In front of a crowd of more than one hundred students and locals, Karl Rove spoke on the 2016 Presidential election and took questions that spanned from economic policy to how foreign affairs will influence future elections.
Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to President George W. Bush, was introduced by College Republican Paul Dasilva as an “iconic political strategist.” Rove thanked the College Republicans and the Young Americans foundation for welcoming him before leading into a 25-minute speech on the 2016 election.
“[The 2016 primaries] will be more open than any Republican sweepstakes in the modern era. I used to think it was odd not to have a frontrunner, but at this point in 1979, Ronald Reagan lead the national polls by one point,” Rove said.
Arguing that the primary process in 2012 was longer than average was due to the sheer number of debates that were held, Rove suggested that new Republican Party rules would help to narrow the field of viable candidates by April 2016.
“There won’t be 26 debates where Republicans can beat each other up and the national media can ask, ‘how weird are you?” Rove said. “We’re likely to see the field narrowed to two to three serious candidates. The race should be ended by late March or early April, but it’s going to be one heck of a contest.”
On the likely Democratic Party nominee, Rove was blunt and to the point.
“The Democratic side will be Hillary Clinton, not because she’s a good candidate; she’s not, but because there’s no one else,” Rove said.
Dispensing advice for potential Republican candidates, Rove encouraged that Republicans focus on the economy and talk up the lack of a major recovery under President Barack Obama.
“It has never taken us this long, even in the Great Depression, to get back to ground zero…We can’t be Greece, because there’s no E.U. to bail us out. That means the Republican field will need to talk about this, and they need to talk about entitlements,” Rove said. “The election is going to be about the future, and the candidate’s visions for the future.”
When asked about a potential nuclear agreement between the United States and Iran, Rove was openly distrustful of the Iranian government, and suggested that any deal without concrete ways to keep Iran honest would lead to a more dangerous Middle East.
“[Iran] is not living up to its international agreements, and now we’re in a place where the Iranians will be telling us about their facilities…Once the sanctions are undone, it’s hard to put the machine back in place,” Rove said. “[Saudi Arabia] will not allow their Shia enemies to hold the only nuclear weapon in the region, and we’ll have to fall back on mutually assured destruction.”
Rove was also questioned by an Iraq veteran, who asked Rove if he would “take responsibility” for the American and Iraqi lives lost as a result of the American invasion. Rove defended the invasion, and said that the biggest mistake the U.S. made was leaving the country too early.
“It was right to drive Saddam Hussein from power. He refused to live up to his agreements, and he was a sponsor of terrorism. We should be proud of what we did in Iraq, but sorry that we left them,” Rove said. “I’m not going to apologize for our government having removed Saddam Hussein from power.”
Returning to domestic politics, Rove was also questioned regarding the viability of presidential candidate and sitting U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Rove argued that Cruz would have to perform well in the first contest, Iowa, in order to remain in the race.
“[Cruz] gave a great speech, but it’s going to be hard for him. My sense is, he was smart to get in front of the pack…When he gave his speech at Liberty University, he was targeting Iowa. If he has a good showing in Iowa, he has a brief chance to…stay alive through South Carolina,” Rove said.
The Conservative Victory Project, a group run by Rove that is dedicated to nominating electorally viable candidates in local, state and national races, was another topic of discussion. Rove defended the organization, and pointed to several successful candidates in 2014 as evidence that the organization could be successful.
“In 2012, [political action committee American Crossroads] supported the winners of Republican primaries. We got hurt with candidates who said things like ‘rape is God’s will,’ so we said, ‘why are we spending money on second rate candidates,’ and by second rate, I don’t mean tea party,” Rove said. “In 2014, we spent 130 million dollars on elections that we won, because we got involved early and played the primaries.”
Rove encouraged the students gathered in the lecture hall to get involved with politics.
“I’m very happy that I got to be here, especially with the College Republicans, because that’s where I got my start…thirty years later, I’m in the White House,” Rove said. “Being in politics, for me, has been an extremely rewarding experience, and if you get involved, I’m sure it will be for you too.”