By David Gregory Chief White House correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/19/2005 7:54:01 PM ET 2005-01-20T00:54:01

The day after the election, President Bush called Karl Rove "the architect" of his winning strategy. The force behind the president's re-election is now back behind closed doors, but on the eve of the inauguration, he told me there is much more to do.

David Gregory: How would you define this second term that the president is laying out?

Karl Rove: I remember sitting in his living room in Crawford in January, early January of 2003, as he began to think about running for re-election. He had other things on his mind, but one of the key things that he said was, "I don't want this election to be about small things."

Gregory: You called the victory not just a mandate, but a requirement. But last September our polling indicated that 50 percent of Americans don't want a second Bush term like the first one. They actually want some major changes. How do you reconcile those two ideas?

Rove: The fact that this president was re-elected in a time of deep political polarization, when he'd been on the receiving end of literally hundreds of millions of dollars of negative advertising and a unified Democratic Party that spent two years beating him up, is a sign of how much confidence the American people have.

Rove tries to avoid stealing the president's spotlight, but his image is difficult to contain. Is he a brilliant or an evil genius; a trusted political adviser or, more darkly, Bush's brain?

Gregory: Why are people so obsessed with you?

Rove: I think there may be a small number of political actors who need to have a myth to explain this president to them. So they have to explain his success as president by, you know, in essence holding others responsible for it.

Gregory: Is he every bit the political tactician that you are?

Rove: He's got the best political instincts of anybody I've ever seen, and he has a very intuitive grasp of tactics, but he, also, you know, he's a leader.

Gregory: Do you think that President Bush and his predecessor, Bill Clinton, are similar politicians?

Rove: Well, I think they're different in many ways. I think both of them are very personable. I sat next to President Clinton at a meeting. He didn't know the people in the room, and yet he made everybody feel so much at ease, and he was warm, and personable, and conversational, and, you know, asked people their opinion. It was pretty remarkable how quickly the room warmed to him.

Gregory: Where is Karl Rove on Election Night 2008?

Rove: I'm, hopefully, sitting in the private quarters of the White House handing the phone to the president of the United States for him to congratulate his Republican successor.

Gregory: Will you work for another candidate?

Rove: No, not for president.

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