Karl Rove, President Bush's top adviser, talked to ABC News' Ann Compton about the remarks that Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said were a botched joke about the president, not an attack on the troops fighting in Iraq.
Here is a transcript of the conversation:
COMPTON: Sen. John Kerry has made a statement about Iraq. Do you take him at his word that he was talking about the president and not the troops?
ROVE: I take him at his word when he insulted America's fighting forces. This is a habit that he's had over the years. He did it when he came back from Vietnam and there's no way that an individual looking at what he said, which is available on the Internet. Go on and look at yourself. Any American can. This guy was insulting America's troops by suggesting that if you were stupid you went to Iraq.
COMPTON: But he says it was a botched joke about the president.
ROVE: Then he ought to apologize for those Americans fighting on our behalf who thought it was an insult on them. I saw a number of them on the television this morning and it was very clear they took it as a personal insult. He ought to apologize to them and he cannot bring himself to do so this. This is his sort of like his elitist attitude about this. When he came back from Vietnam, he slandered his comrades in arms, saying that in the mode of Genghis Khan they raped and pillaged their way across Vietnam. Now he's suggesting only stupid people are willing to volunteer to fight in our military and go into harm's way in Iraq.
COMPTON: Are you turning a deaf ear to his explanation that it was the president that he meant?
ROVE: Again, he ought to apologize. Why can he not bring himself to say "You know what? I apologize to America's fighting men and women who took umbrage at my comments." He can't bring himself to do it. In fact, what he does is he suggests that anyone who took umbrage at my remarks is bad. He's attacked people who took his remark as an attack on the military. But wait a minute. The military took his remark as an attack on the military. He ought to simply apologize. Why can he not bring himself to say, "'I'm sorry. I made a mistake. I'm sorry I insulted you. I didn't mean to do it. Will you please accept my apology and move on?" But he can't bring himself to say it.
COMPTON: Last question. Looking at what the president is doing in the last week, can he stir up and mobilize the Republican base and those independents and undecideds? Can you reach both of those groups with the same message?
ROVE: Yes. Absolutely. That's what politics is about. Because you go some place and you're being watched by Democrats, Republicans and independents. And yes, the president is going in on behalf of candidates where his presence can help make a difference by strengthening the Republican turnout and drawing discerning Democrats and independents to the Republican banner.
COMPTON: Is this George W. Bush's last campaign and yours?
ROVE: Well, it's the president's next-to-last campaign. He keeps saying it's his last campaign, and I keep saying, Mr. President don't you think the candidates are going to want you out on their behalf in 2008? So it's the next-to-last campaign for the president.
COMPTON: And you?
ROVE: I'm focused on this campaign. Let's let the future take care of itself.