Rove Over

We’ll have Karl Rove to kick around awhile longer, unfortunately. But Rove’s glory days may be behind him. Richard Wolffe writes in Newsweek that Karl Rove just plain miscalculated the midterm elections:

Rove’s miscalculations began well before election night. The polls and pundits pointed to a Democratic sweep, but Rove dismissed them all. In public, he predicted outright victory, flashing the V sign to reporters flying on Air Force One. He wasn’t just trying to psych out the media and the opposition. He believed his “metrics” were far superior to plain old polls. Two weeks before the elections, Rove showed NEWSWEEK his magic numbers: a series of graphs and bar charts that tallied early voting and voter outreach. Both were running far higher than in 2004. In fact, Rove thought the polls were obsolete because they relied on home telephones in an age of do-not-call lists and cell phones. Based on his models, he forecast a loss of 12 to 14 seats in the House—enough to hang on to the majority. Rove placed so much faith in his figures that, after the elections, he planned to convene a panel of Republican political scientists—to study just how wrong the polls were.

I guess the panel idea is shelved for now.

His confidence buoyed everyone inside the West Wing, especially the president. Ten days before the elections, House Majority Leader John Boehner visited Bush in the Oval Office with bad news. He told Bush that the party would lose Tom DeLay’s old seat in Texas, where Bush was set to campaign. Bush brushed him off, Boehner recalls. “Get me Karl,” the president told an aide. “Karl has the numbers.”

On the other hand, Ken Mehlman’s numbers were pretty close to reality: “the GOP would lose 23 in the House (5 short of the final tally), 5 in the Senate (1 shy) and 6 governors (spot on).” Yet Mehlman’s the one who is stepping down. (Not that I mind.)

At Slate, John Dickerson reports that beltway Republicans are not blaming Rove for the midterm results.

…when I went looking for what I expected to be a massive orgy of Rove schadenfreude, I actually found that, for the most part, Republicans were defending him.

They started by arguing that the election could have been a lot worse. Conditions really called for a 35- to 45-seat loss in the House. Rove and Ken Mehlman built a ground operation over the last seven years that limited the losses. They knew where to drop all the cash they’d raised and how to micro-target voters. I find this silly. No one praises football coaches for losing by five touchdowns instead of six.

More plausible is the claim that much of what flipped the election was beyond Rove’s control. He couldn’t reverse the violence on the ground in Iraq. Could he have pushed Bush to drop Rumsfeld earlier? Maybe, if he’d made that case a year ago, but dropping Rumsfeld too close to the election would have looked desperate and would have enraged the Rummy-loving conservatives.

But the most persuasive argument of Rove’s defenders is that congressional Republicans deserve the blame for Tuesday’s outcome. What sapped the energy and enthusiasm of the base were Congress’ ethical lapses (culminating in the Foley fiasco), excessive spending, and addiction to earmarks. Rove allies are quick to point to exit polls showing that people mentioned “corruption” as their top concern when voting (but remember, Jack Abramoff visited the White House, too).

Dickerson points out that Rove still has a lot of power — “There are still commissions and ambassadorships and corporate boards that Rove can pack with Tuesday’s losers.” But I have a problem with this:

Even if Rove leaves Washington tomorrow, he’ll remain a leading light of the conservative movement for the unapologetic, even brutal, way he fights for conservative ideas.

Somehow, I doubt Karl gives a hoo-haw about “conservative ideas.” Karl’s interest in “ideas” begins and ends with which ones he can exploit for political purposes.

Take, for example, Karl Rove’s support of the Christian Right. According to Gary Wills’s recent article “A Country Rules by Faith” in the New York Review of Books (emphasis added):

… The evangelicals had complained for years that they were not able to affect policy because liberals left over from previous administrations were in all the health and education and social service bureaus, at the operational level. They had specific people they objected to, and they had specific people with whom to replace them, and Karl Rove helped them do just that.

It is common knowledge that the Republican White House and Congress let “K Street” lobbyists have a say in the drafting of economic legislation, and on the personnel assigned to carry it out, in matters like oil production, pharmaceutical regulation, medical insurance, and corporate taxes. It is less known that for social services, evangelical organizations were given the same right to draft bills and install the officials who implement them. Karl Rove had cultivated the extensive network of religious right organizations, and they were consulted at every step of the way as the administration set up its policies on gays, AIDS, condoms, abstinence programs, creationism, and other matters that concerned the evangelicals. All the evangelicals’ resentments under previous presidents, including Republicans like Reagan and the first Bush, were now being addressed.

