Robert Gibbs waited Thursday outside the Indiana Memorial Union’s East Lounge. Earlier that afternoon, he and Karl Rove watched the Indiana men’s basketball team at practice.
“Two 7-footers is impressive,” said Gibbs, senior campaign adviser for President Barack Obama.
Shelli Yoder passed Gibbs as he lingered outside the elevators. The Democrat candidate for the U.S. House introduced herself, said she was on her way to another meeting and asked for a picture.
As she handed her cell phone off to a Union Board director, Rove emerged from the elevator behind her.
While she and Gibbs grinned, Rove shook hands with a couple in the back of their shot.
They’ve done this type of speaking engagement before. The Gibbs-and-Rove show draws a crowd. Gibbs said their expertise makes them a natural choice.
“I think for a lot of these places it’s convenient to get two people who are playing roles in this place with one stop shopping,” Gibbs said. “So here we are.”
As they prepared to leave for a reception in the University Club, Rove realized he’d forgotten something upstairs in his hotel room.
They had to go. They were already late. They started to walk away without Rove. Gibbs gestured back to the elevator.
“Should we wait for him?” Gibbs asked.
* * *
On stage at the IU Auditorium, Rove and Gibbs debated campaign and policy with Union Board directors Eric Farr and Hillary Anderson. Union Board helped organize the event.
The event was a feature of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Themester 2012, “Good Behavior, Bad Behavior: Molecules to Morality.”
Rove, a former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to former President George W. Bush, FOX News contributor and Republican. Gibbs, a senior campaign adviser to Obama, former press secretary and Democrat.
The topics were varied from the auto industry to campaign contributions, negative advertising and the state of Indiana politics.
Both agreed Indiana would go red in 19 days.
The questions were tough, more than once drawing cheers from the crowd.
They offered frank and often opposing analysis, and rarely provided the point-counterpoint style debate seen in Tuesday’s presidential affair. But they did, on occasion, toss out good-natured barbs.
About the topic of political advertisements and campaign finance, Rove said the First Amendment was at the heart of the American experience.
He mentioned the editorial page of the New York Times as something that could be constrained by the elimination of that right.
“Man you really got this New York Times stuck in your craw,” Gibbs said.
“Hey, you know what--“ Rove retorted.
“I just picked up on that.” Gibbs said.
“I read them this morning,” Rove said. “And I can’t tell you what it was but it just chapped my ass.”
* * *
In the University Club earlier that evening, the long-time advisers were more like celebrities. They entered the room separately. Small groups of students surrounded them, keeping them separated, leaving spaces as they gripped and grinned and gave reports of their fandom or requested campaign insight.
At one point, Rove stood in a circle of IU College Republicans, his extended hand holding an iPhone that played a voicemail from Bush.
“I was like quivering for a second,” College Republicans External Vice Chairman Daniel Cheesman said. “I was like, is this really real life?”
He answered campaign questions from College Democrats, and while posing for a picture, said “you can show this to some of your Democratic friends and tell them you were with Satan tonight.”
As the room cleared out, Rove and Gibbs moved closer to each other around the table filled with crudités and crab dip.
Gibbs said he would wait until they were finished to indulge. Rove dunked a celery stick directly into a large bowl of dip.
When it was time to leave, the directors stayed between them until Rove grabbed an abandoned bicycle helmet from one of the chairs in the corner of the room. He held it out, an offering.
“Gibbs, we’re gonna ride over in an SUV, so I got you a special thing,” Rove said.
Gibbs laughed. He was talking about a recent run-in with a car, he explained.
They joked and laughed and looked confused by the building’s layout.
They looked up as they passed out of the building, walking one after another into the falling October light.