- Craig Unger
the author of Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power, which hits bookshelves September 4. Unger’s other books include the New York Times bestselling House of Bush, House of Saud and The Fall of the House of Bush: The Untold Story of How a Band of True Believers Seized the Executive Branch, Started the Iraq War, and Still Imperils America’s Future.
Earlier this week at the Republican National Convention, author Craig Unger directly confronted the subject of his most recent book: Republican political strategist Karl Rove. The book, “Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power,” tracks Rove’s reinvention to become the most powerful political operative in America. Unger asked Rove about his role in the GOP primaries, prompting an angry reaction that saw Rove lash out at Unger’s book. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency.” We’re covering the Republican National Convention and, next week, the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, inside and out. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re here in Tampa. It is the morning after, the morning after the Republican presidential acceptance address of Mitt Romney. Our guests discussing this are Arun Gupta and Craig Unger. Craig just came out with a new book called Boss Rove, and I want to talk about this for a moment. Earlier this week at the Republican National Convention, Craig Unger confronted the subject of his most recent book: Republican political strategist Karl Rove.
CRAIG UNGER: Hi. I’m Craig Unger from Vanity Fair.
KARL ROVE: Yes, of course you are.
CRAIG UNGER: And I also have a new book coming out next week called Boss Rove.
KARL ROVE: This is—this is where Unger is going to flack his book. Go ahead, Unger. Launch away.
CRAIG UNGER: Before and during the Republican primaries, on Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, you took—were highly critical of Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry—
MODERATOR: Wait, wait. We don’t read questions here. Just be quick.
CRAIG UNGER: —and Gingrich. Were you doing that intentionally to help Romney’s chances, and did you discuss it at all with Roger Ailes?
KARL ROVE: No and no. And I was complimentary of some of those same people at different times. But if—for example, when Donald Trump went out and Rick Perry went out and embraced the birther issue, I was critical of it. Unger’s got an interesting book. I’m responsible for the murder of Michael Connell.
CRAIG UNGER: The book does not say that.
KARL ROVE: Well, it comes very artfully close to saying it. He also depends upon a nut named Dana Jill Simpson, who claims that I got her to—I personally got her to investigate Governor Siegelman of Alabama. And this is going to be an entertaining work of fiction. I wish you all the best with it.
CRAIG UNGER: You’re misrepresenting the book.
KARL ROVE: No, I’m not. No, I’m not at all.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Karl Rove. Craig Unger, you’re the author of Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power. Talk about this interaction and each of the points that, well, Karl Rove makes.
CRAIG UNGER: Well, I was a little surprised he took on the book. Normally, he’s a very, very disciplined political operative. And here, he sort of lost it. I think, strategically, he would have been smarter to just ignore me and ignore the book. But instead, he put a lot of attention on it. And again and again, he seems to blame this woman he referred to, Dana Jill Simpson. She had absolutely nothing to do with the question I asked, about was he collaborating with Roger Ailes. And he also very explicitly misrepresented the book and said that I called him a murderer, which I do not, in any way, shape or form.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain what he was referring to.
CRAIG UNGER: Well, in the Ohio election of 2004, there were an enormous number of accusations of fraud. And there were investigations, civil lawsuits and so forth. And at each stage, an enormous amount of material of evidence was destroyed. A court order ordered that the ballots actually be impounded, but they were destroyed. I talked to the Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who succeeded the Republican, and she had planned to investigate it as soon as she got into office. But she happened to go by her office just before she officially took over the job, and when she walked in, she saw the shredding of thousands and thousands of documents. And finally, a man named Mike Connell, who was Rove’s computer guru, was said to be very, very knowledgeable. He was about to be a witness, and he went down in a plane crash at a time that happened to be very crucial in the investigation.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, his point that you’re calling him a murderer?
CRAIG UNGER: Absolutely. That’s what—that’s where he got that from.
AMY GOODMAN: But the significance of Karl Rove here. While everyone is covering the pomp on the floor of the convention, our videographer, Sam Alcoff, was filming. He figured out which was the skybox of Sheldon Adelson, who is the multi-billionaire casino magnate in Las Vegas who has promised to give something like $100 million to the Republican Party and now spending, and had switched from Newt Gingrich now to Mitt Romney. There in the skybox, we were able to focus on Sheldon Adelson and Karl Rove last night as Mitt Romney was addressing the convention.
