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Monday, 24 March 2008 22:04

James Moore -- Texas Expert on Rove -- Discusses Political Surrogates, Rovian Tactics, and Win at All Cost Campaigns in 2008

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I think it's fair to say that they are not just playing the "race card," but they're trying to combine race and fear. This is the thing that probably pushed me over the edge with the Clintons. ... They see race as an effective button to push to move people in their direction, to create doubt. And that was the whole Rove thing, to create enough doubt that people go back to their default positions and their belief systems. ... They're using fear to put them where they want to be.

-- James Moore, Emmy-winning reporter and coauthor of Bush's Brain

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"James Moore (Austin, TX) is an Emmy Award-winning television news correspondent with more than a quarter century of journalistic experience. He has covered every presidential campaign since 1976, and his reports have appeared on CNN, NBC, and CBS. He is the coauthor of the 2003 New York Times bestseller Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential and author of The Architect: Karl Rove and the Dream of Absolute Power."

For many years, Moore has been the BuzzFlash expert on all things Rove (including at least two prior BuzzFlash interviews with him.) In today's BuzzFlash interview, we discuss Rovian campaign tactics, the use of surrogates, and the desire to win a campaign at any cost that consumes politicians from time to time.

We should mention that we go back, as far as an Internet relationship, a long way with Moore. He's one of those Texans who had a front row seat as Rove and Bush ascended to power in the Lone Star State. Moore, we have found, knows how to take the measure of a person -- their good and the bad -- without bearing a grudge or bias. He calls it as he sees it, and "Bush's Brain" -- written with Dallas Morning News veteran Texas political reporter Wayne Slater -- remains the definitive backgrounder on Rove. Moore's second book on Rove, "The Architect," updates the Rovian dissection.

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BuzzFlash: Later we'll be talking about your experience in Texas, and particularly with Karl Rove, but let's just start by looking at how campaigns operate, and in particular, the role of so-called surrogates in a campaign. Not every surrogate is carrying message points for the campaign, but there are surrogates who do, and they're close to the campaign. They get their message points of the day. Can you explain in general how surrogates are used?

James Moore: There are all kinds of surrogates. There are the visible and the invisible. There are the authorized and the unauthorized. They all do different sorts of things.

The ones that everybody knows about are the good guys, and these are people who, as you suggested, are briefed on a daily basis. They're told what the talking points of the day are, what the issues of the day are, and they have conference calls with the campaign. Then they are marched out in various states, and they communicate on behalf of the candidate.

Then there are some surrogates who are either in the pay of the campaign, or in the pay of the 527 that is sympathetic to the campaign, but they are not publicly profiled individuals. These people go around and do the dirty work. At times, these people will come out and criticize the opposition, or dig up dirt on the opposition. These people are disavowed by the campaign they're trying to help. It's actually a very effective method of campaigning, which Karl Rove, in my estimation, really mastered and turned into an art form here in Texas, and took into a national campaign.

The way this works is you have somebody go out and either start a rumor or dig up some bad information, and give it to the right reporter who they think might be sympathetic, or to the online media, the blogs, even up to print media. Then you have something that the other campaign has to confront.

Without this invisible surrogate, this never would have happened. Then the campaign that their surrogate is working for claims to have no knowledge of any of this -- doesn't weigh in on any of this, until the damage is done. Once the damage is done, whether it's for Hillary or George W. Bush or whomever, you can stand up and say: I don't know anything about this. I'm not connected with this. This person doesn't work for my campaign, and doesn't speak for me. I have no idea whether Senator Obama is a Muslim or not. And it allows the candidate to take the high road while getting the dirty work done. It's a separation of processes and duties.

BuzzFlash: Sometimes the role of the surrogate is acknowledged, but in a way that is distancing or like a non-apology apology. For instance, a British reporter said Samantha Power said "monster." When she apologized to the Clinton campaign, they said you have to resign. Meanwhile, Wolfson said Obama was just like Ken Starr, because he requested that Hillary Clinton disclose her recent income tax returns, not just older ones.

