CBS’s Schieffer: Can McCain Win With ‘Same Old Karl Rove Ads’?

Bob Schieffer and Karl Rove, CBS On Sunday’s Face the Nation on CBS, host Bob Schieffer talked about John McCain’s latest campaign ads with Republican strategist Karl Rove and quoted previous guest Tim Kaine, the Democratic Governor of Virginia: "But what about John McCain? At this point, as Governor Kaine said, Obama's running positive ads and John McCain is running ads about...Paris Hilton and that sort of thing...What he called the same old Karl Rove ads...Can you get elected president that way?"

In response, Rove argued that Obama started the negative trend: "I would make the argument that part of the reason why Senator Obama is in the shape he is in today is because he's failed to run a positive campaign. He's run a negative campaign." Schieffer immediately brushed that charge aside: "What do you think John McCain ought to do -- I want to get back to my question, can you get elected when the thrust of your campaign seems to be comparing the other guy to sort of an empty suit, Paris Hilton-type celebrity? Doesn't it have to go beyond that?"

Schieffer began the segment by turning flattening poll numbers for Barack Obama into bad news for McCain: "Democrats are worried that Barack Obama's not doing better, that he ought to be doing better than he is. But the truth is, John McCain really hasn't caught fire either. I mean, our recent CBS News polls showed that only 17 percent of Republicans were, quote, "enthusiastic" about John McCain...Now, that has got to worry Republican strategists, it seems to me." Rove then cited a Pew Research poll that had Democrats hardly more excited for Obama: "Well, I think you ought to point out that only 24 percent of Democrats were similarly that -- had that same degree of enthusiastic -- enthusiasm for Obama." Schieffer replied: "Well, actually, in our poll it was much greater than that."

Schieffer went on to ask Rove: "Does he need to separate himself from your old boss, George Bush? Separate himself more?" When he turned to the Democrats, Schieffer focused on their chances of winning: "You have said yourself in the past that Obama probably should pick a red state governor, somebody just like Tim Kaine that we just heard just a minute ago from Virginia. Governor Kaine seems to think that Democrats really can carry Virginia this time. Do you think that state's going to be in play?"

Rove responded to that by clarifying: "Yeah. I think it's going to be in play, but let me clarify. I didn't say that I thought he ought to, I said that I thought he probably would pick a red state Democrat, because I think he's going to make an intensely political choice, not a governing choice...He's not going to be thinking big and broad about the responsibilities of president." Undeterred, Schieffer’s final question was again: "Do you think -- and we have about 30 seconds left here. Do you think that the Democrats do have a good chance of carrying Virginia, which they haven't done since Lyndon Johnson in '64?"

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

10:44AM SEGMENT:

BOB SCHIEFFER: And with us now from Florida, Republican strategist and former adviser to President Bush, Karl Rove. Karl Rove is for the McCain campaign, but he is not of the campaign. Well, Mr. Rove, you heard me say to Governor Kaine that a lot of Democrats are worried that Barack Obama's not doing better, that he ought to be doing better than he is. But the truth is, John McCain really hasn't caught fire either. I mean, our recent CBS News polls showed that only 17 percent of Republicans were, quote, "enthusiastic" about John McCain.

KARL ROVE: Yeah.

SCHIEFFER: Now, that has got to worry Republican strategists, it seems to me.

ROVE: Yeah. Well, I think you ought to point out that only 24 percent of Democrats were similarly that -- had that same degree of enthusiastic -- enthusiasm for Obama. You're right, there is-

SCHIEFFER: Well, actually, in our poll it was much greater than that.

ROVE: Yeah.

SCHIEFFER: You're talking about the Pew poll. But go ahead.

ROVE: Yeah, yeah. Look, two things. One is the race is closer than it ought to be. With a restive -- with a restive electorate, with an economy that's sort of chugging along, with a war in the background, at the end of eight years of Republican rule in the White House Obama should be way ahead. And yet, as you point out, Gallup shows it -- the last week, the average is 1.9 percent. If you look at the -- at the Web sites that average polls, pollster.com has it at a 2.4 percent race, fivethirtyeight.com has it at a 2 percent race. This is a race where Obama should be way ahead, and the fact that he isn't says that there are grave doubts about Senator Obama.

SCHIEFFER: But what about John McCain? At this point, as Governor Kaine said, Obama's running positive ads and John McCain is running ads about-

ROVE: You know-

SCHIEFFER: -Paris Hilton and that sort of thing.

ROVE: You know what?

SCHIEFFER: What he called the same old Karl Rove ads.

ROVE: Yeah. Well, with all due respect-

SCHIEFFER: Can you get elected president that way?

ROVE: With all due respect to Senator -- to Governor Kaine, he's wrong. Senator Obama is running an ad in which he attacks John McCain as being in the pocket of the oil companies, a charge that got The Washington Post this morning even to raise some editorial doubts. And he's offering up a populist energy proposal that even has The New York Times expressing editorial qualms this morning. And remember, Senator Obama is the person who over the course of the last month has been standing up, suggesting that Senator McCain and the Republicans are going to mount racist attacks, and just before he left on his vacation in Hawaii called Senator McCain ignorant. I don't think that's particularly a positive campaign. In fact, I would make the argument that part of the reason why Senator Obama is in the shape he is in today is because he's failed to run a positive campaign. He's run a negative campaign. He's claimed to be something new and different, and yet given these -- you know, it is really beyond the pale to sit there and insinuate that Senator McCain is somehow going to attack him for being black, which is what he did for over a month.

