What I Learned at Lunch with Karl Rove: This Isn’t the 90’s Anymore

The email was a pleasant surprise. “Did I want to be a guest when Karl Rove comes to speak in Cleveland?” Karl Rove is either the sainted architect of Bush W’s administration or he is the patron devil of W’s election and first term. Depends on your perspective.

With no one next to me I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Karl Rove two questions. My first question was WHY. Why was a candidate “hitting his stride” nine months after announcing his candidacy for president? Why was a candidate trying out contact lens the week before he suspended his campaign, why were so many unprepared?

His answer was direct and swift. He didn’t disagree with me or defend any of the double digit GOP candidates. He said simply, “they didn’t go to graduate school.”

He went on to explain that three years before W ran for president he asked Karl Rove to convene the best minds he could find. He wanted to know how to be a candidate, a president, foreign policy, domestic, etc. Rove called this “graduate school.” He said that it appeared that these candidates woke up one morning and decided to run for president. He called out the governors for thinking that because they had been governor they knew how to be a presidential candidate.

The second question I asked him was about seemingly moderate Republicans supporting Ted Cruz over moderate John Kasich. Why? His answer and a rhetorical habit he has defined the 90’s. I asked specifically why Romney and Jeb Bush supported Cruz. He said Romney supported Kasich in Ohio and Cruz in Utah.

THAT IS WHY SO MANY AMERICANS ARE FRUSTRATED WITH POLITICIANS: EITHER YOU SUPPORT SOMEONE OR YOU DON’T. You don’t support them in one state and not in another because when it comes to the general election you only have one vote. Maybe that worked in the 90’s when news was not so fast and universal, but it doesn’t work today.

Karl Rove is famous for advising clients to answer the question they want not the question they get. My questions were asked one on one. After his speech, audience members asked questions in full hearing range of everyone else. In both circumstances, Karl Rove answered in a very entertaining way, interesting, educational, and at times charming. But he didn’t answer the questions asked. THAT IS WHY SO MANY AMERICANS ARE FRUSTRATED WITH POLITICIANS: spinning is from the 90’s and needs to stay there.

SPINNING is when the person answering spins to another topic without addressing the question asked. It’s so 90’s.

From a communication perspective, you have to pay homage to the question asked. You have to. Then you can give the answer you want. Not before you acknowledge what was asked.

I appreciated Karl Rove’s insights. He will be the first to tell you that he is no longer in politics. He is now an author. And I would be the first to say that his style is still in the 90’s, and needs to stay there.

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