Hillary Clinton was asked, what was the difference? You've got a surrogate for Obama saying something that shouldn't be on the public record. Then you have a chief spokesperson characterizing Obama as being a Ken Starr. Hillary Clinton argued that Samantha Power's remark was a personal attack, and the other was a historical statement. Now, there a candidate is not disavowing her own campaign. She's not requiring her own surrogate to apologize.

James Moore: She called it an ad hominem attack. The first thing she should have done was jump down Wolfson's throat for reminding America of Ken Starr. He's the guy who brought Monica Lewinsky to the world's attention, and do we want to remind people about that? All things being equal, if you're going to demand the resignation of one person for a characterization, the truth is that she should have denounced the Starr characterization. But Ken Starr is a name with a history, and she was able to hide behind that and not confront it.

But the use of surrogates gets more artful with every campaign. It almost leads you to believe that there's nothing spontaneous about any campaign, that everything is planned. My guess is that somebody brought that comparison up to Wolfson on the conference call that morning, and they talked about how to respond.

BuzzFlash: They also think these things through, one would assume. Tossing Ken Starr out there and bringing up her victimhood inoculates her, because Ken Starr was wrong in going after the impeachment. Therefore, Obama is wrong in bringing up tax returns and transparency.

James Moore: I think that's fundamentally the way they probably saw it, but that wasn't my reaction. To me, it was a reminder of everything that went bad in her husband's administration. Yes, maybe it did put her in a position of victimhood, but it also is a reminder that we've got a bit of Bush-Clinton fatigue.

BuzzFlash: Let me ask further about surrogates, because you're more informed than most people about political campaigns. When we talk about surrogates at BuzzFlash, the distinction we've drawn is between a single surrogate saying something, versus there being a pattern of comments. When Hillary Clinton shed a tear or maybe did not shed a tear just before the New Hampshire primary, Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., suggested that her display of emotion was well timed. That was the only comment out of any surrogate of the Obama campaign that we recognized like that.

In the Clinton campaign, as you've pointed out, there is a pattern of surrogates playing the race card. It's not an isolated incident. It includes Bill Clinton, Geraldine Ferraro, Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General of New York, who said Obama would not "shuck and jive" his way to the presidency, it includes Hillary Clinton dismissing the Louisiana primary as African Americans proudly voting for one of their own. The pattern is indisputable. So when there's one surrogate saying something, you can say, well, maybe that is a surrogate freelance expressing their own opinion. But when you have a pattern like this, does that indicate something more planned?

James Moore: I don't think there's any doubt that it's planned. I also believe that they do sort of deny by saying, look, this is the first time that gender and race have been front and center in a campaign like this. People are trying to find ways to deal with it effectively, both in a pro and con manner. So even if you detect a pattern, which I do, and even if you believe that it is an organized effort to keep reminding people of race, there is also a very handy excuse for them to say: look, people are speaking freely for themselves. We're confronting race for the first time in a campaign of this nature, for the highest office in the land and possibly the world. And this is not orchestrated.

When that many people are saying that many things, it is an issue where they see an advantage. It's like they're saying, there are people out there for whom race is an issue, but it shouldn't be, but they are reminding them it's an issue in a very subconscious way. This does not happen by accident. I think it's fair to say that they are not just playing the "race card," but they're trying to combine race and fear.

This is the thing that probably pushed me over the edge with the Clintons. I like them both. I think he was a fine president. I think if he hadn't had his moment of teenage behavior, as I suggested, he might have been a great president. And I think she would make a fine president. But when they made race an issue, they lost me.

Then a short time after that, I heard Senator Obama say: I think it's time we talk to our enemies as well as our friends. When Hillary came out with the 3 a.m. ad, I was done with her. Before that, I was willing to say, I'm in the middle here. I don't know what I'm going to do. But that's where I was lost.

