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< Ed Rollins

Transcript

Monday, November 07, 2011

ALEC BALDWIN:

This is Alec Baldwin, and Here's the Thing. Ed Rollins could have been a contender. He was a boxing phenom, until an injury forced him out. But it wasn't long until this fighter got his first gig in politics working as a campaign coordinator for Robert Kennedy in California.

Eventually, he was running Ronald Reagan's reelection effort in 1984, Ross Perot's campaign in 1992 — that lasted two months — and Mike Huckabee's in 2007.

Ed Rollins has worked on six presidential campaigns. He is one of the guys in the back room coming up with a strategy, making deals, and telling candidates when to duck and when to jab. Rollins is known for being honest and direct, which brings him admiration and trouble, sometimes big trouble.
 
Just over a week after helping Christine Todd Whitman win election as Governor of New Jersey in 1993, Rollins himself claimed the campaign had paid black ministers to suppress black turnout. Later the straight shooter explained his remarks by saying, quote, "I was talking trash."

Fifteen years ago Ed Rollins declared, “Enough,” no more politics for him. He wrote his memoir, thirty years in the business. He had a baby daughter. He wanted a different life.

But something kept pulling Ed Rollins back in. He’s worked for Mike Huckabee and two months ago he left Michele Bachmann's campaign. Today, Rollins says the political landscape is entirely different from when he started.

ED ROLLINS:

Once a primary was over, even if it was an ideological difference, which has always been kind of an establishment part in the conservative element of the party, the operatives got together.

You know, winning was important, you didn't carry grudges. You know, you basically put it together, where Democrats obviously had the big ideological fights and, and never came together.

ALEC BALDWIN:

And now the Republicans have the ideological fights.   

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

Now we have the ideological fights.

The other thing that's changed dramatically is the role of the consultants versus the role of the party. In your —

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

How so?

ED ROLLINS:

Well, in your lifetime and my lifetime, if you wanted to run for office, you’d basically hire someone like me that can run a campaign.

And I, in turn, hire a media person that can do your television and I hire a fundraiser that can go raise the money.

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Is that what's happening more and more now?

ED ROLLINS:

Abs – that's, that's absolutely what's happening, is - I mean, people always say to me well why don't the party bosses step in here? Well, there's no party bosses.

ALEC BALDWIN:

When did that start to change?

ED ROLLINS:

Probably in the '70s, and maybe even the late '60s. And the people who had run Nixon's campaign and had run Kennedy's campaign were all their pals. They were people who had been their aides on the Hill. They weren't professionals. They were people who basically wrote Kennedy's speeches, ran Nixon's office. They didn't make a living doing this. They basically believed in the man and then they went somewhere in the government and worked.
Then it started changing somewhat. And, of course, the big change was the money. After the '72 campaign where, you know, Nixon smashed McGovern, spent over 200 million dollars, probably 100 million of it illegal—

ALEC BALDWIN:

He nuked him.

ED ROLLINS:

He nuked him. He deliberately nuked him. And after that, you know, you saw the development of a lot more of the operatives. And, you know, there’s now thousands of operatives across the country. Every time you turn on the TV set you see, you know, Republican strategists, Democrat strategists.

And I've been in the game for four decades. I'm one of eight members of the Political Consultants Hall of Fame.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

I've seen them all, but I don't even know who these people are, you know.

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah, but would you think that they - are are, are they ideologically or in terms of party affiliation, is that their call to duty? Or are they really just mercenaries and they're for hire?

ED ROLLINS:

They're not mercenaries. Very few people really make money in the business.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

The media guys make some money, and they're about the only ones that do. Most people go into it because they sort of believe in somebody or something, but you pretty much stay one party of the other. You stay a Democrat or you stay a Republican. And you see very little crossover. The only times the cross-

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

But you crossed over.

ED ROLLINS:

Uh - I crossed over—

ALEC BALDWIN:

[LAUGHS] No. But I just find — I think, I mean, very early on, when you were very young.

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

I did. I did. And -

ALEC BALDWIN:

What was your politic — were you -

ED ROLLINS:

You know, I—

ALEC BALDWIN:

You came from what kind of household?

ED ROLLINS:

I grew up in a Boston Irish Catholic household. My father had moved to California. He'd been stationed there briefly in the war. We went to California in 1948, and—

ALEC BALDWIN:

What town, again?

ED ROLLINS:

A town called Vallejo, which is just north of San Francisco.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Got it.

