Rove: Iraq war just puts people in a bad mood

President George W. Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove said on Monday worries about the Iraq war had contributed to a sour public mood but Republicans would fare “just fine” in November’s congressional elections.

Rove, who is under investigation in the leak of a CIA covert operative’s name, defended Bush’s handling of the economy and shrugged off polls showing growing public concern over America’s future and disapproval of Bush’s leadership.

“We’re in a sour time. I readily admit it,” Rove, who rarely makes public appearances, said at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank. “Being in the middle of a war where people turn on their television sets and see brave men and women dying is not something that makes people happy and optimistic and upbeat.”

But Rove dismissed predictions that Bush’s falling public approval rating — down to as low as 29 percent in one poll — was a sign of looming Republican disaster when voters decide the balance of power in Congress in November.

He said he heard the same predictions in the spring and early summer of 2004 before Bush was reelected as president. Bush’s approval rating was higher in mid-May 2004, however, registering 47 percent in a Gallup Poll at the time.

“We’re going to be just fine in the fall elections, and we’re going to be fine because we stand for things that are important,” Rove said, mentioning a strong defense and victory in the war on terrorism and in Iraq.

“And our opponents, at this point, stand for little or nothing, except mere obstructionism,” he said of Democrats, adding Americans still liked Bush personally and voted for “center-right” candidates when given the chance.

The speech was Rove’s first major public appearance since losing his policy adviser portfolio in a recent White House staff shake-up. Rove, the architect of Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential wins, now concentrates on politics.

He remains under investigation over the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name to the media, which opponents say was politically motivated. He refused to answer a question about the probe and his role in the leak.

Rove said Bush had helped revive a foundering economy with his tax cuts and trade policies. But while consumer confidence is high, he said, the impact of the war had taken its toll on the public’s long-range confidence about the future.

“There is a disconnect, and I think it’s because the war looms on all political actors and not just that it’s people’s attitudes are sour about the economy,” he said.

“They do feel that overall the economy is good for them, that the prospects for their family in the near term and for the future are good,” Rove said. “They’re worried about the long haul. They’ve heard about the problems with Social Security. They’re worried about globalization.”

© Reuters 2006