I think it's that way for other people, because the pattern you've described is a pattern of using race as a fear thing. And it's another form of fear if they're trying to suggest to white people, that if you have a black man, and you know his grandfather was Muslim, you just have no idea what might happen. Not only is he black, but "he's a Muslim." We've never been in this position before, and especially not with a man who has as little experience as he does. Why do you trust it? That's what they're suggesting. They're also suggesting that if you put this guy in this position, is he going to be sympathetic with Muslims. Because he said let's talk to our enemies? And he has Islam in his background. And is he prepared to fight the people who are part of his ancestry as hard as they need to be fought? I generally have to say I've been disgusted.

BuzzFlash: A lot of people have left BuzzFlash because they're upset that we keep bringing up the racial strategy of the Clintons, as distinguished from "racist," which is a key point. We can start getting into a discussion of Rove this way. Bush ran a campaign, and certainly his presidency, embracing homophobic leaders, implementing homophobic policies. But it's widely reported that Bush is not really personally anti-gay. He said that to Barney Frank.

James Moore: He's not. In fact, that whole thing left a horrible taste in his mouth.

BuzzFlash: My point is, people write in and say: How could the Clintons and Senator Clinton play the race card? They're not racists.

James Moore: I don't think they are.

BuzzFlash: That's where the parallel with Bush is. How did Bush play the homophobic card if he's really not homophobic?

James Moore: What experienced and nuanced observers of politics realize is that people who want to win elections will do things that they find personally distasteful, to win that office, in order to do what they view eventually will be a great good. Bush hated the whole homophobia thing. But he was willing to go along with it. And he was willing to say, I don't like this, but if this is what's going to work, let's get in the office and do what we have to do. Now,when he talks about protecting marriage, he's a little bit closer to what he really believes. He just doesn't believe that it has to be done in a way that marginalizes GLBT folks. But he'll do whatever is necessary to maintain power and to hold office.

I think the same is true of Clinton. If anybody has observed the Clintons through the years -- and I've been watching since way back in Arkansas, and they were down here in Texas in the Seventies -- you have to know that you are dealing with people who are every bit as hungry for power and influence as George W. Bush and Karl Rove. They are willing to do whatever is necessary to win. They will not quit. They didn't get where they are by quitting.

They see race as an effective button to push to move people in their direction, to create doubt. And that was the whole Rove thing, to create enough doubt that people go back to their default positions and their belief systems.

I think the Clintons realize this and their strategists realize this. That's why they're presently trying to use doubt about race, and doubt about an ability to face down terrorists. They're using fear to put them where they want to be.

BuzzFlash: Clinton had the narrative of 35 years of experience and inevitability until Super Tuesday. Then the narrative fractured. It seems somewhat ironic that Bill Clinton ran as the man from Hope, but now he is supporting a campaign whose approach is to discredit hope.

James Moore: Yes. It's ironic. But I don't think that they're trying to say they're not hopeful. They're trying to say: hope is a good thing, but let's be pragmatic here. And if you're pragmatic, take a look at us and you'll choose us. And in order to get them to choose the Clintons again, they bring up race, and they bring up fear, and they bring up all of these things that are such a big, big problem. That's what they're willing to do in order to get her into the White House.

BuzzFlash: We've seen, not just with Rove, but going back to the Nixon campaign, a history of dirty tricks. Rove was certainly a specialist at dirty tricks, as you point out in your books about him, beginning from the very days when he was working for George Herbert Walker Bush, and he dropped out of college and so forth.

James Moore: Right.

BuzzFlash: What about this much-disputed incident of the photograph of Barack Obama that appeared on the Drudge Report, where he was in Somali garb. The Clinton campaign attacked Obama for saying that the photo was racist because what could be racist about the photo? It took them about a day before they would officially deny that "the campaign" leaked it, but they never denied that someone from the campaign leaked it. They just said the campaign didn't leak it.

