James Carville | Interview
Democratic guide Carville reflects on the Republican collapse.
Before he became the ubiquitous cue-ball-topped pundit on CNN for election 2008, political consultant James Carville capped a run of electoral successes by helping get Bill Clinton elected President. Concluding the Speaker Series at the Chicago Theatre, Charlie Rose interviews Carville and Karl Rove. We got to him first.
How have your joint interviews with Karl Rove gone in the past?
I’d say pleasant but periodically testy.
In 2005, you wrote about Rove as one of Time’s 100 most influential people. Given how Bush and the Republican Party fared since, have your views on Rove changed at all?
If a man gains the world and loses his soul, what does he have? Rove may have alienated an entire generation of young voters to win an election. In 2000, the Democrats and Republicans tied in the youth vote, 49–48. By 2008, it was 66–44.
Meghan McCain said Rove and Cheney should go away. Will voices like hers have to represent a kinder, gentler party?
Maybe, but Rove and Cheney have done something in their lives. I don’t particularly much like what they’ve done, but Cheney was a chief of staff to a President, secretary of defense, vice president. Rove has won a lot of races. There is a need for new blood. But I’m a little bit sympathetic to Rove and Cheney in this kind of fight.
Sympathetic? That’s surprising.
I don’t say I’m sympathetic to their point of view, but they’re entitled to have it, and you can’t deny they’re accomplished people.
Will their party have to soften its stance on social issues?
The problem is the cycle they were put on, to a large degree by Karl, was the Matthew Dowd memo that said they had to move to the right, that you won elections not by appealing to the center but on the margins. When historians look at this Republican collapse—and make no mistake about it, that’s what it is—you can argue which is a bigger event: Katrina or Terri Schiavo. I think Katrina was, but some historians are gonna argue the other way.
Speaking of the party’s future, what’s your take on Bobby Jindal?
As Casey Stengel once said—there was a prospect that was 18 years old—he said, “In ten years, he has a chance to be 28.” He’s a smart guy that’s capable of growth. We’ll see if he grows.
While Clinton had to pick up several Southern states, Obama lost almost every one. Did 2008 mark a decline in the South’s power to help decide presidential elections?
In the South in the last 20, 30 years, there’ve been breathtaking Republican gains. But these gains have come at a price, and the price is they’ve become more addicted to the talk-radio Southern white base. They have become almost a regional party.
Given your strong endorsement of Hillary Clinton, what’s your relationship been like with Obama?
Well, the most prestigious appointment any President makes is the secretary of state, so one would think there has to be some level of trust. [Laughs]
Did you ever have a come-to-Jesus moment with him?
No, he’s the President. [Laughs] I’ve not spoken with him since he’s been President. I talk to Rahm all the time. The President don’t need me. But I’m singing from his hymnal.
The Judas comment about Bill Richardson last year raised the question, Are politics all about tit for tat? Bill Clinton gave Richardson posts, so Richardson should’ve endorsed Hillary?
No, no, it was about him asking President Clinton to watch the Super Bowl with him and his political supporters, then the President saying, “Don’t make me go all the way to New Mexico if you’re gonna endorse Obama,” and he said, “Boss, I would never do any such thing as that.” There are certain people whose acts of betrayal are of such magnitude they need to be called out for it.
So it wasn’t about: I scratch your back, you scratch mine?
I never criticized a single other person that supported Obama.
Being married to a Republican strategist, Mary Matalin—do you and your wife talk politics at home?
Sometimes. We try to avoid it.
How do you negotiate that?
If I were Jewish and she were Baptist, no one would much remark about it. If she hated my mother, no one would think that was unusual. But if you have a different political view, people find that really unusual.
You’ve been a political consultant in other countries as well: Israel, the U.K. What’s the commonality?
That people don’t like to be lied to or stolen from. They’re not amused by either one of them.
Carville and Rove get periodically testy at the Chicago Theatre Thursday 28 at 7:30pm.