Karl Rove on Political Fallout From Pastor's Controversial Mormon Comments

This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," October 10, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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LAURA INGRAHAM, GUEST HOST: In the "Impact" segment tonight: Recently Robert Jeffress, who's a Baptist minister in Dallas and a supporter of Rick Perry, said that Mormonism is a cult, and he suggested that Mitt Romney was not a Christian. The pastor talked to Bill Hemmer earlier today and is standing by his comments.


PASTOR ROBERT JEFFRESS, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, DALLAS: Mormonism is not historical Christianity. It is a theological cult, and I stand by those comments. By the way…

BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS HOST: You don't take them back -- you don't take back the comments. I just want to be clear on that.

JEFFRESS: I don't take them back at all.


INGRAHAM: On Saturday, Mitt Romney addressed the mini firestorm indirectly.


MITT ROMNEY, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Poisonous language doesn't advance our cause. It's never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind. The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate.


INGRAHAM: And presidential contender Herman Cain was careful not to kick this hornet's nest.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST: Is Mitt Romney not a Christian?

HERMAN CAIN, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is a Mormon. That much I know. I am not going to do an analysis of Mormonism vs. Christianity for the sake of answering that.


INGRAHAM: What's the political fallout from all of this? Joining us now from Austin, Texas, is Fox News political analyst Karl Rove, a former senior adviser to President George W. Bush. Well, Karl, I guess we should have known it was only a matter of time before this was raised. I don't know anything about this particular pastor, but tell us how this is playing out.

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, this is not helpful for Rick Perry who would rather be talking about other things. But I'd like to step back and suggest -- Pete Wehner had a wonderful piece this weekend in Commentary in which he pointed out the grave difficulty of a Christian minister like the good reverend saying that Christians should embrace Christians over non-Christians who are candidates for office.

First of all, this is at odds with what he himself has already said. He said that in a primary he would support a true Christian he called them, like Rick Perry, over a member of a cult, like Mitt Romney. But on the other hand, he says in a general election, he'd support a member of a cult, as he described it. Mitt Romney over a Christian, albeit of a liberal variety, Barack Obama. So, I mean, this is not where a reverend, a pastor ought to be going.

Look, we have -- should Christians not vote for Jews? What about Baptists and Catholics? They've got different views on the papacy, for example, and the purgatory. I mean, what about infant baptism, which is really important to Baptists? Should this be the standard by which we judge whether or not somebody is a true Christian?

This was a terrible mistake on the part of the pastor. It's the kind of thing that doesn't belong in politics. We want our candidates, we want our leaders to be people of faith, but, you know, we don't get into and we haven't gotten into since at least the 1960 presidential election into a determination over whether or not somebody's professed faith is acceptable to the vast majority of Americans.

INGRAHAM: And Karl, when you think about Perry here. I mean, Perry's had some real problems in the past few debates. Obviously we've talked about that. But for him to be sandbagged with the statement of this particular pastor, that seems incredibly unfair to me. And I guess his people should have maybe done better advance work and they should have chosen the clear person who was going to introduce him and vetted his comments. But if you now have to vet the person who is introducing you at a forum that's not your own, I guess we really have gotten to a point in American politics where it's beyond precarious for people.

ROVE: Well, look, you have to. That's one of those lessons I learned in 2000. You may remember we had a guy introduce Bush in South Carolina, took a 2x4 to John McCain. We even vetted what his comments were supposed to be and he went off script and attacked John McCain in a way that hurt Bush.

The same thing's happened to Perry here. My problem -- I wish Perry was a little stronger in denouncing this -- but my problem is not so much with Perry. He's suffering some fallout from this. My problem is with the pastor. The pastor should not have said this. And look, it's very troubling.

Look, given a choice, we had an unorthodox Christian in Abraham Lincoln vs. a real Christian in Douglas. Should people have gone for Douglas over Abraham Lincoln? Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence as Pete pointed and a proponent of religious freedom was not an Orthodox Christian. Should people have disavowed him for that reason? Should we boycott businesses, as Pete pointed out there?


ROVE: Should Christians boycott businesses that are not owned by Christians? I mean, this is not where we ought to go. Now, there is a culprit here. There is a culprit here, and it's not just the reverend. It is the press.


ROVE: I went back in 2007 and looked at how much coverage was given to the fact that George Romney, Mitt's father, was a Mormon when he was the front-runner for the Republican nomination in 1967 and there was none. Yet, we had TIME magazine and a couple of other major publications basically dissecting the Mormon faith and trying to, in essence, in a sophisticated way mock it. I think that a lot of this has to be laid at the feet of the press. We should not be -- we should care about whether or not somebody is of faith and leave it at that. And for the good reverend or for TIME magazine to engage in Mormon bashing is not in keeping with our society.

INGRAHAM: But Karl, you do concede, right, that there is a segment of the Republican Party that still has great reservations about Mitt Romney and they relate it to his Mormonism. That is true, and I think it's incredibly unfair.

ROVE: Look, I recognize there are evangelical Protestants who think that Catholics are following a false faith. I mean so -- all of that's wrong. Its existence doesn't make it right.

INGRAHAM: Sure. Karl, we appreciate it. Thanks so much.

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