James Moore: Right.

BuzzFlash: When asked if someone from the campaign leaked it, they said, we don't know. There are too many people in the campaign to say. But last October, there was a story in the International Herald Tribune saying that the Clinton campaign had developed a liaison who fed things to the Drudge Report. This was acknowledged by the Clinton campaign with some pride. They were playing this game -- they had gotten Drudge to do some of their work for them. So if this picture was leaked by the Clinton campaign -- hypothetically, let's just say it was -- they acknowledge that it's possible one of their workers might have -- is this a classic dirty trick?

James Moore: I think it's pretty much the way things are done now. In the wake of what Rove has done, all of these campaigns have realized the breadth and the power of the audience that Matt Drudge has. Even Democrats read Matt Drudge's site in order to get information and see what the other side is thinking. So I'm not sure that it falls in the category of dirty tricks. Maybe it's being more practical in a dirty world. It's getting down in the mud, wallowing with the hogs, in order to beat the hogs.

Within all of these campaigns that I've observed historically, all of them that I've traveled under, there have been people at the margins. They offer things up to people authorized to make things happen. And sometimes these guys are almost like double agents. There could be a guy who might want McCain to win, but he wants McCain to win against Hillary. So he gets a photo or some piece of information to his contact within the Clinton campaign. And that guy says: yeah, we'd love to see that on Matt Drudge. And lo and behold, it's on Matt Drudge. It's almost gotten to a point where these kinds of things are not dirty tricks anymore. There's a set of protocols for doing this kind of stuff. That's where campaigns are now.

BuzzFlash: In this particular case, it shouldn't surprise us if someone in the Clinton campaign sent it, and that there was some knowledge within the campaign of this whole climate to make Obama "the black candidate," the mysterious candidate who might be Muslim, and to marginalize him. But you're saying the very activity of supporting any strategy through Drudge is no longer a dirty trick.

James Moore: Well, Matt Drudge isn't exactly a journalist. Matt Drudge doesn't exactly vet material. He puts it up for political impact. Remember John Kerry's alleged affair with his intern, who the world tracked down in the middle of the desert in Africa? Nobody checked it out, and Matt Drudge just floated it. And the media was out there chasing after John Kerry. What I'm saying -- and this is probably the more important point -- is that everybody within the Clinton campaign knew, and the word was out, that the best way to beat this guy was to turn him into something that was worrisome to the average voter, especially the average white voter.

When they sent somebody out to dig stuff up in opposition research, and they found this photograph, they thought: well, this is the kind of stuff we've been looking for. Now where's the best place for this to go? Who's going to run with it?

Yahoo's not going to run with it. So you give it to Matt Drudge. And at a minimum, it's unseemly, if there is such a thing as a Clinton campaign staffer who is on Matt Drudge, who's doing that kind of thing. That is, at a minimum, disgusting. But the fact that they got that picture to Drudge, knowing Drudge would throw it out there for what it's worth and not vet it -- it could have been Photoshopped -- he wouldn't give a damn -- he'd run it. And they knew that. They saw the outfit, and they thought, well, this is going to be helpful. And they got it to him.

In essence, that amounts to a dirty trick. But what I'm telling you is that the process has devolved to the point now where we've lost context because so many people do so many bad things.

I was reminded of a Texas Ranger I heard in a courthouse at a trial one time, who ended his testimony, after getting the tar beat out of him on the witness stand. He said, "I don't care what you-all think. Right is still right even if nobody's doing it. And wrong is still wrong, even if everybody's doing it." In fact, I think that's a maxim that ought to be applied to politics.

BuzzFlash: Rove seemed to run very disciplined campaigns, but the Clinton campaign is all over the place at this point. They're trying a lot of different strategies, even if it kind of tears the Democratic Party apart, at least for the moment. We tend to get hyperbolic, but at the moment, it certainly looks like there's going to be a big tear here.

