Goldwater loses rather badly. The conventional wisdom, certainly by the American press and most Americans, is that [his loss] buries conservatism in the United States of America. What actually was going on? What actually happened?
Well, there had been a discussion within the Republican Party between [Ohio Sen. Robert] Taft and [New York Gov. Thomas E.] Dewey, between Taft and Eisenhower and then between Goldwater and Rockefeller. And the growth of the conservative wing of the Republican Party was masked by Eisenhower's being a war hero. Certainly Taft would have been our nominee had you hadn't had a war hero step in. And Eisenhower ended up as a moderate to liberal Republican who sat on top of a growing conservative movement. …
And then Goldwater came in and said, "No, we're for freedom domestically and against tyranny abroad." He ran, but he was swamped not so much by his ideology but by the fact that we'd just had a president assassinated, and you had in Lyndon Johnson a fellow who used the FBI and all the powers of the state to go after his political opponents and just swamped him that way. And the establishment press which was rough on George W. Bush was brutal on Goldwater. And so he was going upstream against all three networks, which actually had viewers back then, as well as the establishment. ...
Then it takes until '80 for an explicit conservative to win the presidency -- not just the nomination, but Reagan won the presidency. And then it took us until '94 to win the House and Senate with an explicitly conservative campaign.
So you can see the long march through the institutions. The conservatives captured the nomination -- we actually won in '52, but Eisenhower stole it. But we won the nomination in '64 for Goldwater. We won the presidency with Reagan. We won the House and Senate with [Newt] Gingrich. And those three steps showed the depth of the movement growing, because it's one thing to win the nomination; it's quite another thing to win the presidency. It's a much more meaningful thing to capture the House and Senate. And now we're looking at a conservative majority in the state legislative races.
... Help me understand what actually was going on in the South during that very period. Do you agree that that's where it all kind of got rolling?
Yes and no. What you had after the Civil War were two regional parties. The Republican Party is the party of the North, and the Democrats were the party of the South. And they weren't based on ideology; they were based on regionalism. So you could have, in a modern sense, a liberal Massachusetts Republican as governor and you could have a conservative Democratic governor of Mississippi or something. They're in different parties, Republicans and Democrats, but that didn't tell you anything about somebody's worldview. It didn't tell you whether they were anti-Communist or not. It didn't tell you whether they were for lower taxes or higher taxes or more spending or less spending. It just told you where they were born. …
Beginning with Goldwater and really going through Reagan's political life, the two parties separate out. If you feel the government should leave you alone, you're a Republican. If you think the job of the government is to go push people around and take things for you, then you're a Democrat. If you're so committed to liberty that you see the Soviet Union as a threat, you're a Republican. If you're kind of indifferent to freedom and the level of the lack of freedom in the Soviet Union is just a question of extent and not really threatening to anybody, then you're a Democrat. And the two things, both on foreign policy and domestic policy, separate out based on whether freedom is your central governing ideal or something else.
Within the Republican Party, we attracted those people who wanted to be left alone. Who wanted to be left alone? Gun owners wanted to be left alone; they don't want you stealing their guns. Home schoolers, a new group coming up, property owners, taxpayers, small-business men -- all these people want to be left alone by the government, and the Republican Party was that party.
People say, "Oh, the South went Republican." No, the Republican Party went national. The Republican Party began to compete in states like the Rocky Mountains where we hadn't been competitive, in Montana or Wyoming or even in Utah. And in the South we became competitive as well. So what the left sees as using the solid South -- yeah, the Republican Party went down and became a competitive party because they were no longer the party of the North. They were now the party of a freedom ideology and worldview. ...
Do you know very much about how Texas turned Republican?
... Well, Texas was a Southern state and therefore a Democrat state. You first had Northerners coming who were Republicans, and they'd set up Republican parties or the John Birch Society. The hard-right guys would set up parties. And what you needed was a Republican Party that was mainstream, and it just took a while for that to come about.
And you also had to wait for all the old Democrats to die, because to a certain extent, in the same way that states like Maine and Vermont remained Republican for a lot longer than we'd have thought given the ideological divisions between the parties, but you had 85-year-old ladies in Maine who vote Republican because the guy at Little Round Top was a Republican and he was from Maine.
