Most people would probably find it flattering to be called the brains behind the president of the United States. But not Karl Rove, the former senior advisor to President George W. Bush who has been called “Bush’s brain.”
The nickname, bestowed on Rove by Bush critics, isn’t a compliment to him but rather an insult to his former boss, Rove told TODAY’s Matt Lauer during an extensive interview he granted in conjunction with the publication of his book, “Courage And Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight.”
“I’ve known him for almost four decades. He is a really smart person. To suggest that I was his brain is derogatory about him,” Rove said in a preview of the interview that ran Friday on TODAY. The full interview will air Monday and Tuesday, March 8 and 9, on TODAY. On Tuesday, Rove will join Lauer live in the show’s New York studios.
Bush himself called Rove “the architect” in deference to his role in shaping policy in the Bush White House. But in his book, Rove admits to a major mistake in his handling of the Iraq war: He writes that the the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq badly damaged the Bush administration's credibility and led to dwindling public support for the war.
In a review of the book, the Associated Press writes: “The former White House political adviser blames himself for not pushing back against claims that President George W. Bush had taken the country to war under false pretenses, calling it one of the worst mistakes he made during the Bush presidency. The president, he adds, did not knowingly mislead the American public about the existence of such weapons.”
Bush’s critics portrayed him as an intellectual lightweight who relied on Rove’s brains. Rove told Lauer that it’s a common tactic in politics.
“If you really want to diminish a candidate, depict him as the foil of his handler. This is as old in American politics as politics itself,” Rove said. “It’s easy to point at me. I’m convenient.”
Rove fiercely defends his old boss in his book and predicts that history will ultimately approve of Bush’s presidency, including his 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In the run-up to the war, Bush and his national security team, including Vice President Dick Cheney, attempted to link Saddam to the attacks as a way to build support for the invasion.
"Having seen how much carnage four airplanes could cause, Bush was determined to do all he could to prevent the most powerful weapons from falling into the hands of the world's most dangerous dictators," Rove wrote.
Rove depicts Bush as a courageous and resolute leader whose conduct in office was forever shaped by the Sept. 11 attacks. He calls Bush's achievements over two terms "impressive, durable and significant" and says many of the controversies that weakened his presidency were falsehoods perpetuated by political opponents.
Rove staunchly defends Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated states along the Gulf of Mexico in September 2005. Bush came under withering criticism for the federal government's response to the crisis; his memorable praise for FEMA administrator Michael Brown — "Heck of a job, Brownie" — was fodder for those who said it revealed the administration's detachment and incompetence.
In the book, Rove blames state and local officials for botching recovery efforts, particularly Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, both Democrats.
He also has sharp words for President Barack Obama, calling him a stereotypical Chicago politician who plays fast and loose with the facts.
Lauer asked Rove for the secret to Rove’s long association with Bush. “What was it about the two of you that meshed so well?” Lauer inquired.
“He’s the outside man, I’m the inside man. He’s a big thinker,” Rove said. “I liked being around him.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.