James Moore: Not very healthy.

BuzzFlash: One of Rove's legacies seemed to be, as despicable a character as he is, that he did run a disciplined campaign. There weren't too many people talking out of school in the Bush campaign in 2000.

James Moore: Absolutely not. There was a set of messages. And they were addressed every day. And no one spoke without being authorized. Even the surrogates did not act without authorization. One of the points I tried to make about Rove all along, is that, if you are by fiat in charge of everything that happens, then that leaves you effectively in charge of everything, both the good that's happening and the bad that's happening, both what's happening with the interior campaign and the exterior with the surrogates. So anything that was bad that happened, Rove planned it. Rove executed. Whether that was swiftboating John Kerry in '04, or whether it was destroying John McCain in South Carolina in 2000, Karl was the guy. He was easily able to separate himself from these operations, and manage the entire thing.

BuzzFlash: There are briefing calls going on daily from the Obama camp and the Clinton camp for the mainstream media primarily. We're not on those calls. In the Clinton calls that some reporters have described, Wolfson and Ickes and a guy named Phil Singer sometimes say things that are absolutely Bush-Rovian in nature.

For example, we can look at this Commander-in-Chief thing. They were asked, how could you have Hillary at the top of the ticket -- even though she's losing now, in pledged delegates, number of states won, popular vote -- you have her at the top, and perhaps Barack Obama as Vice President? And they were asked, how is that possible when just a few days before, Senator Clinton had declared that she and McCain had crossed the threshold of experience for being Commander-in-Chief, but as for Obama, you'd have to ask him, all he has is a speech. That's putting a couple of her statements together, but that's essentially what she said.

Someone from the press said it doesn't make any sense. How could she pick someone who hadn't crossed the threshold into being Commander-in-Chief? And the response was: Well, he may be ready by August.

James Moore: I know. I thought that was hilarious.

BuzzFlash: Now what is that?

James Moore: Personally, I think it's being hoisted on your own petard. Truthfully, I think that they are scrambling, trying to find a way and do some positioning to distinguish themselves from him, and they came up with that. But that's something they didn't think about. They said: okay, let's try to position him as a VP. He'd be a good VP. And he's not ready to be the President. But they didn't think through that.

I think that's a case of somebody dropping the ball. But it's utter stupidity, and it's the height of presumptuousness and arrogance for her to suggest that she's ready and he's not. She's been a senator; he's been a senator. She may have been married to the man who was Commander-in-Chief, but she was not the Commander-in-Chief. And I'm assuming she didn't sit in at the National Security Council meetings or in Cabinet meetings, or when the NSA met. Her experience as a Commander-in-Chief has to come strictly from pillow talk, as far as I know.

Was she in on the defense plan meetings? Did she go to NATO meetings? I think that this is silly and she's no more qualified than Obama is. He's every bit as experienced as she is to make those kinds of statements. And if you look at our other young presidents -- John Kennedy and Teddy Roosevelt -- both of them had done nothing more than fought in a war. Now does fighting in a war, carrying a gun, or being on a PT boat make you Commander-in-Chief material because you know how to point a gun and pull a trigger? I don't think it does. I think being Commander-in-Chief is about judgment. It's not necessarily about being out in the battlefield. We have this sort of default position where we constantly want to fall back on people who have been to war as our Commanders-in Chief. I don't think that's a necessary qualification.

BuzzFlash: I haven't read any press reports suggesting that Senator Clinton sat in on National Security Council meetings. She did not have security clearance.

James Moore: Pillow talk. There's that pillow talk.

BuzzFlash: We can point to someone else with no foreign policy experience who came to the presidency, and that is Bill Clinton in '92. He had been the governor of a small state, and no real foreign policy experience.