SCHIEFFER: What do you think John McCain ought to do -- I want to get back to my question, can you get elected when the thrust of your campaign seems to be comparing the other guy to sort of an empty suit, Paris Hilton-type celebrity? Doesn't it have to go beyond that?

ROVE: Yeah. Well, it does. But I got to tell you, I think Senator McCain was right by raising these doubts about Senator Obama. They're on the minds of the American people. That's why when he went on this big foreign trip, you know, Governor Kaine talks about judgment. What does it say about somebody's judgment that you can go to Iraq and not come out and credit the surge for the stabilization of Iraq and for putting us in a place -- in a place where we can win the conflict? It is because Senator Obama has demonstrated such appalling judgment. He goes to Europe and does a big rally in Germany as if he's running for president of the United States of Europe, not the United States of America. It's these kind of judgment questions that Senator McCain was right to raise, because they are judgment questions that are sitting on the minds of Americans. But it's not enough, I grant you that. He's got to do several other things. He's got to -- he's got to -- he's got to point out that there is no there there when it comes to Senator Obama's rhetoric. He's running on an empty -- you know, empty rhetoric. If Walter Mondale had not used up the slogan "Where's the beef?" it would be a good one for Senator McCain to raise. And -- but Senator McCain needs to do two positive things. One is he needs to use the 12 weeks that are left to lay out a bold agenda for domestic reform, and he also needs to talk more about his character. Now, he's doing part of the second. I mean, this energy debate has been positive for McCain because he says, 'Look, I'm in favor of drilling more, I'm in favor of nuclear, I'm in favor of renewables, and my opponent is in favor of taxing coal, taxing natural gas, and not building any nuclear plants,' and certainly, he's been opposed, until very recent, about drilling off the outer continental shelf. These things have worked to the advantage of Senator McCain. He needs to do more of those on issues like health and jobs and education.

SCHIEFFER: Does he need to separate himself from your old boss, George Bush? Separate himself more?

ROVE: You know, he needs to -- he needs to recognize that every election is about the future, and he needs to describe who he is. If he -- if Senator Obama has wisely attacked him saying, 'Third term of George Bush,' Senator McCain has responded badly to that. Rather than saying, 'You know what, here's who I am and here's what I'm about,' he's responded by saying, 'No, I'm not,' which is the wrong answer. If the question is who is not George Bush, Barack Obama is the answer. If the question is who are you and do you have a vision for the future, the answer could be Senator McCain. In fact, again, I would suggest that a weakness of Obama is that by harping so much about no third term for Bush, people have said, 'You know what? I--John McCain's not George Bush. He ran against him in 2000.' To the degree that McCain supplies more about who he is and ignores the question of third term, says 'Here's who I am and here's what my vision is,' the more he'll prosper and the worse Senator Obama will be.

SCHIEFFER: You have said yourself in the past that Obama probably should pick a red state governor, somebody just like Tim Kaine that we just heard just a minute ago from Virginia. Governor Kaine seems to think that Democrats really can carry Virginia this time. Do you think that state's going to be in play?

ROVE: Yeah. I think it's going to be in play, but let me clarify. I didn't say that I thought he ought to, I said that I thought he probably would pick a red state Democrat, because I think he's going to make an intensely political choice, not a governing choice. He's going to view this through the prism of a candidate, not through the prism of president; that is to say, he's going to pick somebody that he thinks will on the margin help him in a state like Indiana or Missouri or Virginia. He's not going to be thinking big and broad about the responsibilities of president. With all due respect again to Governor Kaine, he's been a governor for three years, he's been able but undistinguished. I don't think people could really name a big, important thing that he's done. He was mayor of the 105th largest city in America. And again, with all due respect to Richmond, Virginia, it's smaller than Chula Vista, California; Aurora, Colorado; Mesa or Gilbert, Arizona; north Las Vegas or Henderson, Nevada. It's not a big town. So if he were to pick Governor Kaine, it would be an intensely political choice where he said, 'You know what? I'm really not, first and foremost, concerned with, is this person capable of being President of the United States? What I'm concerned about is, can he bring me the electoral votes of the state of Virginia, the 13 electoral votes in Virginia?'

SCHIEFFER: Do you think -- and we have about 30 seconds left here. Do you think that the Democrats do have a good chance of carrying Virginia, which they haven't done since Lyndon Johnson in '64?

ROVE: I think at the end of the day Virginia will be in the Republican column. 1976, I actually was involved in Virginia helping run the Dole campaign and then came very close to winning then. I think, at the end of the day, McCain wins it this time. But it will be a battleground state in large measure because Obama's going to put the money and resources into it and Governor Kaine may have a special interest in trying to carry his -- the commonwealth.

SCHIEFFER: Alright, Karl Rove, we want to thank you for your insight this morning.

ROVE: You bet.

SCHIEFFER: We'll be back with a final word in just a minute.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC