During the interview Lauer also threw out some of the most salacious charges about Rove being behind a racist smear campaign against John and Cindy McCain during the 2000 South Carolina primary something he denied but Lauer pushed: "While Rove denies any involvement in any smears, some prominent Republicans point the finger directly at him. Here's what Roy Fletcher, McCain's deputy campaign manager said of the South Carolina smear. Quote, 'This whole thing, it was orchestrated by Rove.' Cindy McCain, of that same incident...the smear involved possibly that this was an illegitimate black child." [audio available here ]
After Rove blamed a Bob Jones University professor for the allegation, Lauer brought up two more Rove critics who painted Rove as the villain including Cindy McCain who said she would "Stab" Rove "in the front" and a former George W. Bush speechwriter who claimed "He was what all the liberals said he was, the villain...a clumsy one at that....less a Voldermort than a Boris Badenov chasing Rocky and Bullwinkle."
The following is the relevant exchange as it was aired on the March 8 Today:
MATT LAUER: I could do most of this interview on what you write on page 64. Let me give our viewers some examples. Here's what you write, "I have become an adjective. There is something called a Rovian style of campaigning and it's meant as an insult." You go on. "One columnist said it consists mainly of 'throwing mud until it sticks.' One prominent blogger described the elements of a textbook Rovian race as 'fear-based, smear-based and anything goes.'"-Geoffrey Dickens is the senior news analyst at the Media Research Center.
KARL ROVE: You know, that's a pretty nasty view of the American voting public. It assumes that these people are easily misled and that people make a decision to vote for somebody, particularly the President of the United States on the basis of mean-spirited, nasty, vicious, you know, despicable reasons and that's not what a campaign is about. I have more respect for the American public than that. They're not easily misled. They try and do a good thing when they go into the voting booth.
LAUER: And you say, "To believe all the bad things about Karl Rove. First you have to believe that the electorate is stupid. Easily misled by smash-mouth TV ads, dirty tricks, and fear-and-smear politics." I can't imagine you ever calling the American electorate stupid. Who would be so stupid to do that?
ROVE: Well those journalists were.
LAUER: Okay but isn't the rest of it somewhat true?
LAUER: People are misled by negative campaigns. Otherwise, why would so many campaigns turn negative?
ROVE: I think most campaigns turn negative because they don't have something positive to say. And look, I think negative campaigns are like nitroglycerin - unstable, dangerous and ofttimes, most dangerous to the people who are using them.
LAUER: Are you asking me, are you asking the readers to believe that you were the only, only the architect of the positive things-
ROVE: Oh no.
LAUER: -and took no ownership of the negative things?
ROVE: No, no look I outline in the campaign the proper way to handle a negative attack.
LAUER: The charges or the allegations or the constant comments you hear about Karl Rove, that he was the guy behind the whisper campaigns.
ROVE: In South Carolina.
LAUER: Right. That he was the guy with the push-poll question about John McCain-
LAUER: -and suggesting is it possible, how would you feel about John McCain during the 2000 primaries if he were, by some chance, to have fathered an illegitimate black child. You say you had nothing to do with that.
ROVE: Nothing to do with it. In fact, you know, I write about this in detail in the book. This is the kind of, you know, this is, this is a kind of thing the media love. These kinds of allegations. But for people in practical politics, I got to tell you, I was seized with fear when this rumor began to circulate through South Carolina. Not very widely. It was sent out by a professor at Bob Jones University, a fellow named Hand. I thought John McCain would seize it for what it was, which was an enormous opportunity to give an insight into who and his wife are. Because they adopted, Cindy McCain adopted a child from an orphanage in Bangladesh which is, who is their daughter. And this, the story of this is an incredible tale of love and compassion. But rather than doing that, John McCain said, "I'm a victim" and was angry and, and complained about it and pointed the finger at Bush, when he had no evidence whatsoever.
LAUER: Because it's, it's hard to turn a smear into a positive.
ROVE: No it isn't.
LAUER: It takes-
ROVE: It is.
LAUER: It's an artful process.
ROVE: Well but it, but it's, it's doable. And I talk about a number of examples in the, in the book.
LAUER: While Rove denies any involvement in any smears, some prominent Republicans point the finger directly at him. Here's what Roy Fletcher, McCain's deputy campaign manager said of the South Carolina smear. Quote, "This whole thing, it was orchestrated by Rove." Cindy McCain, of that same incident, remember we already set it up, the, the smear involved possibly that this was an illegitimate black child.
ROVE: That had emanated from an e-mail sent by a Bob Jones University professor to the people on his e-mail list, which may have been 100 people.
LAUER: She clearly saw it differently. Because when asked-
ROVE: Sure. Oh sure.
LAUER: -if Karl Rove were to walk by here would you stab him in the back she said, I'm paraphrasing here, but no "I would stab him in the front."
LAUER: President Bush's former speechwriter Mat Latimer said this about you in his book. Quote, "He was what all the liberals said he was, the villain. And to make matters worse a clumsy one at that. He turned out to be less a Voldemort than a Boris Badenov chasing Rocky and Bullwinkle.
ROVE: Yeah. Well I do like Rocky and Bullwinkle. Look Cindy McCain and the McCain campaign, Fletcher and others, they needed somebody to blame and they didn't want to blame Bush. It was hard to blame Bush. He's a nice guy. People knew him. It wouldn't stick. So why not pick out the sort of dough-faced, you know balding guy, who's the, you know, the grey eminence behind the campaign and blame him. And look that's the way politics is. Bush had a theory. He'd say, "Better you than me." And that's right. That's, that was, that was, that came with the territory