Karl Rove has emerged as the GOP’s top critic of Donald Trump’s plan to determine his endorsement by moderating a debate with the Republican field, going so far as to ask the Republican National Committee to intervene.
“Here’s a guy who is saying ‘I’m going to endorse one of you’ so that sort of of gives him some leverage over them,” Rove told FOX News on Monday. “So should a guy who’s going to endorse be the ‘impartial’ moderator of a debate?”
He added: “More importantly, what the heck are the Republican candidates doing showing up at a debate with a guy who says ‘I may run for president next year as an independent.’ I think the Republican National chairman ought to step in and say we strongly discourage every candidate from appearing in a debate moderated by somebody who’s going to run for president.”
One notable wrinkle to Rove’s condemnation: Newt Gingrich was the first candidate to agree to the debate on Saturday and met with Trump in person on Monday. Mitt Romney, whom the ostensibly neutral Rove has been accused of boosting in his FOX appearances, has yet to signal his participation and Jon Huntsman’s campaign has openly mocked Trump’s request.
The conservative National Review made the Gingrich/Trump connection explicit in an editorial on Monday morning calling on Republicans to reject the mogul’s “sideshow.”
“As a serious contender running a campaign with maximal pride in its own seriousness, Gingrich lowers himself by association with this consummately unserious man,” the editors wrote. “Romney should refuse to follow suit.”
Rove has not directly attacked Gingrich, but he’s been happy to namecheck his myriad vulnerabilities. In an appearance on FOX late last month, he brought up a host of his problems, from Libya flip flops to a perceived moderate stance on immigration, and suggested that he should perhaps avoid comparing his conservative bonafides to Romney’s. He told Newsmax the same week that Gingrich’s immigration stance would cause major problems in Iowa, even while he largely agreed with its substance.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.