Obama's 'White Flight' Problem

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 25, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: If you think Thanksgiving is here, think again. It's not time for Turkey. At least, not yet. We are live and "On the Record" with a packed show tonight. Up first, Karl Rove on some grim news for President Obama. Now, according to Gallup, last week, President Obama's approval rating slipped below 50 percent for the first time. It gets worse. President Obama's approval rating among white voters has sunk 22 points since he took office. It's now hovering around a bleak 39 percent. The question is why.

Karl Rove joins us. Karl, good evening? And what about these numbers, the approval ratings? Predictable that a president starts going down? And what about the rate of decline?

KARL ROVE, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH ADVISER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, President Obama has -- you're right, every president eventually hits 50 percent, except John Kennedy. Since World War II, every president except Kennedy has gone below 50 percent. What's interesting about President Obama is that he hit 50 percent faster than any but two presidents since World War II, Gerald Ford, who pardoned Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton, who started out with 43 percent of the vote, not the 53 percent of the vote that President Obama received. Those are the only two presidents who got to 50 percent and quicker than he did.

And you're right, he's got some real problems with -- with independents, with seniors, with the college-educated, and it's -- he started out relatively high with all three groups and now is below water and doesn't bode well for the 2010 elections for Democrats.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, he's held onto the African-American approval, right, for the most part. It's his white vote that -- who -- you know, and there were a number -- I mean, there are a huge number of white Americans voted for this president. He obviously -- look at the number of votes he eventually won to be elected. What do we make of that?

ROVE: Well, I think this has to do less with race than it does with the specifics of the issues. If you take a look at it, on the issues of the economy, jobs, Afghanistan, he has deteriorated and is now upside-down. That is to say, he has more people disapproving of his actions on those issues, plus health care, than approval of his actions. So I think the American people are looking at this saying, Look, the number one responsibility is to keep America safe and the number two responsibility is to create jobs. He's dithering on the one, on Afghanistan, and on the second one, the economy and jobs, he's just not getting it done. So I think those are more -- are the drivers.

And it's just that, you know, African Americans are necessarily and -- and unexpectedly (SIC) proud of having an African-American president, so they're going to stay with him longer than anybody else in the electorate. But other voters are more to be -- likely to be driven by what's actually happening on the issues.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Tuesday night, we expect a speech from the president, going to address us from West Point about Afghanistan. To what extent are the numbers relating to how the president's handling Afghanistan -- you know, where does he stand on that?

ROVE: Well, you know, what's interesting is four months ago, he was at 56 percent approval on Afghanistan, and today, he's at 55 percent disapproval. So it's flipped. He had a positive rating four months ago. After spending three months considering the request from General McChrystal, American people have looked at that and I think concluded he's not moving decisively and providing the necessary leadership in the war.

What's interesting to me is, is that 49 percent of the American people are in favor of sending additional troops. And in fact, if you take a look at it, there are more people who approve of sending more additional troops than approve of President Obama's performance on Afghanistan. In fact, if you take the people who are in favor of either maintaining the current number that we have or increasing them, they're a majority of the population.

So the ground is fertile for him. He does have the American people waiting to hear from him but willing to accept the idea of providing additional resources to the war in Afghanistan. They understand the consequences of Afghanistan falling back under the control of the Taliban and are not willing to allow that to happen.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, in the past two weeks -- I mean, it used to tilt towards reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan. The past two weeks, now it's tilting towards sending more. Any idea, you know, why -- why are -- why is the change in the American people? Any thought on that?

ROVE: Well, I think the American people -- as it's come close to a point of decision, there's been more discussion about it in the media, and as a result, people have focused more on what the consequences would be if we allowed Afghanistan to go back to the way it was before 9/11. So again, the ground is fertile for the president. I think if he gives a good speech at West Point that he will find his numbers on Afghanistan rising and the percent of the American people supporting his action rising, as well.

One cautionary note. I noticed today in the reports, they said he's going to give a 40-minute speech. That's a long speech. The American people are not going to necessarily going to listen to a 40-minute speech broadcast in primetime. But the other interesting thing was they said, Well, that's twice as long as Bush spent in defining and explaining the surge. Well, you know, that was sort of petty. It was sort of, like, We're going to do everything we can to contrast ourselves with Bush. I don't think that well serves President Obama. It certainly makes his people look small and petulant, and it makes the American people wonder if he's doing this because he thinks he's doing the right thing or because he's somehow trying to make himself look good in comparison to Bush.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if he's going to spend 40 minutes talking about this one question -- I mean, we all -- as you notice, that people are concerned about their safety. The economy's the other question. Does he not have to talk about how he's going to fund this? You know, if he's going to spend 40 minutes doing the -- if national security is issue number one and the second issue is number two, can he spend 40 minutes and not say, This is how I'm going to pay for it?

