The race for the White House

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Karl Rove, former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, was the architect of Mr Bush’s controversial election victory in 2000 and his re-election in 2004.

Having helped Mr Bush to victory, Mr Rove offers Barack Obama advice in the Financial Times on how he could beat Hillary Clinton and secure the Democratic nomination. And he answers your questions about all aspects of the US presidential race below.


Have Democrats essentially won by making universal healthcare (socialised, semi-socialised or private) the defining issue of the 2008 race?
GJ, Cleveland

Karl Rove: No, because Republicans have far more attractive arguments to make on healthcare, if they have the courage to make them. For example, Republicans believe that people should get the same tax break for health insurance, whether they get it from their employer or pay for it themselves.

Republicans want people to be able to save tax-free for their out of pocket medical expenses, and pair those tax-free savings accounts with low-cost, high deductible insurance policies.

Republicans want small businesses to be able to join together to get the same discounts that big companies get.

Republican believe that more competition provides better coverage at less cost, so people should be able to shop across state lines for health insurance just like we can for auto insurance.

Republicans believe we need to stop the junk lawsuits that are driving good doctors out of business driving up healthcare costs for everyone. Having the political courage to lay these out, as well as point to the shortcomings of government-run healthcare (no choice, big cost, long lines, bureaucrats and not doctors in charge), and we will do fine on this issue.


Can Hillary Clinton’s polling lead (nationally and in most states) be easily overcome if Obama takes Iowa? What do you then see the key state being for Hillary to hold on or for Obama to takeover?
Morven Macnab, London

Karl Rove: No, Hillary won’t collapse if Obama takes Iowa, but it will hurt and could prove fatal if she doesn’t then perform well in the contests that follow (I suspect she will). New Hampshire is critical for her. Then she must not allow him to get back up off the mat in South Carolina, Michigan and Florida.


If Romney (or Huckabee) takes Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as looks likely, can Giulliani still come back, winning the bigger states? Is focusing on the bigger states as Giulliani has done a more optimal strategy now the primary calendar has been squeezed together?
Simon, London

Karl Rove: Good question. It depends on how close Rudy runs in New Hampshire and South Carolina and how inclined people in Florida and in the 22 states with contests clustered around February 5 are to pay attention to or ignore the seven contests that come before. These are the big strategic bets of the Giuliani campaign.


After John Howard’s election loss and Australia’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol (leaving the United States as the only developed nation outside the pact), do you think that the topic of climate change or global warming will have any significance in the US presidential election?
Zoyd Huemer, Munich, Germany

Karl Rove: Kyoto is yesterday: discarded and increasingly irrelevant. That’s why a new approach is likely to emerge from the discussions in Bali.

There is a proven strategy to reduce greenhouse gases prudently while growing the economy. The US grew its economy 2.9 per cent last year and reduced the absolute amount of greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 per cent by pursuing a strategy that emphasised technology as a way to slow, stabilise and eventually reduce GHG emissions. Climate will have a role in the campaign. The question is whether the answers proposed have a bigger effect on jobs, paychecks and family budgets than they do on restraining the growth of GHG.


It has been suggested by numerous people over the years and most recently by Alan Greenspan that there is a real possibility of a legitimate third party national candidate in the near future, what are your thoughts?
John Doonan, Ipswich

Karl Rove: I doubt it. What space in the American political dialogue is not touched or occupied by one of the major political parties? It’s always possible for a wealthy, self-funding candidate to describe personal characteristics or style that is missing, but on most big questions, most of the attractive policy positions are represented within the major parties. Some of those positions can be carried to an extreme and draw some small support from part of the electorate, but that’s not a winning strategy.

For a third party to emerge in this election, it will take an opening based on the personal shortcomings of the candidates that can be filled by the personality (and bucks) of a third party candidate. And that describes more a vanity campaign than a new party.


You and the Bush administration have been credited with helping to bring many Hispanic voters into the Republican camp. This strategy now seems to be in jeopardy because of the hard line that the Republican candidates are taking against illegal immigration. Is the Republican party, in an effort to pander to prejudice against Hispanics and other minorities among white voters, running away so hard from the tolerant policies, that it could be in danger of running over a cliff in next year’s election?
Roger Algase, New York

Karl Rove: All Americans want secure borders and what the administration has done in doubling the Border Patrol and tripling its budget is supported by most Americans. Most people are also unaware that their government apprehended and returned across the border nearly 1.3m people last year and that is is getting much more difficult and far more costly to come to this country illegally. Most people are also unaware that one of out every three illegal aliens came here on a legal visa and overstayed it. And most Americans are unaware that one out of every 20 workers in America is an illegal.

Hispanics, Anglos and African-Americans all want secure borders and oppose things like giving drivers license to illegal aliens. But the GOP will lose support among Hispanics if that’s all we do. We must advocate a guest work program that allows people to come here for a period to work and then go home and we have to find a practical way to deal with the people who are already here illegally that does not give them amnesty (forgiveness without penalty for their offence) or rely on systemic mass deportations.


It appears the Iraq war and, as a result, terrorists’ ability to wage war on America is waning and will be a far less important by the 2008 election. So what issues, domestic or foreign, are likely to fill the void at the top tier of Americans’ concerns?
Doug Damerst, FL, US

Karl Rove: It will be less important as an issue but the attitudes and views of the candidates on Iraq, especially going forward, will have an important impact on voter preference.

As Iraq drifts downward, domestic concerns will rise, with voters more concerned about jobs, taxes, healthcare, education, and government spending.