Well, similarly in Texas, you have 85-year-old ladies that were still voting Democratic even though they agreed with Ronald Reagan on everything, but they voted for McGovern because he was a Democrat. The same thing with the Catholic immigration which tended [to be] Democrat is only now breaking Republican 100 years after people showed up in the United States. …
Take me to the year 2000, and the race is Al Gore vs. George W. Bush. What is a Democrat in that race, and what is a compassionate conservative in that race?
Democrats are people who raise your taxes and spend your money on weird stuff. They steal your guns, and they spit on your faith. And because the Democratic Party was taken over by the aggressive secular guys, they became hostile not just to conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians, but Orthodox Jews and Muslims and Mormons. And so part of what happened was the Democratic Party had an active game plan of going out and [offending] people who used to be in their constituency. Gun owners, rural people, people who go to church on Sunday -- the Republican Party had some attraction to these people, but the Democratic Party had worked very hard to throw them out of the party, and they hit them again and again and again. ...
Leading that charge in the year 2000 are -- and really back to '94, maybe even earlier -- a whole group of guys and some women who were part of the Goldwater moment. ... What do they bring from Goldwater and Goldwater's notion to Contract with America to the presidency of George W. Bush both in 2000 and the re-election in 2004?
I think a commitment to running a party of principle. The Contract with America was "Here are the 10 things we're going to do." It wasn't the old Boston Brahmin Republican Party: "Vote for me; I'm better than you are. Vote for me; I'm from the governing class." ...
We speak now to the people who want to be left alone and run their own lives. That is a very large coalition of people; it's a governing majority. And what Gingrich brought in with the Contract with America is "Here are 10 things that will make your life better that the liberal Democrats won't even allow votes on." Remember, the Contract with America was a promise to have votes on 10 issues, not pass them -- have votes on them in the House. Gingrich amazingly got votes on all of them in the House, passed almost all of them, and then got the Senate -- seven out of the 10 got enacted into law. The division is based on worldview and ideology, not region, not religion, and not the old party affiliations but the new ones.
What's the difference between guys who believed in the Goldwater moment and Reagan?
Goldwater and Nixon believed themselves to be correct politically but believed they were an embattled minority. When Nixon walked into a room, he believed that most of the people in the room didn't agree with him, but that to get into power he would have to talk to them in such a way that they would give him power and then he could go do those correct things. That makes you secretive; it makes you duplicitous; it makes you lie your way into office in order to do good because you believe you're in the minority, because [that was] when the Republican Party was a distinct minority.
Reagan believed when he walked into a room that if he articulated his position reasonably well that a majority of the people agreed with him. Gingrich always felt that whatever room he walked into, if he made it clear what he was saying -- not the caricature that the left might make, but "Here's what I'm saying and here's what I'm doing," -- the majority of the people in room would generally agree with him. The Republican Party began to think of itself as a majority party leading a natural governing majority, ... a country that agrees with Reagan on the key central issues about which we're trying to govern.
You can see all the [old] conservatives be grumpy, defensive, whiny because they thought the country didn't agree with them. And more modern conservatives are optimistic, forward-looking, cheerful, because they walk into a room, and they know most of the people in the room agree with them. …
And George W. Bush, does he just inherit that momentum, or does he bring something even different and further to it?
George W. Bush ran in 2000 standing on Reagan's shoulders in terms of the political structures that had been built, but standing directly next to Reagan in worldview. If you look at all the people who ran, he was the only one who ran as Reagan. You had [Pat] Buchanan who said, "Well, the Reagan coalition is nice, but we'll throw out the businessmen and be anti-immigrant and be anti-trade." That's a radically different structure than Reagan had, OK? You had [Sen. John] McCain who said: "Forget ideology. I'm Charles de Gaulle. Vote for me because I'm me and I'll be president." Ha, ha, ha. Gaullism doesn't have anything to do with the Republican Party and isn't a very American worldview. It didn't work.