ED ROLLINS:

And it's a blue collar shipyard town. It was a wonderful place to grow up because everybody's old man worked in the shipyards.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

Anybody who had any money had been bootleggers, had run the whorehouses during the war.

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right, yeah.

ED ROLLINS:

You know, it was just a — everybody else, you know —

ALEC BALDWIN:

It was the West.

ED ROLLINS:

It was the West. [ALEC LAUGHS] What you –

ALEC BALDWIN:

There's always a whorehouse in every town in the West.

ED ROLLINS:

You know, where’s your old man work? You know, he works in the shipyard, you know. And they built all this public housing so you lived next to African-Americans and played ball with 'em and Mexicans, and it was a classless society.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

So for me it was a wonderful — you know, my friends are, are every color and every ethnicity, and never thought anything of it. But it was all Democratic. [LAUGHS] There was no — I mean, I think there weren't ten Republicans in the entire town. So, needless to say, it was - it was an experience when I, when I became a prominent Republican.

In 1972 I shifted kind of a — you know, it was the war, it was a whole variety of things, and I just felt that the Democratic Party was too left for me at that point in time.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Now - now, why?

ED ROLLINS:

I had real guilt feelings about the war. Travis Air Force Base where they were bringing the Vietnam kids back, the bodies, you know, was ten miles from my house. I broke my back playing football, and so I tried to go to the service, couldn't go.
    
And so, I had these real heavy pangs of guilt where I saw friends go and some die and some be mangled. At that point in my life I thought - those guys in Washington are smart guys. You know, they know what they're doing. Having spent 25 years in Washington at the

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

— highest levels, I now know they don't, you know.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

But at that point in time, I thought they did. Nixon was the first campaign I worked on in '72. I’d been a Bobby Kennedy man in 1968. Probably if he would have lived I probably would have stayed a Democrat.  And then when I became a Republican I tried to change the Republic party and make it a working people’s party.  I was sort of the architect of the Reagan Democrat which was sort of what I grew up and sort of what you grew up -
So that switch for you, Kennedy is assassinated in 68 and Nixon becomes president.  You weren’t signed on to Nixon so to speak?

ED ROLLINS:

I was not signed in ‘68 on at all.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Now, how does your association with Bachmann begin? What's the genesis of that? How does that work?

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

They –

ALEC BALDWIN:

Did they call you, they reached out to you?

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

They, they call you. You know, I, I don't run campaigns for a living. I sort of do friends from time to time or I try and be a change agent for the party. I'll take on an African-American candidate who doesn't have any resources, to broaden the base or a woman candidate.

I was gonna do Mike Huckabee's campaign. I had run his campaign four years ago. And I thought I had a real shot at it. And so, I spent six, eight months with him, trying to get a real campaign together for him, unlike the one we had last time. So when he made a determination not to run,  you know, I had sort of put a team together, put a strategy together, the whole bit. And, and I was tryin' to think, okay, is there anybody else that could fit that model?

And Bachmann came to me, several times came to me. I, I didn't have a good first initial reaction to her.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Why?

ED ROLLINS:

A little high strung. A House member is very difficult to — you know, it's—

[ALEC LAUGHS]

I mean, it's not a — I'd done Katherine Harris's campaign when she ran for the Senate and there was — there was too much similarity there. So I, I turned her down. And I said to her, you know, the only way I'll do a campaign at this point in my life is — and you'll understand this totally.

Ronald Reagan was the best candidate ever, and Ronald Reagan once said to me, you have to understand, you're my director. He knew what his part was. He knew —

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

You know, he understood that someone has to—

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Am I hittin’ the mark?

ED ROLLINS:

Someone has to see the whole picture, as opposed to, you know, you do it; You’re – you’re -

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

Concentrating on your part.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

But someone has to see the — all the other elements of it. And so, ever since then I've always said that - I'm the director, I've done this a lot of times. And so, I said to her, the only way I'll do this is if I can pick my team. It's your campaign. Obviously, we won't do anything you're not happy with. But at the end of the day I got to run it. If you want to run it, then fine; you go run it. You know, I'll go back home.

So, you know, she came back to me and she said, it's yours. You run it, you do whatever you want to do with it. You know, that was -  that was pretty good for about six or eight weeks. And then, you know, obviously, we won the straw poll in no time in Iowa. And I—

ALEC BALDWIN:

And when she came back again what, what changed?

ED ROLLINS:

What changed, I think, was partly - she had become a national figure.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Mm-hmm.

ED ROLLINS:

And so, everyone wanted her to go to Florida and South Carolina.