CRAIG UNGER: Right. Well, it’s—even Rove’s colleagues at the Wall Street Journal, Alan Murray, are asking him, isn’t this a complete perversion of the electoral process? And, by contrast, John McCain in 2008 spent $375 million. Rove has about a billion dollars. The Koch brothers alone say they may put up as much as $400 million. And when you add in Romney and the RNC’s take, you’re up to $1.8 billion, nearly five times as much as John McCain spent four years ago. So, you can imagine all that money flooding into the battleground states in a very targeted way at the key moment. And we’ll have to see what difference it makes.
AMY GOODMAN: Your comment on this?
ARUN GUPTA: I think, actually, one of the things that goes unremarked is, we’ve kind of entered the era of big science politics. What big science is about is like the cyclotron. You spend massive amounts of money for incremental improvements. If we actually look at the number of swing states and how small the number of swing voters are in those swing states, we may be talking about only a pool of four to six million votes are being fought over. Yet over $2 billion is going to be spent in this election. That’s something like $300 to $500 per voter. I think in the future it will just be easier to give them vouchers.
AMY GOODMAN: When Romney walked down the aisle toward the stage Thursday night for the biggest moment of his life, to accept the presidential—Republican presidential nomination, he was shaking a number of people’s hands. What didn’t go very much noticed is, as he came to the New York delegation, he shook the hand of conservative billionaire and major political donor David Koch. Groups in the network of David Koch and his brother Charles intend to spend nearly something like $400 million ahead of the 2012 election. David Koch was honored yesterday by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed nonprofit that’s been spending money on campaign ads.
David Koch told the news site Politico yesterday, interestingly, in an interview, that he disagrees with the Republican Party’s stance on same-sex marriage, believes the United States should consider raising taxes in order to balance the budget.
When Koch sat down as a member of the New York delegation on Thursday night on the convention floor, I went over to ask him a question. While he started to answer me, the delegates and security around him stood up one by one, creating a human wall between us. One of those who stood up was Ed Cox. He’s chair of the Republican Party of New York and the son-in-law of President Richard Nixon. Koch and Cox had been seated side by side. So, first you hear my attempt to question David Koch.
We’re going to try to play that in a moment, but the issue of money and politics, Craig Unger?
CRAIG UNGER: Well, it is extraordinary, because the spectacle everyone witnessed, that 15,000 reporters reported on, is the nomination of Mitt Romney. What I saw really happening off screen was the coronation of Karl Rove as the party boss. And it means that he has an unelected position, it has no term limits, and he gets to preside over this vast, vast sum of money and to engineer how it will be spent. And he can do so not just for this election, but for the foreseeable future.
ARUN GUPTA: I think we should also not forget the base of the Republican Party, because certainly it’s fueled by billionaires, but the base, the tea party base, very much supports it. And, you know, looking around the convention hall, it had all the diversity of a 1950s country club. But nonetheless, you know, people—the tea party really supports this notion of meritocracy. If you’re rich, it’s because you were successful, and so then you must be smart and capable.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to that questioning of David Koch right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Koch, do you think unchecked concentration of wealth will undermine democracy?
KOCH HANDLER 1: We’re not doing—we’re not doing interviews right now.
DAVID KOCH: I couldn’t quite here you. Sorry, I’m deaf in one ear.
KOCH HANDLER 1: We’re not doing interviews. Thank you. We’re here to listen.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask the question again.
KOCH HANDLER 1: We’re here to listen to the speeches. Thank you so much.
AMY GOODMAN: I know. Let me ask the question again.
KOCH HANDLER 1: No. We’re here to listen to the speeches. Thank you. We’re not here to talk, but to listen. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask Mr. Cox then.
KOCH HANDLER 1: Thank you, please.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Cox, do you think unchecked concentration of wealth will undermine democracy?
EDWARD COX: What we need is a country, led by Mitt Romney, with a vision of an opportunity society of free people and free enterprise. That’s what made this country great, and that’s what he’s going to do, and that’s his vision.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned about, especially young people, looking at what’s happening in the country, where a handful of multi-millionaires and billionaires are so disproportionately determining the democratic process?
