Rove: Romney won second debate, Obama showed no vision

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 16, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MITT ROMNEY, GOP PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Why am I lowering taxes on the middle class? Because under the last four years, they've been buried. I want to help people in the middle class. And I will not -- I will not under any circumstances reduce the share that's being paid by the highest income taxpayers. And I will not, under any circumstances, increase taxes on the middle class.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight's debate a must win for President Obama and Governor Romney trying to increase his momentum. So how does the race look after debate number two?

Karl Rove joins us. Karl, your thoughts?

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR/FORMER BUSH SENIOR ADVISOR: Well, look, this didn't change the dynamic of the debate. Let's roll the clock back to last week. The Gallup poll said that by a margin of 72 to 20, Americans thought Romney won the debate. So Obama needed to win by -- win tonight's debate by an equally convincing margin in order to change the dynamic. He didn't.

This thing is a draw. I think, frankly, Romney won the evening for a reason I'd like to get into. But it just didn't change the dynamic of the race. People looked last week and said you know what? Mitt Romney seems to have a plan. He seems to be a nice guy, seems to be -- know what he needs to do, seems to be earnest. And President Obama does not seem to have an idea of what he wants to do, and simply keeps pointing to, you know, how good things are today.

So so this was -- this was not a -- you know, it was an OK evening for the president. It was a good evening for Romney. I think, at the end of the day, it's not going to change the dynamic of the race. And the dynamic of the race today in the Gallup likely voter daily tracking poll was Romney 50, Obama 46.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, since you said that you'd like to get into why he won and since so many people may not have that view that you do -- some do, some don't -- tell me why you think he won?

ROVE: Look, first of all, we're -- we get too stuck over who won what debating point over what and what and how did they handle it. Look, both guys had successes tonight and both guys had short comings. I mean, this - - they both got way too eager and aggressive. The president particularly so in the opening, sort of circling around each other.

They -- Governor Romney, in my opinion, made a mistake asking questions of President Obama. You never ask a question and give your opponent a chance to offer an answer, unless you can offer the answer for him. But the main thing about the debate is that what are the independent voters and the undecided voters looking for?

They're looking for strength. They're looking for character. And they're looking for somebody who seem to have a plan to move things forward. And once again tonight, President Obama -- his strength was being aggressive. But he had three things to do. And he used so much time being aggressive that he could only do one other thing, which was defend what he'd done. He did not have a chance to do what he really needed to do, which was to lay out a comprehensive vision for what I'm going to do in the next four years.

Instead, it was I'm going after Romney with things that fell flat. You know, he said Governor Romney says he has a five point plan, but it's really a one point plan, and that is to give tax give aways to the rich. Well, that may go for the true believer who was upset with President Obama last week about his somnolent performance. But that kind of line does nothing for the independent voters who have been hearing a variation of that for months, and last week started to say, you know what, Romney does have a plan, and he does seem to know what it once to do. And it's common sense and practical, and I like it.

So this was not a good night for the president. Even if he score debating points, he won the point and lost the argument.

VAN SUSTEREN: In watching it -- and I have heard both of them speak a number of times. I actually thought that any points that they had to make -- is that it was so overshadowed by the -- by the brawl aspect to it. And I felt uncomfortable watching. I've been in some knock down, drag out fights in the courtroom. I'm perfectly capable of getting into a brawl myself.

But as a spectator, I did not find that I was learning anything. I felt almost felt like a voyeur watching two men who don't like each other trying to kill each other.

ROVE: Well, and look, the narrative going into this was President Obama was going to be more aggressive. President Obama was going to go on the offense. President Obama was going to come in here, throwing haymakers, and you know, take a two by four to Romney. So that sort of happened.

But I think people looked at it and said, do you know what? I didn't like that. And again, more of the credit for that or the blue is going to accrue to President Obama. He needed to come in tonight and do what Romney did last week. And this is dominate by having a vision, by saying here is what I want to do. Here is why the next four years are going to be better. Here are the concrete steps, practical steps that I'm going to do, one, two, three, four five.

Instead, he came out tonight and went after Romney. And you know, Romney made the mistake of getting a little bit too engaged with him. But nonetheless, it works more to the disadvantage of the president than it does to Romney. Romney has the narrative of practical, common sense guy that I suddenly seem I can relate to, who has a one, two, three, four, five steps that he's going to do.

And that is what the election is about, the future, not the past. To the degree that it's about the past, it gets prosecuted better by Romney saying, the president had a chance to do these things and failed, not by the president saying, we've done all the right things and all we need to do is stay the course. Status quo doesn't win reelections. You've got say I've done a good job, and here are the changes that are coming that I need to fight for.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's interesting how they did jab each other. President Obama got in the 14 percent, the Big Bird and the 47 percent. I heard Governor Romney use the term buried several times in reference to when Vice President Biden said that the middle class had been buried in the last four years, or something to that effect. When they weren't almost going to blows, they were jabbing each other, hopefully sending a message to their base. I guess that's why they were doing that.

ROVE: Well, they buried comment was subtle, but it also, you know, sort of resonated. This is -- you know, the middle class in America, ordinary Americans feel like the last four years have not been good to them. And you take a look at the president's ratings on things like the Gallup question are you satisfied with the condition of the country, or right track, wrong track, and the president's numbers are below those of every president who has won reelection, and barely above the two in the modern era, 41 and Jimmy Carter, who were defeated.

And the president's numbers on unemployment, on second quarter GDP growth and on -- on participation in the work force, all of those numbers are above every president who has won, and below the presidents who lost.

VAN SUSTEREN: I suppose that the point of the debates is for people who haven't been living and breathing this for the last two years to get a chance to take a look at the candidates. So I shouldn't be looking for anything in particular. But I didn't hear anything new tonight. And maybe I'm just not the -- I'm not the audience that they're looking for. They're looking for those who haven't been paying attention.

ROVE: Look, that is right, because look, a lot of people are just now waking up. I was surprised. You saw the numbers before the first debate. A rather large number of people in several polls said I really don't know enough about Governor Romney. I know sufficient amount about President Obama, but I know far less about Governor Romney. That is just the reality of the nature of undecided and independent voters. They take in less information. They pay attention later rather than sooner.

They're capable of holding deeply conflicting opinions on the same subject at the same time. We've got to increase taxes on the rich, we shouldn't be raising taxes on anybody at this point. They're fully capable of doing that. And they tend to look at these things late, and tend to be influenced by big events.

And the debate -- that first debate with, you know, 67 million people tuned in and another three million people watching it on there -- watching video or Internet, that is a lot of people. That is about half the number of people that are going to be voting this fall. And as a result, it had a huge impact.

And as I say, it's not going to be undone by a so, so performance by the president, you know, a good performance. I don't want to diminish it, a good performance, but at best a draw or a slight victory. He needed to dominate this night in a big way. And in order to dominate the night, he needed to have Romney make a mistake. If we've seen one thing about Romney as a debater in the Republican primary and then last week is he's not going to make mistakes. And he's not going to make the mistake of being cautious.

He was bold tonight going after the president on some issues, but particularly prosecuting the issue of the failure of the president on the economy, and I thought doing a pretty good job on immigration, to say basically, you add a chance to do it and you didn't do it. Now they got into the weeds about what was he in favor, Arizona and so forth and so on. And the president drew him down there. And he had to get down there.

But the big issue of you had a chance, Mr. President, to solve this problem when you were in complete control of Congress, and you didn't get it done. And the president's response was to basically say, well, I -- you know, I couldn't -- you weren't supportive of my efforts, whatever efforts I made in 2009, which was a weak, weak response.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, thank you.

ROVE: You bet, Greta. Thank you.