level that has -- what does it mean to the Democratic Party?

ROVE: Well, not anything good. Look, first of all, he could have gone without saying that. We all think that of the Clintons. That's how the Clintons operate. But by getting down into the gutter, he put a little mud on his own candidate, Senator Obama. It would be best to have left it alone and kept the high road.

But look, this happens in closely contested campaigns. The staffs get exercised, the candidates begin to take it personally, and it turns ugly, and once it turns ugly, it's awfully hard to resist making it uglier. It's very hard to drawback from this kind of thing once you get involved in it. It's sort of like escalation in a nuclear war. You send a missile their way, they send a missile your way, and pretty soon you're sending all kinds of missiles. And it does not do the Democrats any good. Right now it's not much.

I mean this is three or four days worth of patter back and forth, but if it is an indication of how these campaigns are not in control of themselves, this could escalate over the next three and a half, four weeks before Pennsylvania and then get really raunchy before the end of the primary season in June.

HANNITY: The term monster was used in description of Hillary Clinton here. When you look at for example Barack Obama and he has his aide comparing Bill Clinton to McCarthy, there was another issue that came out this weekend, too, where there was somebody in the Obama campaign talking about Bill Clinton. This is a stain on his legacy, much deeper than the one of Monica Lewinsky's blue dress. Does Barack Obama serve himself well to allow himself and his surrogates to fight that way?

ROVE: No, he doesn't. Now, of course, the campaign immediately came out and disavowed those comments. But the point is, look, in a modern campaign, you need to enforce discipline, and the discipline needs to come at the top, and we'll see how much discipline they're able to enforce later on this week. Are they able to tell their surrogates and their principal advocates don't do this kind of stuff, it's not to our advantage or not. I'm not going to make too much of it just yet, but they've had four days in which they've been sort of careening out of control, and that's not their game plan.

HANNITY: Does this help John McCain?

ROVE: Oh, sure. Now, right now it's just a little itsy bitsy thing. There's plenty of time between now and the election for the last three or four or five days to be washed out of people's consciousness. The question is, does it continue and does it escalate between now and April 22 in Pennsylvania?

My gut tells me at least from the perspective of the Clinton campaign, it's likely to because they're inside this embattled campaign. She's got $3 million cash on hand. He's got $30 million cash on hand. Obama is up running television ads in Pennsylvania and they are operating -- I mean she's angry. We got a hint of that in Richardson's comment about it being a very contentious conversation when he called to tell her he was going for Obama.

HANNITY: We're going to find out mathematically if you think Hillary can with the popular vote and delegate count. We'll have more with the architect, Karl Rove, coming up right after this break.


HANNITY: We continue now with the architect Karl Rove. I want to get your thoughts, the questions, the fallout from the Jeremiah Wright controversy, Karl if I can. There was an Insider Advantage majority opinion poll, 52 percent of respondents less likely now as a result of this to vote for Barack Obama. How long will that damage last?

ROVE: Well, I think it may last to the end of November. The question is how big. We've got to keep monitoring this carefully. There was a Pew poll that sort of indicated that as of the 20th, which is like a geological age ago, that it was only beginning to have some effect, that the awareness of it was still at that point moderate, not high. But my gut tells me this is a real problem, and it's likely to last through the November election if he's the Democrat nominee.

HANNITY: Let me ask you in terms of strategy and tactics because when I asked Senator McCain about it in my interview, he didn't want to really touch the issue, at least that was my sense of it here. But how far should Republicans go on the issue?

You know, for example, there was the comment that Barack Obama made about his grandmother, she is "a typical white person." And that created quite a bit of controversy. Would it be wise, would it be foolish for the Republicans to try and use that as a political issue?

ROVE: They've got to be very careful about this, and frankly, look, this is the kind of issue that sort of has a life of its own. I'm not certain how much anybody should or ought to try to press it along. It's the kind of thing that people make their own judgments about. I suspect it's likely that footage is likely to be seen on the Internet and maybe seen in other ways. But it is an issue that has a life of its own and is going to continue to resonate.

