Though he was dubbed the architect of the Republican Party for running the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush, Karl Rove told a group of Fordham students he is just a simple man from Texas.
“I’m not some smart Fordham graduate,” he said, “but I like numbers, and [the Affordable Care Act]is a bill financed by a series of gimmicks and tricks.”
Rove, former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff in the Bush administration, spoke on April 14 to nearly 400 students on the Rose Hill campus.
In addition to listing what he did not like about President Barack Obama’s health care law, Rove criticized Obama on government spending and raising the deficit.
“If it continues, it will put us in the dangerous realm of Greece, except there will be no European Union to bail us out,” Rove said.
Regarding entitlement programs, such as Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, Rove said the government is making promises it can’t keep.
“We’ve got to do something about these programs or they’re going to bankrupt the country,” he said.
“I have a 22-year-old in college and he gets money from me each month,” Rove said. “I tell him, ‘Bubba, when it’s gone, it’s gone.’ But the government doesn’t do that. They spend twice what they have.”
A Fox News contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, Rove said the American people are ready for change, though he did not reveal whom he would support for president in 2012.
“You cannot make big changes without a president who will define the problem, understand the challenge, offer a concrete vision and get their hands dirty,” he said. “I’m confident one way or another that will happen.”
During a question-and-answer session, Rove was asked if the United States should get involved with democratic movements in the Middle East.
“We ought to be on the right side of liberty,” he said. “The president made a mistake when an election was stolen from the Iranian people in 2009 and said nothing until nearly five weeks later. Words matter.”
When asked whether he thought waterboarding as an interrogation technique was a human rights violation, Rove was unequivocal.
“It is not torture,” he said, drawing a round of sustained cheers from the audience. “If you have a concern about this, go onto my website and read the memos about what enhanced interrogation techniques can be used.”
Addressing the Plame affair, in which Valerie Plame Wilson was outed as a covert Central Intelligence Agency officer, Rove maintained he had nothing to do with it.
When asked why he was the sole person implicated in that scandal, he sarcastically deadpanned, “Because I’m Karl Rove. I’m the devil incarnate.”
Students enrolled in the master’s program in elections and campaign management (ECM) at Fordham and members of the College Republicans, which sponsored the event with the Young America’s Foundation, rubbed elbows with Rove at a reception before his talk.
“It’s fitting that Mr. Rove is here to speak to College Republicans, because he served as a College Republican in the 1970s [at the University of Utah],” said Costas Panagopoulos, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science and director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy and the ECM program. “His insight about politics has been prescient and poignant.”
Rove, who kept students giggling throughout his presentation, said he participated in a master’s program at the Hinckley Institute of Practical Politics at the University of Texas that was similar to the ECM at Fordham.
“It led me to my first paid job in politics at the age of 19, and the rest is history,” Rove said. “Along the way, I picked up a couple of pieces of advice. Had a friend in College Republicans who said, ‘If you want to be successful in politics, you have to be able to say no.’ This is either because you’re being asked to work for somebody you don’t want to work for, or you’re being asked to do something you don’t want to do, or most important of all, you’re being asked to comment on something where the most important answer—in your interest—would be yes, but the right answer would be no.”
When asked about the Tea Party, Rove said people often focus on the wrong thing.
“[The Tea Party] is concerned about assets, debt, spending and health care,” he said. “These sentiments are vital because it drove independents to vote Republican. The Republican Party better be responsive to the sentiment—not to the movement—and give practical common-sense solutions. If not, they’ll lose.”
Rove said he does not claim to be an expert on how the Republicans can win in 2012. But he told the audience the next president must have a clear vision for the country to remain prosperous and vibrant through the 21st century.
“You don’t go to [the White House]to find out who you are,” he said. “You better have clarity on what you want to achieve.
“And you better be willing to compromise,” he said, referring to President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform in 1996 and Bush’s 2001 tax cut bill. “Why did these pass? Because of compromise. This can’t be outsourced to other members of the White House staff or congressional leadership. There has to be personal engagement.”