By ROXANA HEGEMAN
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Republican political strategist Karl Rove told Kansas cattlemen Wednesday he isn't optimistic that the nation will avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, a package of sharp tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect next year unless Congress and the White House replace them.
But he also told the more than 600 cattle producers attending the Kansas Livestock Association's 100th convention that he was optimistic the country would ultimately resolve its deficit problem. Rove said nation is losing sight of the bigger issue of getting the economy growing again.
Responding to an audience question about uniting the Republican Party, Rove said the GOP needs leaders who can create an environment of forbearance.
"I don't think social issues splinter the Republican Party," Rove said. "I think what splinters the Republican Party is intolerance and judgmental language."
Rove said a reversal of abortion rights is unlikely in the immediate future, and that the Republican Party should encourage "a culture of life" through such things as dealing with teen pregnancy and encouraging adoptions.
"We can't go out there and say things like, there is legitimate rape," he said, referring to a statement that Republican Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri made during his unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate.
Rove also said the party needs to take "a practical approach" to immigration reform that requires illegal immigrants to pay a penalty but allows them to eventually obtain citizenship.
"American citizenship is too precious a thing to give it away that easily," he said.
He favors allowing illegal immigrants who have committed no crimes to remain in the country if they pay a fine and go to "the end of the line" before they can be considered for citizenship in 10 or more years. He would also increase border security and offer a guest worker program.
He said Hispanic immigrants share Republican values of family, religion and entrepreneurship.
"We have a political problem, and that is the most rapidly growing part of the electorate," Rove said.