EDWARD COX: That’s a statement that isn’t true. This country is governed by the people. That’s what it’s always been based on.
RNC SECURITY 1: Will you keep this moving? One deep.
AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, I will. I will.
RNC SECURITY 1: OK, thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: OK, one deep, I got you. Mr. Cox answered a question. Why can’t—why can’t Mr. Koch answer a question? I only have one question.
KOCH HANDLER 2: He’s not going to answer. Get out of here.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
KOCH HANDLER 2: Because I [inaudible]. Get out of here. We’re trying to listen to the speech.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, but we’re media.
KOCH HANDLER 3: Stop disrupting the convention.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m not—do you think media is disrupting the convention? I thought you welcomed press coverage? You know you use the press all the time. I’m asking one question. And you answer the press’s questions.
KOCH HANDLER 3: He’s already spoken—he’s already spoken—he’s already spoken with the press.
AMY GOODMAN: I have one question. I asked Mr. Cox—
RNC DELEGATE: And that’s great, and that individual apparently does not want to talk to you, so…
AMY GOODMAN: I don’t know. He can’t even see me, because—
RNC DELEGATE: This is a—this is a security issue, because Mr. Romney is speaking in a couple hours
AMY GOODMAN: That’s why we’re here.
RNC DELEGATE: So we’d appreciate it if you—
AMY GOODMAN: But this is the press. We’re allowed to ask questions.
RNC SECURITY 2: Yes, ma’am, you are.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re doing it in a dignified and respectful way.
RNC SECURITY 2: But we do need to clean the—clear this aisle, so you’re going to have to move.
RNC HANDLER 1: The time is not appropriate.
RNC SECURITY 2: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Basically, this happens all the time at this convention around Mr. Koch, one of the most powerful forces at this convention. When you go up to ask him a question, a group of men stand up all around him and make it impossible—or protect him from the press. These are supposed to be celebrations of democracy, these conventions. There’s a reason why both conventions welcome 15,000 journalists. They want to get their message out. But we are not supposed to be simply stenographers to power. We are there to ask serious questions and to follow the money. This is Democracy Now!, and we’re on the floor of the Republican National Convention.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, that was my attempt to interview David Koch on the floor of the Republican National Convention. When Mitt Romney made his entrance, he walked down the aisle of the Republican convention. As he approached the New York delegation, he shook the hand of state Republican Party chair Ed [Cox], and then he shook hands with David Koch. While Democracy Now! was there on the floor and captured the handshake on video, the pool feed that went out, that the networks broadcast, cut away just before the handshake to show footage of two enthusiastic young women supporters and then an overhead shot of the convention center. Then the shot came back to Romney shaking hands further down the aisle as he ascended the stage. This is significant because of how powerful David Koch is for Mitt Romney, who didn’t originally have his support, mind you, Craig. Is that right? It went to Newt Gingrich, who we also saw in Sheldon Adelson’s suite last night and the night before. But Mitt Romney went to shake his hand. He put his hand on his shoulder last night—this is as he’s coming to give this—you know, his acceptance address—and pointed at him.
CRAIG UNGER: Right. And in part, I think, this is the triumph of Karl Rove. In fact, you do have a real schism in the Republican Party between the establishment and the tea party, and Karl Rove was—really embodied the establishment. Romney was much more of an establishment candidate. He was not a tea party favorite. You had Rove shooting in the back, quietly behind the scenes, every one of Romney’s rivals during the primaries. And Romney never really caught fire. He really—he rarely got more than 20, maybe 30 percent of vote in the primaries. But he outlasted everyone as they were shot in the back. And finally, Rove was able to get—harness that tea party dynamism but also to get the big backers of the tea party, the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, and that meant vast, vast sums of money that they’re able to spend today.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Craig Unger and Arun Gupta. Arun is a regular contributor for AlterNet. And Craig Unger wrote Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power, which hits bookshelves on September 4th, contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where you can read an excerpt of Boss Rove. We’ll link to it at our website, democracynow.org. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the speech of Clint Eastwood—stay with us—the mystery speaker.