Rove: 'In retrospect,' Romney didn't respond aggressively enough to attacks

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"In retrospect, yes. I mean, the first group to respond to the attacks on Bain, on Bain Capital, were not the Romney campaign, it was American Crossroads with an ad in July. Now, we don't do defense all that well. It's better to have the candidate," Rove said on Fox News on Thursday. 

Rove founded American Crossroads, the conservative super-PAC that spent tens of millions to influence the outcome of the presidential race and congressional contests in Tuesday's election.   

Rove said he believed the "most effective" television ad from President Obama's campaign was the president's direct response to criticism of his "you didn't build that" remark.

"Sometimes the most effective response in politics is to respond directly to the charge and then flip the argument back to your overall narrative, and in retrospect these things hurt, they hurt deeply," Rove said.

When pressed on how a future campaign should differ in its response to attacks from Democrats, Rove said, "don't have the attitude that if you're responding you're losing."

Rove, who served as senior adviser to former President George W. Bush, blamed Romney's loss on the Obama campaign's negative message.

"He [Obama] succeeded by suppressing the vote. By making, by saying to people, 'you may not like who I am and I know you can't bring yourself to vote for me, but I'm going to paint this other guy as simply [a] rich guy who only cares about himself,' " Rove said. 

Rove claimed that exit polls showed 53 percent of voters believed Romney's policies would only help the wealthy.

"They effectively denigrated Mitt Romney's character, business acumen, business experience and Bain," Rove said.

Later in the Fox interview, Rove praised Romney for giving "it his all."

"Look, we can all look back and say we should have done this or we should have done that, but to suggest that all of this could have been easily won had their been somebody else, I just don't buy that. But there are instructive lessons in the campaign and one is — you have to respond," he said. 

Democrats have piled on Rove in the election's aftermath, saying his reputation will suffer for failing to secure Romney's election through unprecedented outside spending.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D) said Rove's "reputation is going to take a significant hit." David Axelrod, Obama's senior campaign strategist, said wealthy donors who made huge contributions to "American Crossroads" and other conservative super-PACS should be "asking where my refund is, because they didn't get much for their money."