Karl Rove talks 2016 politics at KPU Event
By drawing comparisons to the presidential election of 1896, the political strategist explained the way to the White House for this year’s candidates
Karl Rove, former Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush, spoke to AU students on Feb. 16 about his most recent book, “The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters,” and the ongoing 2016 presidential election cycle.
School of Communication adjunct professor and NPR News' Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving moderated the event, which was presented by the Kennedy Political Union and co-sponsored by AU College Republicans and the Network of enlightened Women.
In his opening address, Rove, who is currently a Fox News contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist, spoke about the unique nature of the 2016 elections, especially the large number of candidates in the Republican field.
“We have never had as many candidates seeking the Republican nomination as we have had this time,” Rove said. “I’ve gone back to 1856, the first Republican convention, and even in the year when it was normal to have favorite sons who represent their state or region, run, we have never had 17 people declare for the Republican nomination. We’ve never had as wild a contest as we’re seeing on the other side either, an unexpected contest.”
In an interview with The Eagle, Rove said that the election path ahead will be difficult for both Republicans and Democrats. Economic insecurity is the top issue in the minds of Americans, and they will think about which candidate can help them the most in that area when they vote, according to Rove. However, he said the results of this presidential election will result in deep dissatisfaction from members of both parties, regardless of the outcome.
“Both political parties are in the process of breaking down and whichever party loses is going to go into bitter infighting. Even the party that wins the presidency is going to find enormous challenges, internal stresses and strains,” Rove said. “American politics has had an equilibrium for a long period of time, where both parties have been relatively competitive, but that has been at the cost of getting the extremes of each party dissatisfied with what they perceive as being unnecessary victories on the other side.”
Rove’s appearance on Tuesday night marks his first return to AU since 2007, when he spoke at an event organized by the AU College Republicans. After the speech, Rove was confronted by protesters upset about his visit, with students lying down in front of his car in an attempt to prevent him from leaving the venue.
During the event, Rove discussed the presidential election of 1896, the topic of his new book, and William McKinley’s ability to reach out to a diverse group of Americans and change the direction of the Republican party to inspire 36 years of Republican domination. Rove believes there are lessons to be learned for today’s candidates from that era.
“He [McKinley] wins the working man’s vote by having a positive, optimistic message, by understanding that politics is about addition, not subtraction, by modernizing the Republican party, by doing things that no Republican had ever done before, and particularly reaching into immigrant communities,” Rove told The Eagle.
To ensure a Republican win this year, Rove believes that the party needs to do a better job reaching Hispanic and African-American voters, and he said right now, anyone except for Donald Trump has the potential to be the Republican nominee. On the Democratic side, he predicts Hillary Clinton will win the nomination.
Ultimately, people make the decision on who to vote for based on the real person they see in front of them, and to run a successful campaign, the candidate must be perceived as authentic, Rove told The Eagle.
“The people who decide the election are not going to look at you and say you’re all bad or you’re all good. They are going to say you’re a mixture of good points and bad points. Hopefully you are depicted honestly, as you would be on your best day,” Rove said. “But at the end of the day, the American people are going to do what they think is the right thing, and they are going to look at you, and examine you, and it’s a very complicated equation they create in their own minds to arrive at their decision.”
Rove also spoke to The Eagle about the ongoing crisis in Syria, and said that candidates running for the presidency are not going to win by criticizing the White House but that he strongly believes the current administration’s strategy in the region has been ineffective.
“We should have been doing a lot more earlier, and we should have been backing up the President’s words with actions,” Rove said. “At minimum, we need to establish safe zones within Syria, and that means robust use of American power, air power, but it also means operators on the ground to help a Sunni coalition open up areas in their own country where Syrians are able to stay in their own country without being attacked by ISIS, bombed by their own dictator, or starved by the regime.”
During the Q-and-A at the end of the event, Rove told students who are interested in a career in politics to leave D.C. after graduation and start working in their home state. He discussed his advice for the younger generation with The Eagle as well and said that apart from leaving the city, students should also take up a profession outside of politics because it allows them the ability to walk away from it if they want to.
“Meet a lot of friends, make a lot of acquaintances, and then go home and start rising up from the bottom because you won’t get down to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue by living or working in Washington D.C.,” Rove said. “There are a few people who do that, but most of them are people who rise from the bottom back where they came from."