George W. Bush -- there was no daylight between him and Ronald Reagan's positions on anything. He was more optimistic and forward-looking. Compassionate conservatism as conservatives all heard it was simply pointing out that conservatism was compassionate and liberal statism isn't. There wasn't some "Well, I guess we'll compromise our positions." He didn't. He wasn't for taking some liberal position, saying, "Oh, that will make me more compassionate." Rove and President George W. Bush staked out very radical -- meaning fundamental -- conservative positions.
Reforming Social Security to make it fully funded and independently held, that's compassionate because it allows people to control their own lives; cutting taxes on families and all Americans to let people have more control over their lives. He was good on the Second Amendment; he was pro-life; he respected people of faith. All the positions Reagan took -- immigration became a higher-visibility issue with Bush than during the Reagan period, but he followed in Reagan's pro-immigrant position within the Republican Party. Remember, one of Reagan's first speeches was at the Statue of Liberty in celebration of immigrants. To the extent that sometimes there are divisions within the party on immigration, Bush ran as the pro-immigrant, pro-trade candidate as opposed to a handful of guys on the right that were anti-immigrant and anti-free trade.
Bush's positions, because they take some flak on the right, are seen as Bush standing up. They're just Bush standing next to Ronald Reagan on those issues.
So when [former head of the Environmental Protection Agency] Christie Todd Whitman writes a book which says "Where am I in this party? Where is [New York Gov. George] Pataki? Where is [former New York City Mayor Rudy] Giuliani? Where is [California Gov.] Arnold Schwarzenegger? We were all Reagan people -- we all loved Reagan" -- Reagan was the guy with the big umbrella.
Christie Todd Whitman wrote a book that was supposed to be published after Bush lost the election, and then she would come in and say, "You should do it my way." There are two challenges -- I've read Christie's book -- two challenges with her thesis. One, when she took office in 1993, the Republicans had two-thirds-plus of both houses in New Jersey. When she left, they had lost the governorship and both houses. She should be studied for how to lose control of the state. She has no advice on how the national Republican Party should operate. She is a study in a failed governorship -- massive spending increases, massive debt increase. The Democrat who ran against the borrow-and-debt policies of Christie Todd Whitman -- she's not an economic Goldwater or Reagan.
Now, she would like to say: "Please, pay no attention to my tax-and-spend and debt failures and losing the state. My problem is that I wasn't a radical pro-lifer." Nonsense. Pataki is pro-choice, and he's been a successful governor and has fought to rein in spending. The four Republican governors in a row in Massachusetts have run pro-choice, but they have all signed the no-tax-increase pledge, and they've never raised taxes in that state, something Christie Todd Whitman did. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pro-choice, but he is fighting the union, fighting the trial lawyers, reining in spending, refusing to raise taxes. He's Ronald Reagan, [except] he's pro-choice.
Christie Todd Whitman -- there's no Ronald Reagan there on anything. So she'd like to say her problem is abortion or gay rights or something. No. She'd have lost just as quickly and just as thoroughly had she been pro-life as pro-choice. And she would never be considered as a presidential candidate because of her tax-and-spend and big-government policies, not because of her social policies. She thinks she can get some attention by pretending her problem was the other. ...
So when she says, "The quarrel I have is you take a base strategy ... but you can't govern with a base strategy because what you've become is a captive to" what she calls "social fundamentalists"?
Let's see. Under her strategy, she started with two-thirds of both houses in the Jersey legislature; lost the governorship and majorities in both houses. We know how her governing works.
Under the Republicans, under the Reagan Republicans, we went from being a minority in the House and the Senate to having strong majorities in the House and the Senate for [a] 10-year stretch and re-electing an explicitly conservative president twice. As we've governed, the Reagan-Bush coalition has grown -- our numbers have grown; the House and the Senate has grown; our governorships have grown. There's winning strategy here. For her, there's a picture next to "loser" in the dictionary for doing damage to the Republican Party in her home state, which is still a mess because of her and her failures; that for her to offer advice is a little bit silly. The Republican Party is the natural governing majority, and they should govern as such.
You have Bill Clinton, a fairly popular president; you have his vice president; you have relative prosperity. Yes, there was Monica [Lewinsky], but I think in that sense they were successful, at least for the short term, of portraying Republicans as mean and evil and nasty, at least in the House in the impeachment process. You've got a governor -- yes, he's the son of an un-re-elected president -- from Texas. It would seem to be an uphill battle for him presumably, given the things I've just outlined. How did Rove and Bush do it in 2000?