ALEC BALDWIN:

You thought there was more to work with,

[OVERTALK]
    
ED ROLLINS:

And at the end of the day what I kept tryin' to tell her - your ticket out is Iowa. Romney’s the frontrunner, at that point in time, and there'll be a chaser. And the chaser will come out of Iowa or normally New Hampshire but Romney's gonna win in New Hampshire.

So the only place for you to get your ticket out, sort of like the, the Final 64 of Basketball. No matter how great your team, you got to win every week. And Iowa’s the first week. And the Giuliani example four years ago was the perfect example.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Sure.

ED ROLLINS:

Leading in every poll.
         
ALEC BALDWIN:

Every poll.

ED ROLLINS:

Decides they're gonna skip everything and go to Florida, and got nothing.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

Fred Thompson, the same way, got nothing.

ALEC BALDWIN:

What's happened, do you think, to Bachmann during the race? There were all these questions about, you know, her provenance in these schools she went to and her teachers and their religious views, and so forth. None of that bothered you?

ED ROLLINS:

None of that—

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

'Cause you don't strike me as an ideologue Christian conservative?

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

I'm, I'm a Catholic. I'm like you.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right, yeah.

ED ROLLINS:

You know, and I, I get to struggle with my own faith every day and I—

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah, it's very private to me. [LAUGHS]

ED ROLLINS:

It's very private to me.

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

It's me and Jesus locked away in a room.

ED ROLLINS:

No, exactly, and that's the way it is. You know, I had a little bit of experience with it last time with Huckabee. You know, he was a Baptist minister and he would go in the churches on Sunday and just flick a switch. The politics of the week shut down on Sundays. He could go in there and give this extraordinary sermon, and then the switch went back on. He never took the sermon out of the church into the politics.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

And in her particular case what I said to her early on is I said, okay, everybody in this race is against Obama, okay? So saying you're against Obama, against Obamacare, all the rest, it's all fine, well and good, except it doesn't move you forward.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

What you have to say is, I want to abolish Obamacare and here’s what I want to put in its place.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

And I could never get to that hurdle. She liked the applause lines, the, the Tea Party type stuff. And, and I think part of it was she just wasn't — And we threw the campaign together very quickly. These things take a year of preparation.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Sure.

ED ROLLINS:

And we didn't have that.

ALEC BALDWIN:

What happened with Huckabee, do you think?

ED ROLLINS:

I think he basically — he had come right out of the governorship. It was sort of like the next thing to do, not that anybody can —

[BOTH AT ONCE]

ALEC BALDWIN:

His heart wasn't in it.

ED ROLLINS:

This time his heart wasn't in it. You know, my sense is he'd have been a great candidate.

ALEC BALDWIN:

I was convinced there was gonna be a duel between Huckabee and Romney.

ED ROLLINS:

It would have been. I - I'm telling you, it would have been. And, and—

ALEC BALDWIN:

It would have been mano-a-mano.

ED ROLLINS:

No, it would have been mano-a-mano. And I had it all strategized, and that was—

[ALEC LAUGHS]

That’s, that’s - that was my—

ALEC BALDWIN:

You must be pissed! [LAUGHS]

ED ROLLINS:

I am. That's my - I had it and I knew I —

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

That was your Game 7 maybe.

ED ROLLINS:

That was my, my game and I'd, I'd spent two years thinkin’ about it. You know but, as I said to him, I can't want it more than you want it.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah, it's a good point.

ED ROLLINS:

And, and if — and -

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah. Do you find sometimes you do?

ED ROLLINS:

I love the game.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah. But it's amazing how you said that to say you're against Obamacare and not step up and, and, and offer your alternative, it's amazing how many politicians on both sides of the aisle underestimate. It just doesn't do enough for you to say, you know, kill Obama so to speak, his administration.

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

Right.

ALEC BALDWIN:

You made a comment in an interview you were giving, which, as you said, you know, was Cain a serious guy or was he just an entertainer? And then you said, does he have the temperament to be President. Is that, in your mind, one of the key elements of the temperament of being President, is being able to create policy and have ideas?

ED ROLLINS:

Well, it, it's - I worked for four presidents. And I've spent, you know, eight, ten years of my life in a White House and 25 years of my life around them.

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

And go through all four and describe how they were, in terms of their own authorship of public policy.

ED ROLLINS:

Nixon was brilliant.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Very aggressive mentally.

ED ROLLINS:

And, and gets great credit in the foreign policy arena, but he did great things on the domestic. He created the EPA.