ROVE: You know what? I think he can. I think the American people understand that if you are fighting a war that you're going to sometimes run a deficit. I think, in fact, it would -- it would -- it would hurt his -- the support that he would have if he tried to inject into this, Well, at the same time that we're fighting a war, I'm going to need to fund it with a tax increase.

You notice he didn't talk about funding the stimulus with a tax increase. He didn't say, well, we need to get our economy going, so I'm going to -- I'm going to raise taxes to pay for this program. American people, I think, are more concerned about, Do you have clarity on what it is you want to achieve? How is this going to work? What are the measures of success?

I think a bigger warning point for him is going to be if he takes this as a way to say, OK, I'm going to do this, but here's the timeline for success, and if we aren't done by this fixed date, then we're going to be out of there. I think the American people are -- instinctively worry about, you know, sort of setting an artificial timetable that says, If we haven't succeeded by such and such a date, then we're going to give the victory to the enemy by withdrawing.

Imagine what would have happened if we'd done that in Korea, if we'd said, Oh, all right, well, you know, after about six years here on the peninsula after the end of the Korean war, after the armistice, we're going to cut and we're going to pull out? I mean, we've still got troops in Japan. We've been there since 1945.

VAN SUSTEREN: We're still in Korea.

ROVE: And still got troops in Germany.

VAN SUSTEREN: And we're still in Korea.

ROVE: We're still in Korea. We're still in Kosovo. You know, we're still in Kosovo, which nobody's complaining about and which every foreign policy expert will tell you, the presence of American troops in the Balkans is one of the principal reasons why the region has settled down and there's a reasonable level of peace in the region.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about health care? What -- what about the health care? Everyone's gone home now for a recess and no doubt hearing from constituents.

ROVE: Well, you know, the constituents may be worn out. We've been at this, and there's been such a fever pitch of feeling about this for a long time. The Gallup poll that you mentioned earlier show that people don't want to pass this bill. In fact, you know, the Gallup poll simply out that people -- you know, was -- do you favor it or oppose it, and those that opposed it outnumbered those that favored it. But other polls have asked people how strongly they feel in- either in favor of the bill or opposed to the bill, and those who strongly oppose the bill outnumber those who favor it by a 2-to-2 margin.

In fact, if you look at it, the better -- the numbers are upside-down for health care reform among adults, but relatively close. But among voters or likely voters, the margin against him grows. That is to say that people who are really wired up about this are the people who are likely to participate in next year's election, which is probably a cautionary note that's being heard by a lot of members of Congress.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, so many of these issues converge. I know you said that he's not going to talk about costs, you don't think, on Tuesday night. But war costs, stimulus costs, health care costs -- we have a jobless recovery, at best, and a 10.2 unemployment rate. I can't imagine how you can have any one of these discussions, even (INAUDIBLE) important national security is and war and sending men and women off to risk their lives, how money doesn't come into this somehow.

ROVE: Yes. Well, you've touched an important issue, which is the question of spending and the deficit. I've just turned in my column for Friday's Wall Street Journal. Normally, I write for Thursday, but since there's no paper tomorrow, it's going to be published Friday. And I'm going to talk about this deficit issue because, remember, during the campaign, candidate Obama talked about the deficit and the need to rein it in, and he talked about how he was going to go through the budget line by line and end programs that don't work. And now he has -- you know, he's gone through a splurge, an unprecedented splurge of spending. We had the stimulus, $787 billion. We had the $410 billion omnibus. We had the $33 billion expansion of S-CHIP. We had the, you know, $800 billion plus cap- and-trade bill that passed through the House. We have a nearly trillion- dollar health care bill. And now he's saying, warned by the polls that independents are getting revved up about this, he's now saying, Well, we're going to do something about this by, you know, next year. I'm going to do something about the deficit. But the American people are a little dubious about it, and it's showing up in the numbers on the health care bill. There was a poll from Quinnipiac last week that said that 72 percent of Americans think that he will not be able to keep his promise that health care reform won't add to the deficit. Only 19 percent, less than one in five, thinks he will be able to keep that promise.

VAN SUSTEREN: And Karl, we got take a quick break.

Up next: Karl Rove is going rogue. Former governor Palin is at the top (ph) of her (ph) big PAC (ph) tonight. We're going to explain next.


VAN SUSTEREN: She's number one. According to Nielsen Book Scan (ph), former governor Sarah Palin's memoir "Going Rogue" is the number-one- selling book in the country. Yes, the country's still talking about Governor Palin. And Karl Rove is back with us. Karl, what is it? She has sold over 4690,000 copies in the first week, which is second to former president Bill Clinton. But what is it? Why -- why are they selling like hotcakes?

