BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Mitt Romney failed to win the Republican presidential nomination because of inexperience and inconsistency, according to GOP political guru Karl Rove.

Rove, who grew up in Utah and masterminded President George W. Bush's election and re-election campaigns, told those gathered at the Television Critics Association press tour that the former Massachusetts governor didn't understand what he was getting into.

"Running for president is unlike any other political task that anybody has ever taken on," he said. "So running for governor of Massachusetts, while it prepares you to some degree for running for president, there's nothing like running for president.

"Mitt Romney's problem was uneven performance."

Rove stepped down as a top White House adviser in August 2007 and signed on as a Fox News Channel commentator. And he had high praise for Romney's campaign organization — its fund raising, organization, state committees, volunteers and more.

In those areas, "He did probably the best job of any of any of the Republican candidates. But when it came to his own performance, the kinds of thing he was used to doing when he ran in a relatively small geographic area over a relatively short period of time didn't serve him well in running across the large number of states over a very long, extended period of time. And, as a result, it was an uneven performance.

"You'd hear from people, 'You know, I was in a private meeting with Mitt Romney and, boy, he was great!' And the next day you'd hear from people saying, 'You know, I was in a private pitch by Mitt Romney and, oh, he was terrible."'

Rove said he believed Romney's exit from the GOP campaign was a high point for the former Massachusetts governor, offering high praise for his speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference.

"If he had made his previous speeches as eloquent and committed and passionate and cohesive and coherent and informed, then he wouldn't have had to make that speech withdrawing from the race," Rove said.

In other comments:

• Rove criticized presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) decision to stop wearing a flag lapel pin. (Obama said, in part, that it "became a substitute for true patriotism.")

"I think it went one step too far to say that wearing a flag lapel pin was not true patriotism," Rove said. "For a lot of people, it is true patriotism. And that kind of judgmental comment, I thought was inappropriate. I don't suggest it's un-American, but it was questioning, inherently, the patriotism of people who said, 'You know what? I'm going to put a flag on my lapel or on my sleeve or on my uniform."'

• Rove deflected questions about the appropriateness of him being a news commentator while he's in a legal fight with Congress for refusing to testify under oath about the leaking of FBI operative Valerie Plame's name to the press.

"Actually, it's not between me and Congress," he said. "I have not asserted any personal privilege. This is a between the White House and Congress. This is a long-standing battle over the principle of executive privilege and the ability of the president to receive advice from senior advisers, and for those senior advisers not to be at the beck and call of Congress for testimony."

• Rove said he's not troubled about appearing on the Fox News Network while the Fox broadcast network's animated shows take frequent, pointed potshots at him.

"A lot of people beat up on me," he said. "I read the New York Times every day. Have you read some of the ugly things they say about me? Who cares?

"My attitude is, I know who I am. I'm not the myth that I've been developed into."

And he seemed unconcerned about the many shots he's taken from many quarters.

"Harry Truman said, 'If you live in Washington and want to have a friend, have a dog.' And I've got two," he said.

• Rove said he's donated to the John McCain campaign, but "I play no official role, no ongoing role, but, yeah, I do get phone calls" from GOP. "I intend to stay married. I've done this twice. If I was going to play a role in a presidential campaign like I've played before, I'd be divorced very quickly."

• Asked about the decision President Bush made to appoint Michael Brown to head FEMA, Rove declined to comment.

"On that one, you'll have to wait for my book, unfortunately. Which will be will be available in the fall of 2009 for $29.95," he said.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com