You know, Ford was, was — had been a decent House leader, you know, was sort of an accident.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Not the temperament for the presidency.

ED ROLLINS:

Not the big picture.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Sure.

ED ROLLINS:

He was not — he was not a big, big picture guy.

You know, Carter, obviously, was, was not someone I worked for, but I got to watch him up close. And I — and –   

ALEC BALDWIN:

What was his problem?

ED ROLLINS:

You know, he was a micro manager. He was an engineer and he wanted — he wanted to manage everything. And the reality is that the President isn't a management job. The President is an inspirational job, and he sets a direction. He has four or five big decisions to make every day. If you have an inability to make decisions, then they basically stack up on you.

ALEC BALDWIN:

And you thought Carter was weak on that.

ED ROLLINS:

I thought Carter was a micro manager. I thought Bill Clinton over-thought it. Bill Clinton had an ongoing seminar.

ALEC BALDWIN:

But he was viewed as a very decisive guy. You think that that's an unfair –

ED ROLLINS:

I, I –

ALEC BALDWIN:

Assessment of him?

ED ROLLINS:

Let, let me just say this. I think Bill Clinton became a much better president as time went on, and I think as we reflect back on his presidency, there's not many people in America who wouldn't rather have him than who we have today.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

And that doesn't mean he wouldn't be a very viable candidate again. You know, he was a charming man. He had a great ability to make people feel good about themselves.

You know, Reagan who I, I worked for and was closest to, you know, Reagan had a core of beliefs that he had — like you, in addition to having a career, he basically was interested in politics for 30 years. He thought on paper. People underestimated his intelligence. He read, he wrote. He knew who he was.

And he had three major principles — four major principles, the things that he wanted to do. One is he, he was — had been fighting Communists since his days in Hollywood. So he made a gigantic investment to rebuild the defenses of the country, so that the Soviets would treat us with respect.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right. Just, just to throw — for, for argument’s sake, the liberal side to this, I've seen this go in cycles, where you have a lull, a crisis of the spirit, so to speak after the Vietnam War. And we do collapse defense spending, and that's a mistake. But then Reagan comes and starts to ramp up defense spending again. For my money, we probably would have less of a swing of the pendulum if the wars themselves weren't such a waste of time.

ED ROLLINS:

Mm-hmm [AFFIRMATIVE].

ALEC BALDWIN:

And my question for you is did you think that the Vietnam War amounted to anything?

ED ROLLINS:

Certainly not today. I mean, what, what it amounted to is that 50,000-plus men —

ALEC BALDWIN:

Sure.

ED ROLLINS:

— were killed, and we divided this country.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Well, what impact did it have on our lives at all?

ED ROLLINS:

Oh, it had, it had a terrible impact because it divided America and I think to a certain extent as you reflect back — and I was very pro-Vietnam War.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Why?

ED ROLLINS:

Because my father had been in the service, everybody around me was in the service.

ALEC BALDWIN:

So it was, it was a real basic “my country right or wrong” mentality?

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

My country — my country, right or wrong.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

Absolutely. And, at the end of the day, you know, my sense is I'm very close to military people, I, I have great affection for them. Both my brother and, and my father were, were servicemen ,but I saw the, the tragic stuff that happened. At the end of the day I like the Powell Doctrine.

Cap Weinberger basically asked the flag officers who had been the captains and the majors in Vietnam to give us rules, tell us what are the rules of engagement. Those four things: — I'll try to remember 'em exactly:

Don't ever go to war where the US doesn't have a real interest. Don't ever go to war unless we have American support behind it. Always go with overwhelming force, so that our troops are not put at disadvantage. And always have an exit strategy.
ALEC BALDWIN:

Right. Have we had that in this - these last two wars?

ED ROLLINS:

No, we did not. We had it in the first Iraq —the Kuwait War. We went with overwhelming force. We had it —

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

H. W. Bush.

ED ROLLINS:

Yeah. Going into Afghanistan, giving that government the opportunity to give up Bin Laden. Getting the Taliban out of there was a worthwhile effort. In hindsight, who cared about Iraq? It didn't matter.

ALEC BALDWIN:

You know, we, we look at these two wars and I think to myself if I was the President —forget about Iraq — I would have assassinated Saddam Hussein later on somehow or taken him prisoner and put him on trial. But I would have built the mother of all military bases, right, ‘cause Pakistan is the enemy, as far as I'm concerned.

