Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will need more than a referendum on a struggling president to win the White House, noted GOP political adviser Karl Rove says.
The former Massachusetts governor must give people a reason to vote for him rather than just against President Obama, Rove told Tribune-Review reporters and editors on Thursday. The architect of George W. Bush's presidential campaign victories sounded off on the GOP race, potential vice presidential picks, the spread of anonymously funded campaign groups and health care reform in the wide-ranging interview.
The race, Rove said, "is mostly about Obama, but Romney will make a big mistake if he doesn't understand that at the end of the day it's got to be about him, too. He's got to be willing to lay out some kind of a plan of reform that causes people to say, 'I'm comfortable with you.'"
Rove said he expected Romney to trail Obama by larger margins than recent polls have shown, because of the bruising, months-long Republican primary. Obama's lead is down to just 2 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of current national polls.
A tax reform plan could be the centerpiece of Romney's pitch to voters, Rove said. Taxes touch everyone's lives, and there's broad dissatisfaction with the status quo, he said.
"People have a sense that the tax code is complicated, unfair, expensive to live by, and if you've got a smart ... accountant, you can get around it," Rove said.
During a campaign stop this week in Bethel Park, Romney said he wants to overhaul the country's tax system, reduce the tax burden on "middle-income" taxpayers and make it easier to save money.
A portion of the tax code, Section 501(c)4, allowed Rove and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie to form a political advocacy group, American Crossroads, in 2010 that does not have to disclose its donors. The group raised nearly $77 million from 96 donors in its first two years, according to recent tax filings, which listed individual donations as high as $10 million. The tax code classifies the group as a social welfare organization.
Rove said critics unfairly target anonymous contributions to conservative political action groups and ignore similar ones to liberal organizations. Those pushing for greater transparency -- and a requirement to name names -- want to intimidate wealthy donors, he said.
"Rules are what the rules are. They've been used by the left for years without criticism by the media," he said.
Health care mandate
A potential Supreme Court ruling against the individual insurance mandate in Obama's health care law "has the ability to paint the entire Affordable Care Act as a failed policy," Rove said. "You cannot make the Affordable Care Act work unless you require people to purchase insurance."
One option for Obama would be to say he respects the Supreme Court's decision and call for a bipartisan solution to providing greater access to health insurance, Rove said.
"But I think he's going to be inclined to go the different direction where I think he's going to say, 'These heartless conservatives on the court have left tens of millions of Americans without access to affordable health insurance,' and basically pick a fight with the Supreme Court and pick a fight with conservatives," Rove said.
Vice presidential candidates
Rove ticked off the selling points of potential vice presidential candidates without endorsing any:
-- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: "One of the most accomplished political communicators I've ever met."
-- Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell: "A very soft-spoken, very thoughtful, incredibly effective governor of a key battleground state."
-- Ohio Sen. Rob Portman: "Really smart, thinks deeply about these issues, has a varied background ... not a show horse, but a workhorse."
-- Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels: "Tough, scrappy and about as effective a governor as we've had in the country."
-- Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin: "This guy has got a lot of courage" for proposing to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid.
Romney has said he plans to announce his choice before the Republican National Convention in August.
'3-2-1' plan for GOP win
Rove laid out a "3-2-1" plan of must-win states for the GOP.
Romney needs to win back three "historically Republican states" -- Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia -- that Obama won in 2008. Polling indicates Indiana and North Carolina lean Republican, Rove said.
"Virginia, to my mind, is going to be a donnybrook," he said.
The "two" in his 3-2-1 are Ohio and Florida, large swing states that Obama won in 2008 but Bush won in 2004. Then Romney needs to add one wild-card state such as New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado or Nevada, Rove said.
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