Rove Addresses GOP Leadership Meeting

The Republican National Committee convenes its winter meeting under the theme "Leadership We Can Trust." But the GOP is still struggling to decide which presidential candidate to trust as its next leader. Karl Rove, President Bush's former top adviser, dispenses some advice.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Republican National Committee opened its annual winter meeting here in Washington, D.C. yesterday. Its theme is Leadership We Can Trust - even as Republicans are still struggling to decide which of their presidential candidates to trust as their next leader. Karl Rove, President Bush's top adviser until a few months ago, dropped by the Republicans' opening session to dispense some advice.

NPR's David Welna was there.

(Soundbite of crowd)

DAVID WELNA: RNC Treasurer Tim Morgan's job is raising money for this year's GOP presidential campaign. As he registers for the annual winter meeting at a swank downtown hotel, Morgan rues the uncertainty that hangs over the presidential race.

Mr. TIM MORGAN (RNC Treasurer): It would be easier to raise money in another month or so if we know who the likely nominee is. But we deal with the situation on the ground as we find it.

WELNA: Others are also trying to deal with it. On her way in to hear Karl Rove, national committeewoman Diane Adams of Indiana says she'd expected the GOP would have settled on a presidential nominee by now.

Ms. DIANE ADAMS (Committeewoman): I think - I know the party will come around and everybody will align. It's just early and it just seems like the voters so far just aren't really sure.

WELNA: Though Adams supports Mitt Romney, she says she could back any Republican contender except John McCain.

Ms. ADAMS: I have to be really honest about McCain. I'm just really unhappy with the things that he's done with his McCain-Feingold and some of those other things. And so...

WELNA: Campaign finance reform.

Ms. ADAMS: Campaign finance reform. I - not that maybe it wasn't needed, but to put the strain on everybody that it has, you know, I'm sorry, I've - that's a - I'd have a real hard time with that.

(Soundbite of crowd)

WELNA: In a large dining room, several dozen state and national GOP officials sit down to hear presidential guru-turned-newspaper-columnist Karl Rove. He brings a message of hang in there.

Mr. KARL ROVE (Former Deputy White House Chief of Staff): You know, the primaries are far from over. We got a lot more fun yet to come.

WELNA: Rove admits the GOP candidates do, as he puts it, occasionally disagree with each other. But he insists they're all basically reading from the same script.

Mr. ROVE: Our candidates are offering solutions with smaller government, lower taxes, and a strong national defense. And on the other side, as they continue to run to the left to appease moveon.org, the Democrats are proposing just the opposite.

WELNA: Still, it's clear Rove's not entirely satisfied with what he's been hearing from the Republican presidential hopefuls.

Mr. ROVE: We have great proposals, far better than what the other side has to offer, but our candidates have got to get out there and articulate them.

WELNA: Later, South Dakota National Committeewoman Mary Jean Jensen says she wants the candidates to talk up the war in Iraq.

Ms. MARY JEAN JENSEN (Committeewoman): We haven't been public with that enough. I would say that even President Bush - and he probably realizes that the American people aren't listening, you know? Are we war weary or what? But we're winning and we need to get that message out as Republicans.

WELNA: I didn't hear Karl Rove mention his former boss's name once in the speech.

Ms. JENSEN: Ah, you know, it's sad, and true. But why aren't we? He's a great president. As Republicans we've got to be mentioning his name and what he's accomplished.

WELNA: So I ask Wisconsin GOP executive director Mark Jefferson whether he thinks President Bush is being unduly ignored.

Mr. MARK JEFFERSON (Executive Director, Republican Party of Wisconsin): I don't think so at all. Elections are for - are looking to the future. They're not looking to the past. And I think President Bush will have a very good legacy, but the 2008 campaign is about what we're going to do looking forward.

WELNA: First though, Republicans must decide who fits the bill for leadership they can trust.

David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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