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

Sure, sure.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Pakistan is the, the -

ED ROLLINS:

Most dangerous country in the world.

ALEC BALDWIN:

I would build the mother of all military bases right on the Pakistani border, but while I was doing that I would fly around the world and I would get the leaders of the most reliable allies who had some funds, and I'd say to them, you must give us something. We're gonna have a coalition of 12 or 14 countries, and if you don't I'm gonna make your life miserable.

I wanted to have a half a million men on the ground in Afghanistan. You know, leaflet the whole place, say get out, we're comin' and drone 'em. And if they make one move we don't like, we go in and we just crush Pakistan with 500,000 people. What do you think of that idea?

ED ROLLINS:

It, it's - for a Hollywood liberal — [ALEC LAUGHS] — [LAUGHING] it's pretty darn good.

ALEC BALDWIN:

No, but I know — but I know that's where terrorism — that is their cradle.

ED ROLLINS:

I think—

ALEC BALDWIN:

It's in Pakistan.

ED ROLLINS:

I think the battle against terrorism is an ongoing war, and I think to a certain extent we need to continue it. My fear of, of this whole thing and, you know, as you look in the future, as, as a strategist you al — I always try and look to the future — the next region — we're all focused right now on the Middle East, but the Pacific is really the big region. I mean, it's—

ALEC BALDWIN:

‘Cause of China.

ED ROLLINS:

China, J - you know, Japan and Vietnam, all these — all these emerging countries. And, and I have a Chinese daughter. I adopted a child from China and been to China 20 times. I love China.

China is not a military threat to us at this point in time. China is building submarines to protect their assets. They've never been an invading country. They're a country that basically —  you know, and the absurdity of us talking about the emerging China, China's been there for 5,000 years, you know.

ALEC BALDWIN:

They could have owned Korea, if they wanted to.

ED ROLLINS:

Right, and, and — or any place else. They have watched us emerge, they've not watched — and, you know, they watch many countries come and fall.

My sense is every time China builds an aircraft carrier we, we don't have to go nuts and worry about going to war.

ALEC BALDWIN:

You know, for me it's my country right or wrong, but never unfunded. And that is that the problem in our society today is that we need to raise taxes. Do you believe we need to raise taxes?   

ED ROLLINS:

I believe we need to raise revenue.

ALEC BALDWIN:

So beyond taxes, how will we raise revenue?

ED ROLLINS:

Well, you get people back to work. No one has come forth with a plan to me to show me how raising taxes basically does any of the rest of it. You know, I mean, I find it appalling today when you read in the, in The New York Post, you know, all the major corporations that, you know, are not paying taxes.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

I mean, they’ve got all the loopholes in the world. So to me I'd eliminate all the loopholes. I would — you know, I don't think—

ALEC BALDWIN:

Everybody's got to pay something.

ED ROLLINS:

Everybody has to pay something.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

And, and, and I think every Am —

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

That should be the law.

ED ROLLINS:

Well, I think every American would want to pay something, even if it's 50 or a 100 buck minimum that at the end of — at the end of your bill. I mean, you can't have—

ALEC BALDWIN:

But the taxes that corporations are not paying is merely going toward executive pay, which has become —

ED ROLLINS:

It’s, it’s – it –

ALEC BALDWIN:

What is it now, 300 times the actual workforce?

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

No - yeah, it's, it's — you know, it's, it's obscene. And, and at the end of the day,  the idea that — I, I teach at Hofstra. These young kids that are — that are great kids — you know, your, your neck of the woods out there — you know, blue collar kids comin' out of school can't find jobs. That eliminates hope. And somehow we have to — we have to fix that.

You asked me about Reagan earlier. Reagan believed deeply in this country, and he inspired this country and he made Americans feel good about themselves again. He was proud of America. He got up every day, he was proud of America.

ALEC BALDWIN:

To me Reagan — 'cause I have a very different view of Reagan than you do. He was a failed actor who in my business what happens is you become ripe and you fall from that tree and you go — and he went into this other field because it was a role for him to play.

But more importantly, when you say Reagan made feel good about themselves, I accept where some people see that, but what Reagan said to our society was, if it's a choice between you having a swimming pool, and you've worked really, really hard, and some poor person getting some public entitlement or going to school or what have you, damn it all, you should have your swimming pool.

The government's making that choice for you. And Reagan seduced a whole generation of Americans into believing, you should have what you want more than they should have what they need, and don't feel guilty about it.

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

Well, I, I think that's —

ALEC BALDWIN:

That's how I viewed it.

