Absence of 2012 Front-Runner Good or Bad for GOP?

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This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," December 6, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST:So even though we just put the 2010 midterm elections behind us the race for 2012 was already getting traction.

Many names from the GOP side are being tossed around as potential candidates. But the Des Moines Register is reporting that the race is wide open, saying that Iowa GOP activists feel, quote, "The gathering Republican field does not have a presumed front-runner, which eases the pressure for one candidate to set the pace for the others to keep up."

So will this purported slow start hurt the Republicans' chances of taking back the White House? Here to respond is former senior adviser to George W. Bush, author of the best seller "Courage and Consequence," which is now available with a new chapter in paperback, the one and only, architect, Karl Rove.

Mister Rove, welcome back, sir.

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks for having me, Sean.

HANNITY: All right. I got to ask you before we get any further. What do you think of the tax deal apparently that has now been struck?

ROVE: Let's see if it hangs together. I think it will be a victory for Republicans and conservatives. You're going to have to give them some of what they want, but from the outlines of the package it continues the tax cuts intact for the next two years. And lowers the payroll tax in lieu of making work pay proposal that the president seems so enamored about.

But we'll see if it hangs together. A lot of criticism right off the bat from Democrats. It is going to require the president to hold his troops' feet to the fire and bring them -- as many of them along as possible in order for it to pass as quickly as it needs to pass.

HANNITY: What do you make of the less seeming rebellion against the president now? Apparently he's not liberal enough for a lot of Democrats.

ROVE: Well, you know, they've had a love/hate relationship with him. They like all the things that he has done -- most of the things that he's done. But what they -- but he has never made them afraid of him and he's never made them love him. I mean he has been a distant and aloof figure who's outsourced some of these big things to Congress, sort of set -- said go pass a big health care bill and then you go write it, which so they like him from that perspective.

But on the other hand, he's never gotten himself so engaged in the process that they've come to feel that they're obligated to him or that they owe him or that they're afraid of him.

And as a result, we're seeing things like -- the statement out of him, out of the Senate majority leader's office, Harry Reid, now the president has cut his deal, Senator Reid will discuss this tomorrow with his caucus.

You know unnamed a senior -- House aides say the president may have cut a deal but the House Democrats haven't cut a deal. We'll discuss this in our caucus. That's not the kind of noise that you want to hear if you're down at the White House, and you're Barack Obama.

HANNITY: Pretty interesting. All right. I know it is early. But you've been commenting a lot about different presidential candidates and you've been angering some. As you look at the field now and you look at the early polls now, do they mean anything to you and do you see any potential front-runners emerging?

ROVE: Yes. Well, what they say to me is that Iowa newspapers are right there. There is no front-runner in Iowa and there's no front-runner in America. And we should welcome that.

If you take a look at the several polls that have been done so far, there are four candidates who tend to be towards the top, the better known candidates. But none of them above 20 percent. In fact, those four candidates grouped essentially together between 15 and 20 percent each. And then everybody else in the single digits.

That means this contest is going to be wide open.

HANNITY: All right.

ROVE: And that's going to be good for conservatives and good for the Republicans.

HANNITY: If there's very little distinction between the candidates and their positions, how does one break out? How does one emerge as being the person that -- I guess at that point you decide who's more likely to win?

ROVE: Yes. You've got to think about it in two frames. One is a strategic frame. Every one of these candidates has the same three sets of strategic imperatives for next year. Create a compelling narrative. Why should it be you and why shouldn't it be Obama? What kind of country do you want to -- do you envision America being?

Second, show us by -- generally by spontaneous action and the impromptu moment that you've got the leadership, the values, the strength, you know, decision-making ability that people comfortably see you in the oval office. And finally, demonstrate to us that you can unify the party and reach outside its ranks.

Those are the three sort of strategic imperatives. And everybody is competing on that level.

Then you have the tactical level. Each one of these people also has to fashion a functioning campaign in the early primary states and the early caucus state of Iowa. And so how well you get organized, how well you raise money and husband your resources for the moment when it's actually needed, not wasted on consultants and on needless early spending. But how well do you husband it for the moment when people begin to make a decision. How strong is the framework that you put in place in each one of these places -- each one of these states. And how strong is it to withhold -- you know some setback because everybody is going to face a setback during the process.

And how this unrolls is going to be really interesting to watch. Particularly, in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina where the voters really expect to see you up close and personal and take your measure, you know, from -- you know, about 2 1/2 feet away from you and as often as they like.

HANNITY: All right. The top four that were you mentioning earlier, Governor Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee. Those are the four that are in that 15 to 20 percent range.

Of the people that don't have the name recognition perhaps or are not really considered running but seem to be making overtures that they might want to run -- Santorum, Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, Mike Pence, John Thune, Mitch Daniels.

Is there any of those lesser known candidates at this point that you think has a greater likelihood of emerging?

ROVE: Well, I -- you know, you could make a case for virtually any one of them on paper. But the paper is worth exactly what you're paying for, which is nothing. But here's the deal. Remember, who thought Barack Obama at this point in 2006 was going to be the leader in -- late 2007?

Who on the Republican side thought Huckabee would make the run that he made and won Iowa? So, you know, a lot of things can happen because of their success on the strategic level and their success on the tactical level.

HANNITY: But I mean --

ROVE: And I think that's going to be one of the most interesting things about it is that every one of these people on paper has a potential of doing it.

HANNITY: Let me throw two other names that -- or three other names that may run, what if Bobby Jindal got in the race? What if Chris Christie got in the race?

ROVE: Right.

HANNITY: What if Marco Rubio got in the race?

ROVE: Right. Well, first of all, I think Marco Rubio and Chris Christie share the same kind of attitude, which is, look, thanks for the mention but this is way too early for me. But you're right, Bobby Jindal is one of the -- I have a baker's dozen. You know, Barbour, Daniels, Gingrich, Huckabee, Jindal, Palin, Pataki, Pawlenty, Paul, Pence, Romney, Santorum and Thune -- I mean 13.

HANNITY: Hang on. Can you go back and repeat that one more time?

ROVE: Yes, exactly.

HANNITY: Do you mind?

ROVE: So all of them -- all of them, you know, could make a run on that list, in my opinion.

HANNITY: All right. Karl Rove, good to see you. Thanks for being with us.

ROVE: You bet.

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