HANNITY: I guess that the issues that we'd talked about last week is honesty, do we really believe Barack Obama when he said he really didn't know the heart of his pastor, that this was going on, and then the issue comes down to judgment. What are your personal thoughts on it?

ROVE: Well look, I read a wonderful piece by Charles Krauthammer who's a very smart guy and very sensitive about this issue and I think he hit it right. He said, the question is why did he stay in this church?

And he was upset about -- and concerned about the tone of the speech as well because if you looked at the speech, what essentially Senator Obama is saying is, look, this was reprehensible but it's understandable given black anger. And not only is there black anger that justifies these kinds of comments, there's an equal amount of white anger that generates similar comments.

I don't think that's accurate. And his conclusion was he's relying upon moral equivalency and white guilt in order to justify these comments. I think he would have been a lot better off -- I've said this before, it's going to sound monothematic, to have said look, these were bad things, I should have said something at the time, I didn't, I've learned. I won't make that mistake again.

COLMES: Karl, don't see the Gallup tracking polls have Obama up 48-45 right now. Hasn't he rebounded since last week and haven't we seen based on the daily tracking polls that whatever was happening a week ago, week and a half ago, has not really hurt Obama? If anything, things are moving his way at this point.

ROVE: Yes, but he's falling behind McCain, which, he's heretofore had a substantial lead. I think again this has some impact on the -- Reverend Wright has some impact on the Democratic primary, particularly in a state like Pennsylvania, maybe a state like Kentucky, maybe even a state like Indiana and part of North Carolina. But its real effect is among independent voters in the general election who both candidates, Democrat and Republican, are going to need to win in order to win the contest.

COLMES: It's helping McCain, because if we were really talking about issues, how the economy is not doing well, some are even saying the word recession, just had the 4,000th American fatality in Iraq. If we were focused on those issues, wouldn't this be much more damaging to the Republicans rather than talking about a pastor, the guilt by association, all the various things that we're talking about as opposed to real issues that affect real Americans that don't reflect well on Republicans?

ROVE: Well look, saying that our government created AIDS in order to -- as a tool of genocide against blacks. That the government created drugs and sells drugs. To say the hateful thing that Reverend Wright said are not phony issues. They speak to the deep convictions of the man. And the question on people's minds is why did you tolerate those kind of things? Why did you sit in the pew? Why is this man considered not only your spiritual mentor, but your "uncle," as Senator Obama called him? Why did you tolerate these views if on the other hand you say that your object in this campaign is to bring every American together, black, brown, white and yellow.

COLMES: But Karl my point is we're not talking about issues and also why would Republicans as negatively affected, but Jerry Falwell saying that 9/11 was probably what America deserved. Pat Robertson saying I totally concur. Bill Bright of the Campus Crusade saying the terrorist attacks are a result of America's sin. That didn't seem to reflect as badly on Republicans who cozied up to these very same people who said these things?

ROVE: Alan, with all due respect they were not the pastors of a Republican candidate for president. They were public figures allowed to have their own opinions. There are Democrats like Al Sharpton. There are people like Louis Farrakhan who make outrageous statements. But we don't hold the candidates responsible for them.

What we have here is a very different instance where a man -- a pastor who is very close to the presidential candidate, who the presidential candidate sat in the pews for 20 years while he said these things.

COLMES: Pat Robertson was close to these Republicans for years, helped them raise money.

ROVE: With all due respect, Alan, you're trying to make something equivalent like Senator Obama did that's simply not equivalent. People are entitled to their opinions.

The question however is if your pastor, would you sit in a pew, Alan, if somebody said this for 20 years? If somebody accused, said that we got what we deserved on 9/11 because of our policies in the Middle East? Wouldn't you stand up and walk?

COLMES: But anyway, always love having you on, Karl. Thank you so much for being on our program.

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