James Moore: And George W. Bush. George Bush had never been out of the United States except to Mexico his whole life. Then in '98, when he realized he was going to run for president and he was going to favor Israel greatly, he made a very much ballyhooed trip to Israel. But you're talking about a man whose father was U.S. Ambassador to China, was head of the CIA, and he had a son who was completely impervious to the world outside of the United States, and outside of Texas.

BuzzFlash: Many Democratic Party officials were horrified, and some say it was absolutely unprecedented, for a member of one party in a primary fight to raise up the stature of the opponent party's candidate, John McCain, as Hillary Clinton did in making the statement that he had crossed the threshold of Commander-in-Chief. She implied that Barack Obama had not. This was a betrayal of the party, and also enhancing the Republican opposition.

At the same time, she kind of set herself up by enhancing McCain. We found on YouTube a month and a half ago, before the Hillary Clinton 3 a.m. ad was posted, that a supporter of John McCain had created an ad with exactly the same story line, with just the image of the children not being in there. The point is, when that Clinton ad is run, a lot of people might say I feel more comfortable with John McCain answering the phone at 3 a.m.

James Moore: Well, she was trying to say, you and I are the only two. And you can't take this other guy seriously, because we are the ones who can take that phone call. Again, I go back to what I said earlier -- that the Clintons are so hungry and so needy of influence, authority and power that they control, that they will say and do almost anything to maintain that position. I don't think they thought.

I really do not think that Wolfson or Senator Clinton or any of those guys even thought about the fact that they were elevating the other team. All they thought about was let's find a way to put ourselves into the public's mind as his obvious opponent. And this is one way to do it. We're the only ones who have the same stature as he does in this particular matter. Therefore, we are the ones that you should think about voting for, and not the other guy. He's not of the same stature.

They didn't give any consideration to the fact that they were embellishing John McCain, that they were helping the Republican Party. Let's face it -- if Hillary does not win the nomination, which doesn't look very likely, when the fall rolls around, there are going to be ads up saying that one of the Democratic Party's two presidential candidates suggested that John McCain is the only one running for president who is qualified to take that phone call. If you're a Republican, wouldn't you run that ad?

BuzzFlash: My question is this. Does she really care if Obama wins in November? When she raised McCain that way, maybe they didn't think it all though, but, she could have a chance in four years, we don't know. I'm asking you to speculate. You're the type of guy who says: I can't read into her head. But aren't politicians often that cynical?

James Moore: Oh, sure, they all are. And she's Hillary. She is a Clinton. So she's already examined all of these eventualities and I am sure that she's already pondering this stuff. And you're right. She will certainly give lip service to it if she is on the ticket with him. And she may make some speeches, and she may be out there talking with him. But what she's already thinking about is: if I lose this thing, what's next for me?

Frankly, my suspicion is that she would hope that he loses. She would go back to the U.S. Senate, and she would convince Harry Reid to step aside, which might not be very hard. And she would become the Senate Majority Leader. Then she would be on television for the subsequent four years, and position herself to once more be the nominee at the end of the first McCain administration, to run again.

I think that you also have to consider the prospect, if that happens, that Senator Obama is quite young. And just because you run once and lose one, that doesn't mean you're out of it. We could get an entire horrible replay of this whole thing four years from now.

BuzzFlash: Oh, God save us. Well, Jim Moore, thank you again, as always.

James Moore: It's always good talking to you. Take care.

BuzzFlash Interview conducted by Mark Karlin.

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James Moore Bio (The Huffington Post)

Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential (Powell's Books)

Bush's War for Reelection: Iraq, the White House, and the People (Powell's Books)

Who is Bush's Brain? Karl Rove is, according to a New Book Chronicling the Political Life of the Machiavelli Behind the Throne of King George (BuzzFlash, 6/2/03)

James Moore Explains Karl Rove, the Architect of Bush's Master Plan (BuzzFlash, 9/19/06)

Read 2485 times Last modified on Thursday, 27 March 2008 22:06