ED ROLLINS:

Yeah, I think that's overstated. I mean, obviously, you're entitled to your point of view. Reagan grew up in the generation, as did I, I’m 68 - my old man said, you're going to college. I don't care what you major in but you're going to college.

And when I had that education, my life was gonna be better than my father's life. And, obviously, it has been. And that was the dream. And, and, you know, I mean—

ALEC BALDWIN:

But it's changed.

ED ROLLINS:

It's changed, and, and that's — and that's the scary part today. You have a daughter, I have a daughter. I look in the eyes of my daughter and at the world, and I once said — when she was an infant, I said, I hope someday she doesn't regret the fact that we took her out of China [LAUGHS].

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

You know, and at that time it was a ridiculous statement to make because China was never gonna be anything. China is today an extraordinary country.

ALEC BALDWIN:

She might have been better off there opportunity-wise, [LAUGHING] opportunity-wise.

ED ROLLINS:

She's, she's taking Chinese but—

ALEC BALDWIN:

She can't even get into a state college here.

ED ROLLINS:

Right, right. At the end of the day, you know, I mean, she's lived a great life and she's a wonderful—

ALEC BALDWIN:

How old is your daughter now?

ED ROLLINS:

She's 16.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

And she's the joy of my life. But it just — I guess the thing that bothers me the most - I first went to Washington in February of 1973. When I went there it was plenty partisan - [ALEC COUGHS] — but there was a social environment to it.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

You didn't, you didn’t hate each other.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Tip O'Neill and Reagan workin' together, Ted Kennedy.

ED ROLLINS:

And, and, and, you know, Teddy Kennedy and, and, and —

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

When the fight was over, you shook hands.

ED ROLLINS:

You shook hands, you went out and you had a drink. Chris Matthews is a perfect example. He was Tip O'Neill's press secretary. You know, I'd yell at him four or five times in times in the course of the day, we'd go out and have a drink. We're great friends today, you know.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah, yeah.

ED ROLLINS:

Today, there's a bitterness, there's a hatred.

[OVERTALK]

There's no communication.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Why do you think that is, why?

ED ROLLINS:

[SIGHS] You know, I think part of it is gone to the – to —

ALEC BALDWIN:

Nixon.

ED ROLLINS:

Nixon was part of it.
    
ALEC BALDWIN:

I think it's Nixon's impeachment.

ED ROLLINS:

I think the ugliness began more — it started then and then it became the culmination of the Jim Wrights and the, the Newt Gingrich. That was the real battle. Not just knockin' out a president, we knocked out a Speaker on a B.S. deal. It wasn't like he was takin' hundreds of thousands of dollars, it was a stupid book deal, petty theft at, at best and, and not even theft.

Then what happened is they started drawing the lines in a way that basically you couldn't have a con—

ALEC BALDWIN:

So now that's become an industry, hasn't it? [OVERTALK] - this kind of, this kind of intel.

ED ROLLINS:

No, no.

ALEC BALDWIN:

And, which brings us to Cain.

ED ROLLINS:

Right.

ALEC BALDWIN:

You know, with this particular primary season for the Republicans you, you’ve got a guy or a woman, for that matter, who are really — they're at the top and they're lookin' good, and it's a bright shining day for them. And then within a week or two they're gone, like Cain.

Is this the condition for all people in your profession, the political adviser? You're working with someone. You know everybody's got something in their closet.

ED ROLLINS:

Right.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Do you think Cain's people, they obviously knew about this Restaurant Association thing?

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

Well, he doesn't — he doesn't have a real campaign. Cain got into this kind of on a lark. He never expected to be frontrunner.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

He never expected -

ALEC BALDWIN:

He's wingin' it.

ED ROLLINS:

He's wingin' it, and he's wingin' it on substance. He didn't put the time in, he doesn't have a team. His team is second tier, at best, where, you know, I mean —

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Had he had an adviser, a legit operation and an adviser, as you would understand it, they might have done this at first and and said, listen, how -

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

Well, the first, the first, the first thing I'd do in every campaign — it started when I was running assembly races in California.

ALEC BALDWIN:

What would you do?

ED ROLLINS:

I would sit down and I'd say, Alex(sic), you want to run for the Assembly, I want a check for 5,000 dollars.

ALEC BALDWIN:
First of all, don't call me Alex.

ED ROLLINS:

Excuse me. And I’m kidding.

ALEC BALDWIN:

[LAUGHS] Mayor Baldwin.

