Transcription – Chris LaCivita Interview

Q: I have — that’s all my questions in the Swift Boats, but is there anything else that you care to say about that?

LACIVITA: No, I mean it was — well it was a — again, there were — the stars don’t always align in politics. I mean they don’t align in many things, but they certainly don’t always align in politics. But this is one of those cases, you know, where a lot of things fell into place that, you know, a little bit of luck here and there helped push along, some missteps from our opposition. Our ability, I think, to take advantage of opportunities that were given to us. But, you know, the power of the message, [01:27:00] I think, is — was preserved because of who was giving it, at the end of the day. This was not a story concocted by a bunch of political operatives; this was a story that was retold by men who were in Vietnam and saw things a different way.

Q: Are there things, speaking generally now, that 527s can do effectively in a campaign that campaigns can’t do for themselves, or can’t do as well?

LACIVITA: Probably touch more controversial subjects. I can assure you this, the Bush campaign would have never have touched, and rightly so, would never have touched the claim about what Kerry did in Vietnam.

Q: Quite rightly so.

LACIVITA: Oh it’s a — I mean, well how would the Bush campaign know that, you know, that John —

Q: (inaudible).

LACIVITA: No, I mean yeah, [01:28:00] I mean I’m talking about in terms of the claims that, you know, Kerry didn’t deserve his Purple Heart, and that — those were the claims that launched this. That launched the — you know, that was the left hook. And that was promptly followed up by what Kerry said about veterans. So we set it up with the controversy, and then — and people are left to make their decision, wow, could you really game the system, could you really do this, could you really do that? Did he really lie about his Purple Heart? Did he really lie about — and then you introduce point two, where John Kerry calls veterans all of these things. And then people go, “Oh well, if he said that, yeah, he could have done that.”

Q: Well, let me ask this in a different way. If there were no 527s, and —

LACIVITA: So the Bush campaign, I think, [01:29:00] would have been — would never have touched John Kerry didn’t deserve his Purple Heart. No way. Because one, they wouldn’t have had the credibility to deliver that message, because it would have been the campaign doing it. And because George Bush didn’t serve in Vietnam. And they’re not stupid, they would never make that argument.

Q: I want to take you back to your role in Senate elections, and in 2002, you’re political director for the NRSC. In 2004, you’re still keeping your hand in (inaudible).

LACIVITA: Oh yeah, I did a lot of the independent expenditure aspects, yeah.

Q: What struck me about both those elections was in 2002, the president is intensely involved in —


Q: — campaigning, fundraising, I mean record-setting amounts of these activities. Getting involved, at least through Karl Rove, and talking —

Q: — say Tim Pawlenty out of running for Senator, and —

LACIVITA: I remember that day. [01:30:00]

Q: How — what does it say about George W. Bush that he put himself that much on the line, to an unusual degree for any president, in Senate elections, starting with 2002?

LACIVITA: Well, in 2002, first of all the degree of coordination between the White House, the House committee, and the Senate committee, the Senate was, you know, I don’t think there was ever a level of — in the RNC, I don’t think that we worked — I just can’t remember a time where it was that close. We — every Tuesday morning, we’d meet 7:00 a.m. over at the RNC with Ken Bowman, the E[xecutive] D[irector] of the Senate committee, who was Mitch Bainwol, myself, the House committee guys, and the RNC guys, and we’d meet at the RNC, and we would discuss candidates, we would discuss strategy. I mean, all of these things are coordinated, so they’re — you know, and the White House was very respectful politically of the fact that we’re there working for the Senate caucus, and the House guys are there working for the House Republican caucus, and that they represent the executive branch. And so, there’s this understanding that they’re the legislative, so we can’t be dictating but, you know, we’ll be very helpful in terms of raising money, and using the power of the White House to help recruit people. You know, you call Karl and say, “Could you call Tim — could you call, you know, Norm Coleman?” And it was funny, because that was, you know, my first introduction to big-league DC politics was I was told, you deal with Tim Pawlenty. And so, I would go to meet with Tim Pawlenty, who was, you know, at the time, the House minority or House majority leader [01:32:00] in the state legislature. And I’m grooming him to run, I had no idea that at the time, they were working Norm Coleman.

Q: You’re grooming Pawlenty to run for US Senate?

LACIVITA: US Senate, and the White House and my boss at the Senate committee are grooming Norm Coleman, and I had no idea. And so, you know, when they call him and say don’t run, he’s like, well what — but this guy LaCivita is giving me — lining me up with all this stuff. They’re like, “Yeah well.” I mean, and that’s just the way DC works. And, you know, it ended up working out fine, you know, for Tim Pawlenty at the end. But, you know, they were instrumental in getting — in helping us get some key people involved. You know, John Thune running against Tim Johnson. You know, just a lot of key candidates. So being able to recruit — to have the power of the White House, to lend — the credibility of the White House to go after somebody, I mean that’s a big thing. [01:33:00]

Q: Did they ever say why they were getting involved there?

LACIVITA: Well, they clearly needed a legislature that they could work with, that would help pass an agenda, that would get things done. I mean, that’s — I would imagine the only reason why one puts himself through, you know, the added torture of attending fundraisers and, you know, recruiting candidates when you’re running the country in a completely different, you know, when you’re president and it’s post-9/11, I mean it just — you know, there were a lot of things that the administration was working on, the Patriot Act, and there were just all these other things that they wanted to get done. And, you know, having a legislature that would be willing to move with them on those things. So, the Senate was, you know — I remember we — you know, I managed George Allen’s Senate race against Chuck Robb. We were the — in Virginia in the 2000 election. We were the only [01:34:00] successful US Senate challenger race that cycle. And when George won in Virginia, he saved the majority for the Republicans. Because the vice president was the tie-breaking vote. And then, I can’t remember his name.

Q: [Jim] Jeffords.

LACIVITA: Jeffords from Vermont, switched, gave control to the Democrats, changed the makeup of the Senate. And I remember, because we went into — and I — because I literally left the Allen campaign and went straight to Washington, the Senate committee, when Bill Frist was chairman. And we knew, we were like OK, we’re tasked with defending a one seat majority. And then we were tasked with winning the majority. So, it was a — but the level of coordination was — I mean, it was fantastic. And, you know, I remember they didn’t get involved too much in the day to day operation, although I [01:35:00] do remember at one point, I had a particular — I wanted to run a particular ad in North Carolina against Erskine Bowles, who was running against Elizabeth Dole. And Karl called me, and said “Don’t run that ad.” And I’m like, “Well, why not?” He goes, “I think it’s a bridge too far.” And I’m like, you know, it was a — we were making some points about something, and we still ran it. But (laughter) —

Q: You knew Karl was watching.

LACIVITA: Well, yeah, I mean you did not want to get a call from Karl and say, you know, but Bill Frist, at the end of the day, had to make those calls. And those calls were respected, the decisions were respected. He, you know, everybody had an opportunity to express themselves, but our job was to win the Senate race and, you know, to win a particular Senate race and engage and they — look, we would not have been nearly as successful had we not had [01:36:00] the power and the
assistance of the executive. I mean just — I don’t — I mean they played a big part in that.