Well, it was fairly easy. They ran as Ronald Reagan. Bush 41, the dad, he ran as Ronald Reagan '88. The problem was he didn't govern as Reagan. He raised taxes. He betrayed the people who elected him, and he was rejected. When you talk about Clinton being a popular president, he got 43 percent in the first election, 49 percent in the next election. And when Clinton's policies were put forward and the American people had a chance to vote on the totality of his policies in '94, '96 and '98, they elected Republican majorities in the House and the Senate which were complete repudiations of Clinton. And of course Clinton only got 49 percent of the vote in '96. Clinton's ability to get elected president masked the decline relatively of the Democratic Party compared to the Republican Party.
And going into 2000, the Democrats had peace and prosperity and the candidate with no obvious failing, but up against a guy who says, "I'm Ronald Reagan; I stand in the center of the leave-us-alone coalition," the Reagan-Bush coalition, that coalition wins. Should have lost by 10 points if you looked at the economy and all these other things, but the underlying strength of the modern conservative Reagan Republican movement was enough to take them over the top.
Then you get 2002, 2004 -- recession in 2002, but the underlying strength of the Republican Party was enough to pick up House and Senate seats. In 2004, with a war that was dragging Bush down five or six points from where he would otherwise have been, he is still able to win. If you're the natural governing majority, you can screw up a lot and still win. Truman in '48 -- a dozen reasons why he should have lost, but the Democratic Party was so dominant that even with all these mistakes, they still won.
Do you believe that the re-election of this president is a kind of proof-positive of the Republican hegemony/plurality, whatever you want to call it, for the next couple of election cycles?
The president's re-election in 2004 was a confirming election for 2002 and 2000. But we've now had five, six election cycles with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate and now two presidential elections. When you look at what redistricting does, the Republicans will hold the House until 2012. When you look at the 30 red states and the 20 blue states, the Republicans will hold the Senate indefinitely unless there's some radical change in the nature of the two parties. The party that carries all those lovely square states out west will dominate the Senate.
So the Republicans have the House until at least 2012, but probably another decade. They have the Senate indefinitely, and the question is -- they'll win and lose presidencies just as the Democrats when they were the dominant party would sometimes mess up and lose the presidency in '52 and '68.
Nothing can happen? What are you talking about that something dramatic could happen? What would it be?
If Iraq was in the windshield instead of the rearview mirror in two or four years, people would go, "We're tired of this." If somebody took the success in Afghanistan and what's going on in Iraq to suggest we should do 12 of these, I think that would probably end Republican control of the presidency. But I think the administration is learning from the success of Afghanistan and the challenges in Iraq; there are not going to be three more Iraqs. So I think it would be difficult to see what would turn it around.
Obviously some great depression or something could do it. But given the list of things the Republicans are doing in Congress -- tort reform, getting rid of the death tax, tax reduction, free trade -- all of these things strengthen the Republican coalition and their numbers and reduce the Democratic coalition.
In addition, the age cohort that is most Democratic by party ID are people who grew up and became 21 years of age between 1932 and 1952. People of that age who came of age during the New Deal and the Great Depression are now 70 to 90 years old, and every year 2 million of them pass away. So the Democratic Party -- the Yellow Dog Democrats are passing away, and the 20- and 30- and 40-year-olds coming up are more likely to be Republican than Democrat. So they have a demographic disaster ahead of them for the next 15 years that mirrors what happened to the Republicans from '60 to '75. That was the period where the older people who were passing away were Republicans who had become 21 years old before the Great Depression, and if you were north of the Mason-Dixon Line, you were Republican.
So there are these period[s] of times when younger people look around and decide to be more Republican or more Democrat, and they hold that until they die. And so the Republican Party had this implosion in their numbers from '60 to '75, and the Democrats are in the middle of that now.
Very interesting. I talked to a guy in Texas who watches Texas politics and looks out and sees Hispanics as the potential [trouble for Republicans], in Texas anyway, around 2012. Unless something happens to draw Hispanics into the Republican Party in Texas, he sees big trouble out there inevitably. Are you worried about things like that?
