Karl Rove is a tough interview. He knows his facts. His ability to recall details and statistics is way above average. His mask rarely slips, and he rarely goes off message.
Interviewing Rove about his new book on Thursday, it was a challenge to get him to say anything new or interesting, since he has been doing interviews about the book for several days. He didn’t really bite when I asked him about whether he thought of himself as powerful when he was in the White House, though his answer may be revealing in its own way.
But tucked in the middle of lengthy answers (transcript here), Rove did slide in some pretty bare-knuckled punches at President Obama, as well as at Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican whose strained relationship with Rove’s former boss, President George W. Bush, is no secret.
Rove also made some admissions about Bush’s fiscal conservatism, which is something many on the right feel Bush failed to live up to.
I asked Rove what he thought about Obamas’s remark earlier this week that Washington is “a harsh and unforgiving landscape.”
While Rove said he was “sympathetic” to the pressure and criticism that come with being president, he added that any president “better have a thick skin, because the town is tough.”
And Rove said that Obama has helped make Washington’s lack of bipartisanship worse, citing statements about himself by the president and his allies that Rove said were incorrect.
“I appreciate President Obama being concerned about what he would see as a harsh environment. He ought to consider what he has done to add to it by so freely distorting what people believe and where they are,” Rove said.
As for McCain, Rove said his 2008 run for the presidency was a “lousy” campaign: “a very worthy man, but not a particularly effective campaign.”
While Rove defended Bush’s economic record vigorously, he did allow that the 2003 passage of Medicare Part D to cover prescription drugs was not paid for like it should likely have been.
“You could make the argument that Bush had an unfunded liability, the unfunded entitlement that he created in the form of the Medicare prescription drug benefits, and I think that’s a reasonable argument to make,” Rove said.
“We didn’t pay for [it],” he admitted, though he insisted that Bush should get credit for trying to reform Social Security.
Read the entire transcript of the interview here.