Democrats and Republicans aren’t easily brought together these days. But a discussion Monday between former White House insiders Karl Rove and Robert Gibbs — held during the opening session of Financial Services Institute’s OneVoice 2015 in San Antonio — revealed more common ground than controversy.
FSI President & CEO Dale Brown asked Rove, former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, about what the industry group can do to separate the image of advisors on Main Street from those on Wall Street — in order to deflect the wrath of politicians.
“Good luck,” said Rove. “There’s a populist element in both parties.”
The ex-advisor to the younger President Bush pointed to the elections of 1896, which came down to a debate over Wall Street vs. Main Street. “Wall Street won because politicians put this side’s interests in Main Street terms,” he said, “which is easier said than done.”
His advice for the advisors and the FSI is to “show the face” more at the community level than in Washington, D.C. “Go to town hall meetings with politicians back home. It’s great to go to Washington, D.C., but it’s better to see folks back home.”
The top lessons learned for both Rove and Gibbs, the ex-White House press secretary and longtime advisor to President Barack Obama, concerned the separation of politicking and decision-making.
“I was asked to keep the politics around an issue away from the decision-making process,” Rove explained. “President Bush didn’t like [following] the polls, so he focused on the making the right decisions, so I could then deal with the politics. It was liberating.”
“It was similar for me,” Gibbs said, describing Obama’s decisions in 2009 for a government bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. “Someone said that the bailouts weren’t polling well even in Michigan.”
Gibbs would like to see Obama give more consideration to President Bill Clinton’s approach to a second term, when he moved to the middle. But, he acknowledged, both parties are now in a place “where it’s hard to give up too much [in order to] to go to middle.”
Even if Obama were to follow Clinton’s lead, “I don’t see both sides finding much in common,” he added.
As in 1995-1996, Gibbs expects budget resolutions and appropriations to be the “hot items” of the coming months. He lamented the fact that 2007 was the last year when Congress had a “normal budget cycle.”
Still, he says that some important issues could get resolved, such as corporate tax reform and trade agreements. “They are unpopular with Democrats but are the right things to do,” Gibbs said.