Rove's Take: Gen. Clark-McCain-Obama Triangle

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," June 30, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, Karl Rove goes "On the Record." But first, General Wesley Clark is on the attack. His target, Senator John McCain. Listen to this.


GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET.), OBAMA SUPPORTER: That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded, that wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it publicly? He hasn't made those calls, Bob.

BOB SCHIEFFER, "FACE THE NATION": Well -- well, General, maybe -- could I just interrupt you?

CLARK: Sure.

SCHIEFFER: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences, either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean...

CLARK: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.


VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us live is Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to President George W. Bush and now a FOX News contributor. Good evening, Karl.

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH AIDE, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, Greta. How are you?

VAN SUSTEREN: Very well. So Karl, will this blow over, or will this statement by General Clark haunt Senator Obama's campaign?

ROVE: Well, look, today Senator Obama went out and obliquely rebuked General Clark. I mean, that was an outrageous comment by General Clark, who knows better than this. Shame on him. And today Senator Obama went out. I have to give him a B for speed. He waited for nearly 24 hours, letting this smear, this libel, lay out there. I give him a B-minus for the content. He didn't rebuke him directly, though he rebuked him indirectly. He wrapped it up in a little bit of whine (ph), though, saying that he, Senator Obama, had had his patriotism questioned. I'm not certain exactly what he's referring to.

Watch Greta's interview with Karl Rove

But Greta, we also had something else today, which is somebody out there ought to get an A for cynicism or bad timing because today, while Senator Obama was saying we shouldn't be questioning Senator McCain's patriotism, like General Clark did, Rand Beers, a former White House aide, was appearing at the McCain University, a day-long symposia attacking Senator McCain hosted by John Podesta's Center for American Progress, and he, too, went after Senator McCain for his service with an equally outrageous statement.

I don't know if your viewers have been that or if you've seen that, but it was unbelievable and happened the same time as Senator Obama saying we shouldn't be questioning Senator McCain's patriotism. Senator -- Mr. Beers attacked Senator McCain, saying that he was essentially isolated during Vietnam. Yes, he was isolated. He was in a prison cell in North Vietnam. And he said because he was captured, his national security experience in that regard is sadly limited. I mean, pretty outrageous comments.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I don't get it, you know, Karl. If I were running the Senator Obama campaign -- and they haven't asked me, but even the sort of the General Clark's comeback, his sort of his apology, where he says that what he meant is it didn't give him executive experience -- the first thing I think of was, Well, what executive experience does your candidate have? Is it perhaps when he was with Bill Ayers or is it perhaps when he was ignoring what's going on with Reverend Wright? I mean, that's the kind of stuff I'd hit him with. Where's his?

ROVE: Well, he's got 144 days serving in the United States Senate during -- business days serving in the United States Senate. I mean, General Clark was outrageous. It just was -- it was -- you know, this was -- this was beyond -- this was beyond the pale for General Clark to smear Senator McCain in this manner.

And then, look, Barack Obama did the smart thing by coming out today and saying, you know, again, obliquely, not directly, couldn't bring himself to say General Clark was wrong, but he pledged that he would not allow this to happen further.

So the question tomorrow is going to be, is Rand Beers going to apologize? Is John Podesta, who introduced the McCain University session today at the Center for American Progress, going to apologize? And are they going to stop smearing Senator McCain?

This is a pretty outrageous two days in a row here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, here's...

ROVE: It's not -- as you say, it's not to McCain's -- it's not to Obama's advantage. It highlights Senator McCain's service to his country, his sacrifices for the country, and contrasts it with, you know, Senator Obama. And it is politically not smart for him to allow this to continue.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I think you're sort of -- you might have a little grade inflation by giving him a B-minus, and I'll tell you why, for the oblique, I disagree with that, is that he -- he -- you know, he -- if he'd come out firmly, just as if he had come out firmly on Reverend Wright from the beginning, instead of waiting until the Press Club appearance, when Reverend Wright took a personal shot at him -- remember the first time, when all he said was that he denounced his words but not him, and it wasn't until he took a personal shot at him that he objected.

ROVE: Oh, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hearing his statement -- in his statement on patriotism today, he said, "I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine." Well, what about when his guy questions, you know, somebody else? Is he going to be as firm?

