Karl Rove came to Fredericksburg blasting Barack Obama's domestic policies, singling out the president's handling of the economy and healthcare reform for particular emphasis. He also weighed in on the 2012 presidential race, saying with a grain of salt that the Republican nomination would fall to Mitt Romney or Rick Perry and that Obama's reelection hinges on the economy.
He also hard particular words for former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, seeming baffled by her waffling on a presidential run.
"I can't figure her out," said Rove. "You go to Iowa all the time, you have your movie premier in Iowa, you release your book in Iowa…I think I'd say to her: do you really think the rules don't apply to you? If you think the rules apply to you, then get in."
"I made the mistake of saying that her schedule looked like that of a presidential candidate and she got furious at me," said Rove. "Go figure…I probably just irritated her again."
Rove's remarks took place at the Fredericksburg Forum event in the Dodd Auditorium of the University of Mary Washington.
Outside the event, as patrons were taking their seats, about 25 demonstrators gathered in protest of Rove's appearance on campus. Organized by the non-partisan progressive political group Virginia Organizing, the protestors loudly chanted slogans like "Jail Karl Rove", "Karl Rove, Go Home", "Make Jobs, Not War," and others. The group rallied along the sides of the campus walk leading up to the main entrance to the Dodd Auditorium.
At one point, the protestors tried to relocate to a side entrance which was being heavily used by patrons to access the theater. Members of the Campus Police had to intervene to move the protestors back to their designated area, to the chagrin of protest organizers.
Rove used about half an hour to deliver a speech in which he was critical of Obama's handling of the economy and health care reform. He labeled attempts by Democrats to advance tax increases on the wealthy as an economic policy fueled by resentment, a notion which struck him as un-American.
"This idea somehow that America is going to be advanced by pitting people against each other based on the size of their wallet is not the way to move this country forward, and frankly…not smart politics," said Rove.
Rove also singled out the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act health care reforms introduced last year. He said that the act, derisively known as Obamacare, remains unpopular with voters due to the social influence exerted by health care practitioners.
"There are 14.5 million people who work in healthcare…many of them don't like the bill and are talking about it," said Rove. "Given the choice of believing a politician or your doctor, who are you going to believe?"
Rove holds out hope for the coming election, saying that any opportunity a nation has to discuss the big picture items affecting it is a good one.
"America never suffers when Americans are engaged with what their future is going to be," said Rove.
Rove said that right now, the front runner in the Republican primary is Rick Perry. He said Perry's strengths were his convictions and his outspokenness, a refreshing quality in politics. He said Perry's weaknesses ranged from a lack of experience on the national stage and a lack of experience in federal governance. He also called Perry's performances in his three debates have been "terrible".
"The third one was just simply dreadful," said Rove.
Romney's strengths, Rove said, was his experience in presidential campaigns, as well as Romney's presidential looks, though he added that this could be a double edged sword.
"Sometimes his problem is that he looks too perfect," said Rove. "We like to have our politicians with a few warts."
But Rove said that if Romney was to survive the Republican primary, he must distinguish between the health care reforms he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts and the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act.
Perhaps the biggest applause line of the night came as forum moderator Stephen Farnsworth asked Rove about possible cuts to defense spending. Rove seemed to bristle uncomfortably on the concept.
"When we don't provide the necessary resources, it invites people to be aggressive," said Rove. "We have to modernize our systems, we have to be damn careful about putting America's security at risk."
Rove also said that Virginia would be a critical state to win in the 2012 election - for Republicans, that is.
"The commonwealth is going to be the ground zero state," said Rove. "Obama can win re-election without winning Virginia, but the Republican's cannot."