Donald Trump fired back at Karl Rove Tuesday for labeling his possible White House bid a “joke,” saying the one-time senior George W. Bush adviser “should be ashamed of himself” for the role he played in pushing an agenda that turned voters against Republicans and paved the way for the Obama presidency.
Mr. Trump, the billionaire real estate developer and reality-TV-show star still weighing a 2012 race, said in an interview that the Republican brand was so tarnished after the Bush-Rove years that even “Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have beaten” President Obama in the 2008 presidential race.
“Honestly, Karl Rove ought to go back and start thinking about other things because what he did is he gave us, indirectly through President Bush, he gave us Barack Obama,” Mr. Trump said in an interview on The Washington Times-affiliated “America’s Morning News” radio show. “In all fairness to [Arizona Sen.] John McCain, nobody could have won that election because of what happened with Rove’s policies or Bush’s policies.”
In the wide-ranging interview, Mr. Trump also came out strongly against raising the federal debt ceiling, saying the debate over whether to increase the government’s borrowing limit was “the strongest negotiating point the Republicans have.”
Administration officials and leaders in both parties have said the country’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling must be raised in the coming weeks or the United States risks defaulting on its obligations and sending the global economy into a tailspin. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner went on the morning talk shows Tuesday to reassure investors that the debt limit would be increased.
Mr. Trump said he would rather see the country’s borrowing debate settled now.
Mr. Trump has sparked a media frenzy by flirting with a presidential bid for several months. Along the way, he has said taxes should be levied on Chinese imports until China stops what he says is state manipulation of its currency, talked of seizing Middle East oil fields and repealing the Obama health care law.
He also has sharply criticized White House policies and championed the “birther” movement that questions whether Mr. Obama was born in the country.
In a recent interview, Mr. Rove said the “birther” issue puts Mr. Trump “off there in the nutty right,” making him “an inconsequential candidate.”
“Making that the centerpiece of his campaign means that he’s just a joke candidate,” Mr. Rove said. “Let him go ahead and announce for election on ‘The Apprentice.’ The American people aren’t going to be hiring him, and certainly, the Republicans are not going to be hiring him in the Republican primary.”
Others in the GOP are questioning Mr. Trump’s conservative credentials as well.
“The appealing quality to Americans is that he is speaking his mind in a very direct, honest way,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist. “His interviews aren’t carefully scripted like someone running for elected office. Once people learn more about his record and if he has to really defend a platform, he’ll probably lose a lot of support.”
Rasmussen Reports released a new poll Monday that suggested that while Mr. Trump’s hard-charging style has helped him win scores of fans, he may turn off more people, as more than half of the people surveyed said they didn’t see him in a positive light - a tough position for a start in a presidential race.
The influential anti-spending group the Club for Growth, meanwhile, sent an email blast that pointed to past statements and writings by Mr. Trump in which he advocated for such unconservative positions as universal health care, a single-payer health care system and a one-time tax increase on wealthy Americans and trusts to help close the national debt and shore up Social Security. The group also criticized Mr. Trump’s protectionist rhetoric aimed at China.
“Donald Trump for president? You’ve got to be joking,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in the email.
The group followed that up Tuesday by pointing out that Mr. Trump once tried to “use eminent domain to evict an elderly widow from her Atlantic City home to build a limousine parking lot, and has repeatedly tried to use eminent domain as a tool of his development business.”
“No real conservative would ever use eminent domain in order to take the private property of citizens,” Mr. Chocola said.
Y David Eldridge contributed to this report.