ROVE: Well, remember also, Senator Obama said that he stopped wearing a flag lapel pin because he decided after 9/11 that true patriotism did not consist in wearing a flag lapel pin but in speaking out on the issues. He questioned the patriotism of anybody who thought, you know, that they were honoring their country by putting a flag lapel pin on. So I mean, I thought it was really interesting that he was so sensitive. I don't know who he's talking about questioning his patriotism, but I do know that he questioned the patriotism of literally millions of Americans, who in a symbol of devotion to their country, put a flag on their lapel or on their uniform or on their automobile. I mean, I just -- you know, it's...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I take sort of a flip on that, though. I actually -- I side with Senator Obama partially on that, is that anyone would who criticize him for not wearing a flag pin, because you know, I -- I don't know why, but that's not the measure of my patriotism, so...


ROVE: I agree -- I agree with you.


ROVE: Nobody should be criticized for not wearing a flag lapel pin. On the other hand, nobody should say that you're not being a true patriot if you do wear a flag lapel pin, which is what he said. He said true patriotism does not consist of wearing a flag lapel pin but instead speaking out on the issues. Look, you can be a true patriot and wear a flag lapel pin or not. You can be a true patriot speaking out on the issues or not. But the judgmental nature of his approach, saying if you wear a flag lapel pin, that's not true patriotism, that was calling into question the patriotism of those who make the decision to wear that symbol.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, he didn't make the statement, General Clark did, but I certainly would have liked to see a stronger, you know, statement saying, you know, I'm just not going to have that, and we didn't quite hear that today.

ROVE: And let's see tomorrow. Let's see what we hear tomorrow from Senator Obama, from Rand Beers...


ROVE: ... Do we have an abject apology, and John Podesta. Does John Podesta stand up and say, You know what? I'm not going to allow the Center for American Progress to be used to question -- I mean, look, to say John McCain is sadly limited in his national security experience because -- Rand Beers said, you know, because he wasn't -- he wasn't on the ground forces in Vietnam and because he was, quote, "essentially isolated." How's that a euphemism for prisoner of war? You know, how's that -- what kind of a euphemism is that for a guy stuck in a cell in the middle of hell in North Vietnam? I mean, a pretty remarkable comment.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, I think it's too late for General Clark. He had his chance today. We'll see what he says about John Podesta and Rand Beers tomorrow (INAUDIBLE).

All right, let me quickly switch gears. Timing -- what are the sort of the strategic ideas on both camps, when they should announce a VP candidate?

ROVE: Well, first of all, history since 1968 shows us that with one exception, every vice presidential running mate has been named either the week before the convention or the week of the convention itself. People have waited until that point in order to keep sort of the suspense alive and keep some attention. The one example where the vice presidential running mate was chosen before the week before the convention was in 2004. Twenty days before the Democratic convention, John Kerry unveiled John Edwards.

So my sense is that if you look at both of these men -- they're planning foreign trips, which will occupy part of July. And my sense is that's a signal that they're not going to be making these announcements until late July or early August, at the earliest. And I suspect both of them are going to look for ways to keep this decision as long as possible.

VAN SUSTEREN: So if someone wants to be second, is that the better place to be, to sort of take the steam out of the person who's first?

ROVE: Well, that's part of it. And they're going to play a game of chicken to see who will go first. You know, Obama's sort of under pressure there because his convention is the week before the -- McCain's convention, Democratic convention last week of August, Republican convention the first week of September. So the natural order of things would sort of put the pressure on him. But he may be trying to sort of, you know, pressure McCain to make his choice first, so that he goes second, and vice versa.

But you know, also let me tell you, this is a very complicated process of vetting and choosing the vice president. I saw it in 2000, and it is a very complicated process in which a lot of material needs to be gone over, a lot of tough questions asked, a lot of tough decisions made by the candidate. In 1992, Bill Clinton looked at over 40 people for vice president. In 2000, George W. Bush looked at two dozen people.

And it's an exhaustive process. And they're going to -- particularly with the kind of frantic pace that they've got today with the general election campaign already under way and both of them barnstorming through battleground state after battleground state, they're probably both of them wishing they had more time to sit down, read the files, think, talk, interview, visit with prospective candidates and make a thoughtful decision.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, as always, thank you.

ROVE: You bet, Greta. Thanks for having me.

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