ROVE: Well, I think she's an interesting personality who relates well to a lot of Americans. And a lot of people who have been heretofore on the fringes of politics and sitting on the sidelines were motivated during the campaign to get involved and since that time have become even more enamored of her.

And the fact she's got a very interesting book and speaks her mind and is traveling the country -- I mean, these crowds she's getting are really pretty amazing, people showing up in Roanoke, Virginia, on a -- you know, a freezing morning, you know, lining up hours before she shows up, 4,000 people at a military base to see her. I mean, you know, this is pretty amazing. And to sell this amount of books, not be a president -- I mean, President Clinton sold slightly more books. Something tells me she may end up selling more. You know, her sales may be more durable than his. It's certainly a good read.


ROVE: I've started to read it. It's a very good book.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do we know, or does anyone know whether she's (INAUDIBLE) you know, a flash in the pan or whether this -- if she has any staying power on this? I mean, there's a lot of talk about her enthusiasm, but how do we know that by next month, it's like, Sarah who?

ROVE: Well, I mean, you know, look, right now, she's selling books, so she's in a -- you know, our expectations are, you know, is she out there speaking her mind, you know, are we seeing her, getting to know her a little bit better, people having a chance to touch her. But look, the next question is, is she going to be a candidate for president? And if so, it's going to be a much different arena that she enters and the expectations are going to be much, much higher. People are going to be viewing her through a perspective of does she have the substance and the experience and the breadth and bandwidth to be president of the United States?

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you show substance?

ROVE: Well, you show substance by -- you know, by -- by talking about it, by, you know, offering interesting ideas, by commenting about current events in a way that people find -- find revealing of your leadership skills, and by, you know, charting a course, by setting a theme and charting a course for what you want to do and where you want the country to go that people would find attractive.

VAN SUSTEREN: But here's the interesting thing, is that all those rumors about who her son, Trig -- you know, who is the real mother of her son, Trig, a horrible Internet rumor -- you know, there were Internet rumors about a lot of candidates. There were Internet rumors about President Obama that he was never confronted with, it would have been wrong to confront him about. But she gets slapped around with that. I mean, so how does she overcome the ones that she gets hit with?

ROVE: Well, look, it's to answer the -- the ones that she feels she needs to but move on. I mean, don't get stuck in this. Don't get -- you know, don't get in a debate with Levi Johnston. Don't get sort of focused on it. Don't show your anger.

VAN SUSTEREN: But she gets asked about that. What does -- what does she do...

ROVE: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... if she gets asked about it? I mean, the problem is, you know, if she sits down in an interview and someone says, Hey, how about Levi Johnston? Is he really posing nude in the magazine? What do you think about it? Will he be there for Thanksgiving? What's she supposed to say?

ROVE: She needs to...

VAN SUSTEREN: Talk about Iran?

ROVE: She needs to -- well, no, she needs to find a way to move off of it and get on to things that are important because, look, the media wants to stick her there. They want to have her be somebody who's more comfortable -- that people are more comfortable seeing her on the front page -- on the front cover of "People" magazine than seeing her in the Oval Office. And the way to do that is to keep these questions about, you know, sort of minor side issues coming and keep her drawn into those conversations, rather than allowing her to begin to develop and flesh out a vision of where she would want to take the country were she to become a candidate.

And she shouldn't confuse these two. Selling books is not the same as running for president, so she shouldn't try and run for president at the same time that she's selling books, nor should she be selling books when she's trying to run for president. These are two -- two different and distinct missions, and the expectations for running for president are much different, much more extensive and much tougher than they are for selling books, and she shouldn't try and rush those two.

VAN SUSTEREN: And to tease the viewers out there, you talked about Friday in the Wall Street Journal article, but what I'm waiting for is your book that I hear is coming out in March. So -- but I'll read the article on Friday, but we're looking for the book, too, as well. Karl...

ROVE: You know, one more quick thing?


ROVE: Andy Malcolm (ph) in The L.A. Times had a very interesting post in his -- in his bog, "Top of the Ticket," where he reported out Barack Obama's approval rating is 49 and Sarah Palin's approval rating has now risen to 43. Only 6 points separate the approval ratings of these two individuals. It's a pretty interesting comment about the -- about the -- what this book has done to -- in order to -- what this book has done to sort of make -- make people open their eyes, reconsider her and develop a different, more positive opinion.

VAN SUSTEREN: Except he's got the lousy job of having to make decisions, which oftentimes hurts your ability to keep friends.

ROVE: Yes. Exactly. Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, thank you.

ROVE: You bet.

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