ED ROLLINS:

Mayor Baldwin, Mr. Baldwin.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah.

ED ROLLINS:

The first thing I'd do is ask you for 5,000 dollars and I'd say, well, I'm gonna hire a private detective.

ALEC BALDWIN:

As if I was your enemy, yeah.

ED ROLLINS:

And I'm gonna go find out everything I can about you. And I've had candidates say, well why are you gonna do that. I say, well, I'm gonna do it on him too.

[ALEC LAUGHS]

But at the end of the day all he has to do is write a check for —

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah, but I got to have cover for what they find out about you.

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

Yeah. I have to come, I have to — The first thing I'd do is I sit down and I say, pretend I'm your priest. You confess all your — confess all your sins.

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah, yeah, 'cause it's gonna come out sooner or later.

ED ROLLINS:

I will tell you whether they're mortal or venal. You're not capable of making—

ALEC BALDWIN:

For your own good.

ED ROLLINS:

For your own good. I've heard it all. You know, I don't care. Just it's—

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

What's her name and what color dress was she wearing?

ED ROLLINS:

And, and, and - they always lie.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah, and then —

ED ROLLINS:

They always lie. And when – and it does come out they go, you know, I never thought that was gonna happen. Now, how could you be a CEO of a trade — this is not the Pentagon, this is not a gigantic organization.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

And you have two—

ALEC BALDWIN:

Not one, but two.

ED ROLLINS:

But two, a year apart and probably other things that were, you know—

ALEC BALDWIN:

That didn't come to charges.

ED ROLLINS:

And, and - and you wouldn't say — the first thing you would say is, hey, could we check this out or can we go look at it. So it's amateur hour. I mean, obviously, he's not gonna be the nominee of the party, and it wasn't even if this hadn't come about.

It's a sad thing for the party, a sad thing for him, at the end of the day. I mean, having an articulate African-American is a very important thing for the Republican Party, because we don't have many.

And I think at the end of the day, you know, he may survive the — this trauma, but he's not gonna survive this in the sense of being a viable candidate.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Do you think that Perry has any shot at the nomination right now?

ED ROLLINS:

If I was Perry's strategist, Perry has 20 million dollars, at least, sitting there.

ALEC BALDWIN:

He's doing well with money.

ED ROLLINS:

He's doing well with money.

ALEC BALDWIN:

But he's still a Texas governor.

ED ROLLINS:

But all he has to do is win two states.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

He has to win Iowa, he has to win South Carolina.

ALEC BALDWIN:

You think he will? Who do you predict will win South Carolina?

ED ROLLINS:

Whoever wins Iowa.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Oh, you do? You think they'll go hand in hand?

ED ROLLINS:

They do go hand in hand.

ALEC BALDWIN:

So, I think Perry — you think so? Do they always or have they sometimes not?

ED ROLLINS:

Sometimes they don't.

ALEC BALDWIN:

I think that Romney will win Iowa and Perry will win South Carolina.

ED ROLLINS:

If Romney wins Iowa —

ALEC BALDWIN:

Iowa.

ED ROLLINS:

— which he, which he could.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

He could. He's got great strength there. He wins that, he wins New Hampshire, he's on his way.

[MUSIC]

ALEC BALDWIN:

This is Alec Baldwin and you're listening to Here's The Thing. More from my conversation with Ed Rollins in a minute.

[MUSIC]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Here's The Thing is supported by Stitcher Smart Radio. With Stitcher's free app for mobile phones, listeners can get the latest episodes of Here's The Thing, Radio Lab, This American Life and thousands of other podcasts on demand without downloading or syncing.
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[MUSIC/MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

ALEC BALDWIN:

This is Alec Baldwin; you're listening to Here's the Thing.  I'm talking with Ed Rollins.

[MUSIC]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Obviously, in the, in the Whitman campaign there was the voter suppression issue that you had to deal with, and I'm wondering what did you learn from that experience and how do you think that's played out now, meaning do you think that's still an issue in races now?

ED ROLLINS:

Well, walking around money is still an issue. My mistake there was not that I'd done anything —

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Describe that mistake.

ED ROLLINS:

What had happened is it was a public financed race. Florio did not have good a relationship with the incumbent Governor.

[OVERTALK]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Jim Florio was running against Whitman.

ED ROLLINS:

He was the — he was the Democrat incumbent governor. He had run out of money.

ALEC BALDWIN:

And what happened to him?

