NAPLES — Political heavyweights Karl Rove and James Carville don't agree on much but found common ground in Naples on Tuesday.
Don't bet on President Barack Obama and Congress striking a compromise by Dec. 31 to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," they told a crowd of more than 250 Tuesday at the fifth annual Global Financial Leadership Conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples beachfront resort.
The fiscal cliff refers to expiring Bush-era tax cuts and across-the-board spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs set to start Jan. 1. Economists fear the economy would dive into a deep recession if the tax cuts aren't extended and defense cuts proceed.
"Most of the fiscal cliff happens in 49 days, and I don't think they have enough time to get it done," said Rove, a Republican strategist for former President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and his former deputy chief of staff. "It is to Obama's advantage not to force this. The president has to set the tone, be the guy to keep tempers from rising and be the first to compromise."
Republicans and Democrats will likely work to delay such fiscal decisions until a few months into 2013, said Rove and James Carville, a Democratic strategist and top political adviser to former President Bill Clinton.
Both sides will need time and their space to reach a deal, with Obama reaching out to Democrats and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio working with fellow Republicans, Carville said.
"As we say in the pool halls, there's a lot of green between here and there," Carville said.
Longtime television journalist Ted Koppel moderated the hourlong discussion, sitting between Rove and Carville on stage.
"This is the only time you will perceive Karl Rove on your left and James Carville on your right," he told the audience.
The trio began by discussing politics, and how campaigns now cost more and last longer.
"It's not healthy for the country. We run these guys ragged," Rove said, referring to presidential candidates. "It's not healthy for our system."
It didn't take long for the talk to fast forward to the Nov. 6 general election in which Obama defeated Republican foe Mitt Romney.
Koppel asked Rove whether the long GOP primary process — with more than a dozen debates — hurt Romney.
"I do think the primary was destructive to him," Rove said. "But let's put the blame where it belongs — the media."
Rove criticized journalist moderators, many of whom focused on social issues more than economic matters in the debates.
"George W. Bush prevailed in the primaries without making himself look like a lunatic," Rove said of the 2000 campaign.
"You have these debates now like, 'How weird are you?' And that's not hopeful."
Carville and Rove also agreed the U.S. continues to become even more fragmented, divided between red (for Republicans) and blue (Democrats).
Rove pointed to how, after World War II, Americans moved to various parts of the country out of necessity to live in communities where people may not have shared their views.
"Now, we're moving to places where we want people to be like us," Rove said. "Red places became more red and blue places become more blue."
Carville encouraged audience members to seek information they may not agree with to educate themselves.
"All information becomes confirmed," he said. "And you get a view that's never challenged. We need a real discussion here, about information that is enlightening and information that is confirming."
The pair fielded a few questions from the audience, including one on their thoughts about who will run for president in 2016.
Carville predicted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will likely be under enormous pressure to run as the Democratic nominee because the party will not want to endure a rugged primary campaign with various candidates.
Rove said he expects some younger Democratic candidates to emerge. For his party, he said it's too early to speculate but mentioned Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rob Portman of Ohio and Chris Christie of New Jersey.
When someone mentioned former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Rove said he would be an instant front-runner if he decides to run.
"He's the smartest guy, deepest thinker on our side," Rove said.
Rove and Carville also defended the Electoral College, the institution that officially elects the president and vice president.
"It's a terrible system, but it's better than every other one proposed," Rove said.
If the U.S. only relied on the popular vote to elect the president, campaigns would become longer and more expensive, targeting Los Angeles, New York and other big markets, Rove said.
"This system is tried, true. It works," he said.Mike Dennis, who works at a brokerage firm in Chicago, said he flew to Naples to attend the conference that ends today.
"They're both animated guys," said Dennis, 32. "You couldn't have two guys more leaning in their party."