Karl Rove, who served as senior adviser to President George W. Bush and deputy chief of staff, speaks to Palm Beach Atlantic University students in the Rinker Board Room of the Warren Library as former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux looks on.
Karl Rove (far left) is greeted by Palm Beach Atlantic University President William M. B. Fleming Jr., former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux and PBA senior Emily Hardman outside the Warren Library at PBA.
Karl Rove answers questions from former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux in Palm Beach Atlantic University's DeSantis Family Chapel.
A self-described “hothead,” Karl Rove can recall times when, working in the White House under President George W. Bush, he would become angry with the president’s critics. But the Commander-in-Chief rarely did, Rove said.
“His attitude was, who cares?” Rove told a gathering of nearly 400 in Palm Beach Atlantic University’s DeSantis Family Chapel this week. “He would say history will get it right, and (by then) we’ll both be dead.”
Rove’s humor and insights were the highlights of his visit to PBA at the invitation of the University’s LeMieux Center for Public Policy. Past invitees for the LeMieux Center’s speaker series were columnist George Will and national political analyst David Gergen.
During his public presentation, Rove, who served as senior adviser to President Bush and later deputy chief of staff, spoke about how he became involved in politics and what he learned in the White House.
Rove is credited with being “The Architect” of President Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, and he was one of the first strategists to use microtargeting for political advertising, said former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, who introduced Rove.
Once Bush was elected president, Rove said he felt his duties were over. He said he almost didn’t accept Bush’s invitation to come to Washington, D.C., but now he is glad he did.
“We had a great experience, far better than I ever could have imagined,” he said.
He noted that even though the White House employs more than 500 people, that is a fraction of the staff that some other heads of state have.
“It’s a small place, and you’d better get along with the people you are working with because you’re going to spend a lot of time with them,” he said.
He also learned that “you’d better not think you’re a big deal. Because everybody’s watching, and people who think they’re big deals, they tend to flame out faster.”
Another lesson was that there are no easy decisions at that level, he said.
“I don’t care whether you’re Democrat or Republican, I have sympathy for whoever occupies that office,” Rove said, “because everything that’s easy to decide has been settled someplace else.”
He said he also learned that the White House “is not a place where you can find yourself,” he said. “You had better come with a clarity of what it is you want to achieve as president and what your values are because there is absolutely no time to figure it out.”
He described the pace of the typical workday as “drinking from a firehose 24 hours a day” and added that the president not only has to understand what is happening but also needs to think ahead.
It’s a role that requires rising above the backbiting that often accompanies political discourse, he said.
“I came to understand that the president has got to be the only adult in Washington,” he said. “He can’t take things personally. He’s got to rise above it all.”
The job requires taking responsibility for actions under his watch, he said. “You can’t have the president out there blaming other people. You have to have the president out there saying it’s my responsibility and I’m going to do something about it.”
Rove spoke in detail about the hours following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the lengths that were taken to whisk President Bush safely from a school in Sarasota back to Washington, D.C.
There were light moments also, as when Rove described “stealing” a car from the White House grounds as a prank on fellow senior staff member Al Hubbard. He said Hubbard later exacted revenge by wrapping Rove’s car in industrial cellophane and covering it with stuffed animals and colored Post-it notes.
He also offered his views on immigration, saying he believes the GOP can build a consensus on border security and family reunification. He said the motivation for a new immigration policy should be for the right reasons, not for purpose of courting Hispanic votes.
Regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, Rove criticized the Obama administration for not building relationships with other foreign leaders.
He said President Bush would frequently call other heads of state just to check in. “You can’t succeed at that if you don’t talk to them,” he said.
Rove said he didn’t come from a political family but he has always been interested in politics.
“I got where I was by a series of unbelievable accidents,” he said.
Prior to the public lecture, Rove met with a small group of students as part of PBA’s President’s Lyceum. Asked what motivates him in a hostile environment to keep doing what he does, Rove said, “I love politics and I love my country … I do what I do because I care about our country and I want it to be as great and grand for my son as it has been for me.”