The key bit comes in the last minute or so of the clip. Hugh Hewitt has a transcript:
HH: Who is the most electable Republican, obviously, John Kasich could be on the list, but of people who could be available to run?
KR: Yeah, look, I don’t know. I mean, I think we’re going to, we are not going to be able to be, and shouldn’t be guided simply by polls on this. I mean, we do need to understand the polls with regard to what the people are thinking about, the people who might be prospective candidates. But in terms of being able to match somebody head to head against Hillary Clinton, that’s going to be difficult to do. We’ve got numbers on Kasich. And he is tending to, in most of the polls, beat her. And Ted Cruz runs a lot closer to Hillary than does Donald Trump, tends to, I’ve seen in some polls beat her, but mostly slightly behind here. I think, though, that let’s say this. If we have somebody who we think has, has been battle tested, and has strong conservative principles and the ability to articulate them, and they are nominated at this convention, there will be a lot of acrimony from the people who were seeking the nomination. But if it’s somebody who has, you know, has those convictions that they can express in a compelling way, we could come out of the convention in relatively strong position, because we do have, you know, look. Donald Trump excites a lot of enthusiasm. But he also excites a lot of anger within the Republican Party and outside of the Republican Party. And a fresh face might be the thing that could give us a chance to turn this election and win in November against Hillary.
“Battle-tested” and “able to articulate strong conservative principles” sounds like, um, Ted Cruz, but obviously Rove isn’t thinking of Cruz per the last line. So who’s he thinking of? Two years ago Paul Ryan would have fit the bill, but his image has spoiled on the right thanks to a bad budget deal and weakness on amnesty. Rick Perry can articulate strong conservative principles but he failed his two national “battle tests” dismally. It’s impossible to believe that anyone who ran this year and lost, from Scott Walker to Marco Rubio to Jeb Bush, would be acceptable to Trump or Cruz fans. And let’s not even start on Romney, whose name has become a curse word among Trump supporters and whose nomination would play like an establishment coup after 15 months of raging populism in the primaries.
Ace asked yesterday: “Can anyone think of anybody who would 1, be broadly acceptable to the party regulars, and 2, look good in a general election, that can suddenly emerge from the wreckage?” I’d modify that to add, “Can anyone think of anybody who’d be acceptable to party regulars and irregulars, i.e. the populists and nationalists in Trump’s base?” If Cruz hadn’t run this year, he’d be — in theory — the best possible compromise candidate since he’d have conservative cred to spare for the right but also an ostentatiously anti-Washington posture to appeal to Trumpers. In fact, although it seems a million years ago now, Cruz’s favorable ratings among Republicans were sky high at one point last year because he was viewed well by conservatives and by fans of his good friend Donald, whom he couldn’t stop hugging. If he had passed on the race and thus been untainted by months of bitter, increasingly nasty primary fights with Trump, he might have been the one guy at the convention who could be offered as nominee to kinda sorta please everyone — again, in theory. In practice, of course, the idea of that is absurd. Establishmentarians loathe Cruz and never would have supported him as nominee if he hadn’t spent the past year positioning himself as the sole remaining alternative to Trump. And by doing so, “Lyin’ Ted” has made himself toxic to Trumpers.
Bottom line: There’s no nominee on or off the table who can bring Trump fans and anti-Trumpers out to vote this fall. The only person who might be able to do that is Hillary Clinton, through sheer corruption. Which, actually, may end up being an argument for Rove’s approach: If you’re going to alienate one part of the base or the other no matter what you do, why not pick the most electable guy you can find and then hope that Democrats will so roundly piss off Republicans of every stripe before November that everyone will put their butthurt aside and vote for the GOP nominee anyway? If the establishment wants Ryan, they could nominate Ryan, let Trumpers and Cruz fans spend the next three months screaming that they’ll never vote Republican again, and then pray that the sheer amount of day-to-day irritation they endure from watching Hillary Clinton campaign finally leads those people to say in October, “F*** it, Ryan it is!” That’s a Hail Mary pass, but nominating Cruz after he’s been weakened by Trump attacks and embittered Trump fans by “stealing” the nomination through delegate chicanery is a Hail Mary pass from your own 20. And nominating Trump, given his radioactive unpopularity with the wider electorate, is a Hail Mary pass from your own end zone.
Exit question: Rove claims here that everyone’s misunderstood Rule 40. Is he right? All Rule 40 does, he says, is prevent candidates who’ve failed to win a majority of delegates in eight states from being formally nominated with a big speech and a seconding speech. It doesn’t prevent delegates from voting for whoever they want, which means Ryan, Romney, Walker, Perry, et al. are very much in the mix as nominees. That’s the first time I’ve heard that interpretation. And even if Rove’s right about what the rule says now, I’ve got a funny feeling that that’s not what it’ll say once Trump’s and Cruz’s fans on the Rules Committee are done rewriting it.