Do you see the blue state/red state divide from the 2004 election remaining more or less as is, or will it depend greatly on who the nominees are?
Ed Maydon, London

Karl Rove: I see that the blue/red state divide will be substantially intact. Once again, most of the battleground states will be the same as in recent elections. But even little changes in that red/blue state divide can have big consequences and each party has nominees who will put a few new states into play. For example, Romney clearly puts both Michigan and New Hampshire into play. Rudy puts New Jersey and Connecticut into play (and New York, if Bloomberg enters as a third party candidate), while Hillary has a chance in Arkansas and maybe some of the outer South.


While the Democratic candidates seem to be campaigning on a very similar ideological basis with differences expressed more in terms of personality, the Republican campaign seems to be have a very big moral (religious) and economic divide. How will the Republican nominee be decided and to what extent might this promote a rift within the Republican party?
Michael Gray, Italy

Karl Rove: I’m not certain. I see the Democrat campaign being conducted on a very similar ideological frame. There are big areas of agreement (taxes, increased spending, abortion, judges, terrorist surveillance) but also areas of substantial disagreement (Iraq, Iran and healthcare) among Democrat frontrunners.

There are similar divisions within the Republican field, but I’m not certain I accept that they are larger and more troublesome.

In a two party system, each political party constantly runs the risk of certain elements of the party being less engaged and less committed because the party’s nominee doesn’t put the same emphasis or has a different opinion on an issue as that element’s followers do. One of the interesting challenges facing each major party this year is how its nominee minimises friction within the party.


Would you prefer Barack Obama to be the Democratic nominee because it would be harder for a Republican candidate to mobilise successfully against Hillary Clinton?
Volker Lehmann, New York

Karl Rove: In politics, I’ve learned not to develop preferences about things you can’t control and Democrats — not Republicans — will decide who that party’s nominee is. So I don’t have a preference: it will be what it will be.

Hillary’s high negatives mean that Republicans will unite and mobilise against her more quicker than they would against Obama, at least initially


One simple question: How can Ron Paul win the GOP?
Noah Hughes, Iowa

Karl Rove: One simple answer: he can’t.


It seems pretty clear that at least two candidates on the Democratic side, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, can easily beat any of the Republican challengers if the election were held today. What must the Republican candidates to overcome this obstacle, and which candidate do you think is strong and smart enough to pull it off?
Lee Kujawa, Florida US

Karl Rove: Your thesis is wrong. This will be a close election and either side can win. What is surprising is that Hillary is only slightly ahead and in some instances behind named Republicans in some of the general election head to heads at this point.

To win, the Republican nominee must move quickly after he secures the nomination to do four things.

First, create a narrative that helps the American people understand him, his life story and experiences, his values and convictions, his principles and priorities. This is especially important if Hillary is the Democrat: most Americans know a lot about her and much less about any of her prospective Republican opponents.

Second, lay out a positive and optimistic agenda, with a special emphasis on those issues people talk about around the kitchen table that Democrats have historically had an advantage on, like healthcare and the cost of college education. Taxes, spending, judges, values and national security are important, but so are these issues.

Third, campaign actively for the votes of all Americans. The Republican will not make gains in the African-American, Latino and Asian-American communities without asking for the vote. All Americans want to see the Republican campaign in every community in the nation.

Fourth, be strong on Iraq. The tide is turning and the Democrats who opposed the policy that is setting a trajectory towards victory will have some explaining to do.


Isn’t it bad for the Republican party if Mike Huckabee wins in Iowa, or wins the nomination? Wouldn’t it be better if the party began distancing itself from overt religiosity?
Brian Sayler, Kuwait

Karl Rove: And what, make the same mistake the Democrat Party did in rejecting people of faith from its coalition, thereby electing Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush?

The Republican Party has shown itself more welcoming of people of faith being involved in the public square and thereby began to win the votes of Southern evangelicals, who had before voted Democratic or not voted at all, and Catholics, who were a key element of the FDR New Deal coalition that dominated American politics for 40 years.


One of President Bush’s closest former advisers, Dan Bartlett, has a brutally candid analysis of the Republican nomination battle: Fred Thompson is the campaign’s biggest dud, Mitt Romney has a real problem in the South because people will not vote for a Mormon, Mike Huckabee’s last name is too hick, and John McCain could end up repeating 2000 by winning New Hampshire but losing the nomination. Do you agree with these assessments?
Jim Dunlap, Atlanta, Georgia

Karl Rove: I love and respect Dan Bartlett, with whom I’ve been privileged to work since he was in college, but no, I don’t.


It often seems politically correct for politicians to emphasise the commonality between the US and Europe. However, during the Bush presidency it seems that US and Europe have drifted further apart. How do you see US-European relations evolving over the coming decade?
Nicolaj Kundert Jensen, Amsterdam

Karl Rove: Not certain I agree with your preposition. We have strong relations with the UK and the best relations we’ve had in a long time with France and Germany. America continues to enjoy strong and positive relations with many of the new democracies of the former Soviet Bloc in Central Europe and the Baltics and even cordial relations with many center-left governments.

I do see increasing economic competition between the US and Europe in searching for trade opportunities around the globe and trade friction as some in Europe attempt to keep their agriculture and other sectors protected. And where US-European relations evolve on security questions remains open, but I am optimistic about the relationship that seems to be emerging on most big questions of common interest.


With recent trends in population shifts, can the Democrats realistically hope of winning any Southern state in 2008? If not when do you think this might be possible?
Juliet, Bristol

Karl Rove: If Hillary is the nominee, maybe Arkansas where she was First Lady. Whoever the Democrat nominee is, they may try to carry Virginia, Louisiana and Florida, but they will fall short.


Mr. Rove, do you think Obama has a real chance of winning the presidency if he does get the Democratic nomination? And is America ready for a black president?
Tammy, Philadelphia

Karl Rove: Yes to the first and absolutely yes to the second.

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