It doesn’t matter that they worked for presidents with opposite political leanings.
Both Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary under President Barack Obama, and Karl Rove, former White House deputy chief of staff under President George W. Bush, called the upcoming 2016 presidential election fascinating.
Gibbs, now an MSNBC contributor, said Republicans like to nominate someone from outside of Washington.
Rove, now a Fox News contributor, said Republicans are likely to nominate governors for the presidential ticket.
The two political strategists were invited to speak at the Wisconsin Bar Association’s annual conference at The Grand Geneva Resort Friday. Despite their political leanings, they agreed that Gov. Scott Walker had a chance.
Gibbs said Republicans have followed a “nomination hierarchy” in the past, in which the one who didn’t get the nomination in the prior election was nominated. Not so in 2016, he said.
“There could legitimately be 10 to 12 candidates,” Gibbs said.
The Republicans still have a “massive demographic problem,” Gibbs said. Most of the ballots cast for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election were from whites.
“In 2005, I watched Jeb Bush (Republican governor of Florida) give a press conference on a hurricane,” Gibbs said. “Then, after he was done, I watched him turn around and give the same conference in Spanish.”
Gibbs said Jeb Bush is one Republican that he deeply respects.
Rove said the election process has shortened a bit, which he said is related to social media. Candidates can quickly gather support through social media, meaning they can delay announcing their candidacies until later in the cycle.
“People are recognizing they have more time to organize,” Rove said.
There are more ways for candidates to get money, too.
Rove said campaign financing “isn’t pretty, but it’s democracy.”
“I don’t want to get in the business of restricting First Amendment rights,” he said.
Gibbs called campaign finance “the wild, wild west.”
“There are no real rules or limits,” he said. “In the last election, each of the candidates got their own super PAC ... When voters see an ad attacking a candidate, they assume it’s from the other candidate.”
Gibbs jokingly apologized to the audience for having to live in a swing state because of all the political ads shown in Wisconsin.
“I cannot believe any reasonable person can suffer through (those ads),” he said, adding that he often mutes his own TV when the ads air.
Gibbs said spending limits mandated for a candidate who accepts public funding are too strict.
In 2012, according to the Federal Election Commission, if candidates take the public funding option, the primary election spending limit was $45.6 million, and the general election limit was $91.2 million. Rove said stronger political parties that work as mediators would help more people have a voice in elections.
“I notice that liberals had no difficulty when it was liberal groups (funding campaigns),” Rove said.
Rove said unions have acted as political action committees for many years, and now conservative groups have started to form their own groups.
“I don’t have an answer,” he said. “Let’s not be hypocritical. Liberal groups have been doing this a long time.”
Candidates don’t have it easy through the nomination and election.
Gibbs called the grueling election process important for vetting the future president.
“Very few (candidates) come out stronger if they don’t win,” he said. “There is nothing about the process that makes it easy.”
Gibbs said he told Obama that the process would change his life.
Working at the White House changed the lives of Rove and Gibbs, too.
Rove, who worked there from 2005 through 2007, said the White House runs at 120 mph.
“When you leave, you have to get used to real life again,” he said. “Then you realize there’s life after the White House.”
Rove credited Gibbs who left the White House after two years and started a literacy program in Alabama.
“It’s an extraordinary honor to work in that building,” Gibbs said of the White House. “But it’s exhausting. ... Sometimes you just have to take a step back and enjoy it, you have to realize where you are. It’s an amazing honor to have played a small role in how the country functions.”