ED ROLLINS:

He was a good Governor, from a Democratic perspective, but he wasn't very charismatic. So what happened is we had money to go into the community and basically had walkin' around money. And the difference is when Democrats go out and basically say, I want you to turn out your churches, your bus drivers, all the rest of it, we go out and say, here's the payday you would normally get. Just, you know, don't turn your vote out.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right. How did you feel about the - paying people not to vote?

ED ROLLINS:

I didn't feel I was paying people not to vote. I felt I was paying people who always get a check on Election Day not to do their job. If people wanted to go vote, they could go vote.

I'm always for people voting. You know, I've spent my life, and I believe in democracy, and I think, you know, the bottom line is just whoever votes votes. But in this particular case there was - there was an opportunity. It was a very close election.

I was doing a press briefing two weeks after, had nothing to do with the Whitman race, a reporter asked me how did she get 25 percent of the vote and how did – how did we have – get out the vote, and I explained to him. It became a big story —

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

— because we — because—

ALEC BALDWIN:

'Cause it did look like you were paying people not to vote.

ED ROLLINS:

And we were not. But Carville and Begala and those guys in the -

ALEC BALDWIN:

Pounced on that.

ED ROLLINS:

They pounced on it, and they basically hammered me.

ALEC BALDWIN:

How did you feel about that?

ED ROLLINS:

It's a - it's a tough game and at the end of the day, you know, my own party hammered me a little bit. I had gone off and done Perot, and so I was sort of the traitor who came back. And, and I was not close to Bush at the end because I had been in Jack Kemp's camp, you know, a lot of little stuff, you know.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Sure.    

[OVERTALK]

But you got Whitman elected.

ED ROLLINS:

I got Whitman elected. You know, at the end of the day I know the game, I know how to make it work. And part of the reason I know the game is I was trained as a Democrat. I was — I started in the coalitional politics—

ALEC BALDWIN:

Good answer. [LAUGHS]

ED ROLLINS:

— by Jesse Unruh, you know, and, and Jesse Unruh who ran all the campaigns in California and Kennedy – was Kennedy’s guy in California-

ALEC BALDWIN:

Sure, yeah.

ED ROLLINS:

- told me there three things that matter. And he said, it sounds very simple but it's not very simple. You find your voter, you communicate with your voter, you get him to the polls.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah.

ED ROLLINS:

If you're doin' anything else besides those three things you're wasting your time.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Wasting your time. When I watch you on TV and you seem — I mean, you seem like a tough guy and you seem like a very, very capable guy but at the same time, you don't seem to me like you're in some line with Atwater and Rove.

ED ROLLINS:

No, I'm not.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Why do I feel that way about you?

ED ROLLINS:

'Cause I'm not, ‘cause you know, I, I have a different history.  I call it the way I see it. My mouth has gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years because I have been too honest.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

And you ask me a question, I'm gonna give you the best answer I can, you know. But at the end of the day, I'm an American. You know, I get up every day, I don't think of myself as a Republican. That's not the first thing. about.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Right.

ED ROLLINS:

I think of myself as a father. And then the second thing, I think of myself as a husband. And no matter how diametrically opposed you and I may be, if we really sat here for hours, we would enjoy each other's company.

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah.

ED ROLLINS:

And at the end of the day, we'd get up and we'd go try and make America a better place.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Yeah.

ED ROLLINS:

That's how I got into politics. Those are the kinds of people I was around.

ALEC BALDWIN:

You shake hands at the end of the day.

ED ROLLINS:

At the end of the day, you know. I was a fighter. I was, I was — been a fighter all my life. I've never been a hater. I'm not a hater.

[MUSIC/MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

ALEC BALDWIN:

This is Alec Baldwin. You're listening to Here's the Thing. I'm talking with Ed Rollins. You and I will probably both go to the grave disagreeing about Ronald Reagan, which is okay.

ED ROLLINS:

Okay.

ALEC BALDWIN:

But I wanted to say thank you so much for this –

[OVERTALK]

ED ROLLINS:

But when we get to heaven, he'll be there to greet us.

[LAUGHTER]

ALEC BALDWIN:

Oh God!

[LAUGHTER]

Well I hope that I have a private cabin then.

[LAUGHTER]

This podcast comes from WNYC. Tell me what you think.  Let me know at here’s the thing-dot-org.

FEMALE VOICE:

Next podcast, Alec talks with Kris Kardashian Jenner, the matriarch of the Kardashian clan.

[MUSIC]

Guests:

Ed Rollins

Hosted by:

Alec Baldwin

Produced by:

Emily Botein and Kathie Russo