Q&A: Michael Deaver, Edelman vice chairman and Republican strategist

Michael Deaver was President Ronald Reagan's former chief of staff, and is currently vice chairman at Edelman. He talked to about the importance of self-confidence, the Republican parallel to the situation facing Democrats today, and his admiration for Karl Rove.

Michael Deaver was President Ronald Reagan's former chief of staff, and is currently vice chairman at Edelman. He talked to about the importance of self-confidence, the Republican parallel to the situation facing Democrats today, and his admiration for Karl Rove.

Q. The Republicans enjoyed a 3 million-voter victory. What can be done to further increase the margin?

A. Well, we're happy with the 3 million [laughs]. It's the biggest vote [total] that a president has gotten in history - even bigger than Reagan's. The lesson here is on the work [the administration] has done over the past four years and during the campaign. Go back to Nixon and how they controlled the message concentration. Then look at how we took it in the Reagan White House and developed it to the message of the day. This Bush campaign just did it even better. They controlled the message, knew where they were going, never deviated, and had some broad messages they stuck with, and they responded every time the Kerry campaign went after them within a matter of minutes while the Kerry campaign waited two or three days. From a PR and communications standpoint, they had it nailed.

Q. Have Republicans been more on message than Democrats in recent history?

A. No. Bush's father was not. Clinton was. In the George Bush Sr. campaign, they would have a different message daily, whereas Clinton stuck with "it's the economy, stupid." From that standpoint, Clinton was the best guy of any Democrat since Kennedy to control the message. He however lost that ability to stay concentrated on the themes and messages while he was in the White House for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was Monica [Lewinsky]. When the Republicans won the control of the house, he didn't really know how to handle that. His years [in office] were pretty mixed, but he was right on message during the campaign.

Q. But history really goes to messaging being paramount.

A. Messaging is a tactic, but you have to have a believable theme. I love the quote about Harry Truman, in David McCullough books, that there was no one in the world that he would rather be. That's the essence of it. I know who I am; I know where I'm going. Follow me. If you look at Bush and Kerry, you can see that one of them says, "I know who I am, I know where I'm going. Follow me." And the other one doesn't because he hasn't got the first one right.

Q. The exit polls initially touted morals and values, but now pundits are returning back to the terrorism argument. The fact remains that morals and values have played out as an important part. What are your thoughts on that?

A. It was about one candidate talking about the future and one talking about the past. Kerry wanted to talk about outsourcing [in Tora Bora] and why we got into the war. Bush wanted to talk about social security, freedom and peace, and where this country is going. That's about leadership; that's why we vote for president. We vote on an impression of leadership. That means you have to talk about the future.

Q. In a situation like this, when a party wins back-to-back elections and increases its share in the House and Senate, what kind of re-examination will there be on the loser's side?

A. You're talking to someone whose first campaign, in 1964, was when Barry Goldwater won five states. We had to regroup and look at our party. It was only four years later that Richard Nixon won in a landside. You can regroup, but the difference here is the Republican Party has been able to talk to a growing number of people who identify themselves with conservative issues. As opposed to the '50s and '60s, you now have a Republican majority. It's a formidable one. The Democrats have to figure out where they're going to go to get their leaders. They're also going to have to talk to the people differently then they are now.

Q. The current groundswell now is that it would be foolish to nominate someone from a state already going Democrat - such as Hillary Clinton from New York - in 2008 because such states are part of what's deemed a bastion for the liberal elite. Is there really that viewpoint on the Conservative side of the liberal elite?

A. I don't think it's just the Conservative side; it's the country's [opinion]. You have not had a liberal elected in the country since John Kennedy. Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton all ran as moderates. The Democrat Party has to look carefully at nominating another liberal, and Hillary Clinton is certainly a liberal. That is not to say that she doesn't have star qualities, and is certainly the first among equals among the Democrat candidates now. It's going to be tough for Hillary to pose as a moderate.

Q. Do you think the media attention given to Karl Rove is merited?

A. I sure do. I think he's one of the - if not the - smartest Republican strategists since Ray Bliss, Eisenhower's guy. He's brilliant, a student of history, and he understands the new technology. If you put that all together, is the most formidable weapon the Republicans have.

Q. Is the ability to be a key strategist congenital?

A. Well, [Rove's] been at it for some time. This has been his passion since he was in high school. He didn't come to this simply with Bush coming to Washington.

Q. Rove said that Bush has been granted a "mandate." Is there a worry that this exuberance could lead Republicans astray from goals and messages?

A. No. This White House is the most disciplined White House I have ever seen. There's a danger of starting to believe your own press release in any second term in the White House, but only time will tell. This is not an insignificant victory. Bill Clinton never won a majority. This is the first president in this century to win the House and the Senate in winning re-election.

Q. Each campaign is always called the most negative in history, but every campaign is like that. What's different today?

A. The difference today is that we have so much media. They have to yabber all day long about something. There is more talk about campaigns and the media thrives on the negative than news. Go back thirty or forty years ago - the negativity came from the ads. Now it comes from the free media through cable television and bloggers.

Q. In '08, do you think it would continue to behoove campaigns to not only use their own blogs, but also take in what the citizen journalists are saying?

A. Yes. They have to listen to all of that because it's only going to grow in importance. If you're blind to the new technology, you're going to lose.


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