Stop the presses. Karl Rove and James Carville agree on something. They agree that demographics and message were huge factors in the 2012 election. But as expected, the two political gurus agree very little on how those demographics are shifting and how those messages need to be tweaked.
In a spirited sparring match at CME Group’s annual Global Financial Leadership Conference, Rove and Carville offered up their insights on the outcome of the 2012 election. Armed with a binder full of data, Rove said Republican challenger Mitt Romney closed the gap on President Barack Obama and cited how much better Romney did than John McCain in certain demographics. Carville added that the demographics of the U.S. are shifting in the favor of the Democratic Party.
Rove conceded that the GOP would do well to tweak their platform to make it more inclusive. Not surprisingly, Carville was less kind in his assessment of the GOP’s message, saying Republicans are out of touch with the electorate on numerous issues and that their platform needs to undergo a more tectonic shift. “They say in the South that sometimes you have to hit a boy upside the head with a two-by-four to get his attention. I think the sound you heard last Tuesday was pine on skull,” Carville said.
Looking ahead to 2016, both men offered their predictions on how the presidential election might take shape. On the Democratic side, Carville expects Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will feel tremendous pressure to run. Rove questioned the notion that it will be Clinton’s “turn” and said he expects an upstart to challenge her. On the Republican side, Rove said he hoped the Republican National Committee would find a way to limit the number and improve the quality of the debates during the primaries. Rove went on to list numerous potential candidates such as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Carville noted that 2016 will be the first time since 1944 that the GOP will not have an obvious candidate. “For the first time since World War II, there is no old white guy. … There is no obvious person,” Carville said.
Some of the other highlights from Rove and Carville’s discussion included:
- Carville on Obama’s disappointing first debate: “Mike Tyson once said everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth. … I think Obama had a plan, and he got hit in the mouth.”
- Rove on whether Obama’s re-election represents a mandate: “I do remember however all those Democrats … who said Bush did not have a mandate by winning 51% to 48%. He did. Obama has a mandate.”
- Rove on the roughly $2 billion spent on the presidential campaign: “We spend $20 billion a year on bottled water, $40 billion on soft drinks. Our economy is $16 trillion. So I don’t think its bad to spend $2 to $3 billion every four years electing the leader of the free world.”
- Carville on the “echo chamber” in which many voters live: “How can it be that we have so much information, but not so much knowledge. … We need to have a discussion about the difference between information that is enlightening and information that is confirming.”
- Rove, following up on the “echo chamber” theme: “We are talking about the media, but the fragmentation of American society is taking place in a lot of different other ways as well. We are moving ourselves into places where we are comfortable. Red places become more red and blue places become more blue. … It’s not that we aren’t confronting different sources of information. It’s that we aren’t confronting different sorts of people. We move to places with people like us. We are moving to places where there are people who want to be like us.”
- Carville on how gerrymandering to create “safe” districts contributes to political gridlock: “When you look at a candidate, ask yourself if that person is more afraid to lose a general election or a primary? That leads to entirely different behavior.”
- Rove on his skepticism about a “grand bargain” to remedy fiscal issues in the U.S.: “Both sides are going to find it difficult to sell to their sides what needs to be done.”