If the Republican Party works with the Hispanic community, the immigrant community, they're natural allies. People who came to this country are more freedom-loving and more American than people who just happened to be born here because they made a decision to go to a great deal of trouble and effort to leave their parents and their family and their small towns or whatever to come to the United States. They're natural Reagan Republicans. As long as we're welcoming them, we win their votes.
We've seen, with some effort on the part of the Republicans to reach out to Hispanics, a tremendous increase in our support in Hispanics. In Florida, where it's second nature for the Republican Party to work with Hispanics, we carry a majority of the non-Cuban Hispanic vote and more than a majority of the Cuban vote. We have, when we have worked at it, carried a majority of the Asian-American vote. So immigration is something that if Pat Buchanan became our nominee, we would lose the immigrant vote. But the strength of George Bush is that he was [the] pro-immigrant, pro-trade Reaganite in the race, and that was the winning issue, not just in the primary but in the general [election], and also the winning strategy for governor. A Republican Party which becomes anti-immigrant will become a minority party.
The way that the Bush administration talks about sealing the electoral victory is to turn it toward grand policies, apparently toward big remakings, big-footprint stuff. Do you believe that? Do you believe that's what this president has in mind -- big, fundamental change in the way that the policy is enacted in the country?
The Bush administration for the next four years has two tracks. One are the small things for which the votes are there -- some tort reform, some tax reduction, some spending restraint. Those all create more Republicans and fewer Democrats at one level. And then there's several big-picture items: Social Security reform, turning every American into a shareholder and owning his own personal savings accounts; tax reform, not just cutting taxes but massively reducing the tax burden and simplification; immigration reform.
Those three big ones, they're so large that it may not be possible to do one or any of them in four years. The other team could filibuster. It might be possible to do them all. It's possible to do part of them. ... But all of the steps over the next four years that Bush is pushing gets you closer to that, make[s] it more possible. And maybe it happens in the next four years. I'm not suggesting it can't happen. But I think it's almost certain to happen in the next five or six if we don't get within four. And Bush is playing for history and will be remembered as the guy who reformed Social Security and made America an ownership society, and he will be remembered as that even if the next president signs the bill.
Take me from Goldwater to Social Security reform. Where is it on the ideological spectrum? Why Social Security reform? Why now?
Social Security, as structured by the Democrats in the '30s, makes old people dependent on the largesse of politicians, and it treats people like children: "We will give you money; we will give you an allowance. The government will give you an allowance."
Social Security as being restructured by President Bush is: "We will help you save money for your retirement and require that you save money for your retirement." You put 5, 6, 10 percent of your salary away, but you own it. You own it. Nobody's giving you anything. You don't have to kiss any politician's ring or backside and thank them. And when you get to be 65 and 70, you have complete dignity and complete control. You don't have to sit there quaking, wondering whether the politicians will not send you your check, because you own it. ...
How formidable is the opposition is this political moment right now? …
The challenges are immense because -- look, the left is not stupid. ... The left understands that America is drifting away from where they want to be. It's not just the big bang of Social Security reform which would solidify it and lock it down for 1,000 years. It's the last 25 years. 1980, only 20 percent of Americans owned stock. Today over 60 percent of Americans do through 401(k)s and IRAs. And those people have been drifting toward the Republicans and the conservatives, away from the status ever since. We're talking about taking 60 percent with some resources in the stock market to 100 percent with a great deal of resources that they own. It fast-forwards what would otherwise take you 40 years to accomplish.
Tell me about Karl Rove.
I think Rove understands the nature of the modern conservative movement that coalesced around Reagan. I don't know that Reagan or any one person put it together, but it came together. And it's a collection of people who want to be left alone. ...
And what Rove and President George W. Bush did was from the 2000 election [to] stand in the middle of that coalition and keep in touch with it. The left says, "Oh, you're playing to the base." Yeah, the base is 60 percent of the electorate. The playing to the base is called winning the election. It's called getting 60 percent of vote. And they'd have won 60 percent of the vote if Iraq wasn't depressing enthusiasm for the campaign.
The next election, the Republican who stands as Bush did, in the center of the leave-us-alone coalition, will get toward 60 percent of the vote.
And when people say, "Wait a minute; this guy got lower re-election numbers than any president in this century, including Truman"?
That's one measure, how much you increased the vote from your first to second term. That misses a few things. He got re-elected; Truman didn't. He wasn't able to run for re-election. Johnson wasn't able to run for re-election. Nixon didn't have a coalition that held together. Carter couldn't win re-election.
[Bush] ran as Reagan did, on the basis of what he was doing. If Reagan had had a bloody war in Iraq in '84, he would not have won by as much as he did. It would have tamped down the vote. But that's not systemic. It's not as if we're going to have an Iraq war every two and four years. That's something that happened. It was expensive, the war on terrorism and so on. But when you get past it, it doesn't affect the center-right coalition. If there had been no Iraq or Sept. 11, Bush would still have won, as he did. We'd be significantly stronger had you not had the long engagement in Iraq.
Everybody keeps saying Bush doesn't have an heir apparent. He and Rove have not laid out a plan to get somebody else re-elected. They do have all this mechanism that they can give off, threaten people with, punish people with, but the fact is there's going to be a Republican food fight in 2008, independent of whatever happens in 2006, with McCain, you name them.
It is good. This isn't the Roman Empire. There is a mechanism for picking the next guy. It's called a primary. What will happen -- the person who runs closest to the model of Ronald Reagan will win. They'll be governors, Republican governors -- maybe Jeb Bush [of Florida], maybe [Rick] Perry of Texas, maybe [Bill] Owens of Colorado, Pataki of New York. The one who can run as Ronald Reagan both in speech and in actions will win the nomination and win the general [election]. And it's fine to have lots of people running.
The worst thing in the world would be for the president to pick somebody and then try and muscle them through. That's how we got George Bush Sr., the guy coasting on the vice presidential tails, and we got a less-than-competent Reagan imitator. Turned out not to be with Reagan. ...
A dynamic, hard-hitting primary is the best way to find the new Reagan, the new George W. Bush. And to pick one now based on what we think they've done would be a disaster.
If I'm a blue-state Democrat sitting there, I've been crying watching you talk on this television program, and I say to myself, what is it going to take for me to be viable in 2008? Is it already too late for the Democrats?
I think it would be difficult to see a Democrat winning in 2008 because of the demographic trends, because of some of the successes that you can see the Republicans will have in the next four years to weaken the trial lawyers and strengthen the constituencies. The Democratic Party needs to restructure itself as something other than the trial lawyer, labor union, government worker, aggressively secular party. That isn't a majority strategy.
One of the things we've spent tremendous amount of time on is trying to understand how elections were won all the way along. … How will [the political infrastructure Rove built] translate that into usefulness which is apparent being attempted to do in getting things like Social Security, tort reform, significant tax change--
The best way to keep the political machine of 2004, the get-out-the-vote effort together and healthy for 2008 is to use it during the next four years to campaign for tort reform, tax reduction and Social Security, so that the e-mail list and the contact structures will be maintained and in 2008 we will have a stronger grassroots operation than in 2004.
People talk a lot about Rove as an individual who people like you and others can get access to, not only in policy terms but also to make your position known. Do you? Do you see him? Do you get to talk to him? Is he receptive? Is he useful in that sense?
Karl Rove keeps in touch with the entire center-right coalition, making sure that all the pieces of it are happy and moving forward and is a vacuum cleaner for good ideas, very much like Speaker Gingrich.
Is he a political operative or does he care [about policy]?
He's a believer in terms of principle, and he's a good activist. And often in politics, you've got guys who are believers and can't tie their shoes and others … that are very competent in going in the wrong direction. To marry in one person somebody as philosophically sound as Reagan and George W. Bush and someone who is technically sound is a very helpful accomplishment, and it's rare enough that everyone goes, "Oh, wow, look at that."
So when Bush calls him "the architect," he means more than just the guy who got him re-elected?
He's certainly the architect of the re-election campaign. I think George Bush both agrees in principle with the Reagan Republican conservative movement and can articulate that, and understand and works with the structures that help elect him. So I think there's less daylight between Bush and Rove than -- it's like two halves of a brain or something. They're both operating in sync, and have for years.