Yet Rove-watchers James Moore and Wayne Slater say that Rove is agnostic and (according to David Kuo) calls evangelical leaders “nuts.”

I say Rove isn’t in politics because he cares deeply about conservative values, or conservative government, or even the United States of America. I don’t think he cares much about any of those things. Then why is he in politics? It might be useful to reflect on Karl Rove the “human being.” From Wikipedia:

Rove was born in Denver, Colorado and later raised in Nevada, the second of five children. His biological father abandoned the family early on and his mother remarried. His new adoptive father, Louis Claude Rove Jr., was a mineral geologist, and his mother, Reba Wood, was a gift shop manager. His older brother is Eric P. Rove, and his younger sister is Reba A. Rove-Hammond.

In The Architect, a new book chronicling Karl Rove’s life and conservative agenda, authors James Moore and Wayne Slater, reveal Rove’s father, Louis Rove, was homosexual.

Louis Rove left his family during the 1969 Christmas holidays and moved to Los Angeles where he eventually “came out.” According to Rove’s father’s best friend, an openly gay man named Joseph Koons, “Louie didn’t hide the fact that he was gay. But he didn’t play it up either.” The Architect describes Louis Rove as a shy man, encumbered by his three hundred pound figure. To encourage Rove to socialize, Joseph Koons, invited him to join a retired gay men’s group called the “Old Farts Club,” jokingly referred to among the men as the “Rainbow Casket.” …

… In December 1969, Rove’s father left the family, and divorced Rove’s mother soon afterward. After his parents’ separation, Rove learned from his aunt and uncle that the man who had raised him was not his biological father [Rove was about 19 at this point]; both he and his older brother Eric were the children of another man. Rove has expressed great love and admiration for his adoptive father and for “how selfless” his love had been.

Rove’s mother committed suicide in Reno, Nevada, in 1981, when Rove was 30 years old. He did not meet his biological father until he was in his 40s.

I’m saying that when your family history is that bleeped up, you either rise above it and become a bleeping saint, or you have Issues. Damn big ugly mother-bleeping Issues. So which way did Karl go? Joshua Green wrote in the Atlantic Monthly, “Karl Rove in a Corner” (November 2004):

It is frequently said of him, in hushed tones when political folks are doing the talking, that he leaves a trail of damage in his wake—a reference to the substantial number of people who have been hurt, politically and personally, through their encounters with him. Rove’s reputation for winning is eclipsed only by his reputation for ruthlessness, and examples abound of his apparent willingness to cross moral and ethical lines.

Face it; Rove isn’t in politics to champion “ideas.” He’s in politics so he can act out his many unresolved Issues and get paid for it.

Rove attended “nearly half a dozen colleges without getting a degree” says this page. This suggests a lack of direction. But early on he “found himself” in politics. When he dropped out of college for the last time in 1971 he took a job with the College Republican National Committee and never looked back. In the late 1970s he began working in Republican election campaigns and founded a direct mail consulting firm. Before getting involved with the Bushies and the 2000 elections, most of his successes as an election campaign manager were in Texas and Alabama. Back to Joshua Green, writing in 2004:

If there is any compelling reason to think that Rove may be out of his depth in this election, it is an odd lacuna in his storied career: no one I spoke with could recall his ever having to run an incumbent in a tough re-election race. This is partly a by-product of his dominance. Rove’s power in Texas was such that he could essentially handpick his candidates, and once elected, they rarely lost. And he spent most of his career in the favorable terrain of the Deep South. One reason Rove was spared re-election fights is that as demographic changes swept across the South, and Republicans in Texas and Alabama began displacing Democrats, the likelihood that a Democrat could depose a sitting Republican became remote. Rove has long excelled at knocking off incumbents in tight races. Now, at last, he must defend one.

Now we know that Rove succeeded, by the skin of his teeth and with a little help from his friends in Ohio. But I think two points are significant: (1) most of Rove’s campaign experience was in the South; and (2) Rove’s strength is knocking off incumbents with aggressively nasty campaigning. He generally doesn’t hang around to see if his candidates can actually govern or not.

With Rove there’s an almost total disconnect between politics and government. For example, in the Richard Wolffe column linked above we find:

Rove blames complacent candidates for much of the GOP’s defeat. He says even some scandal-tainted members won when they followed what he calls “the program” of voter contacts and early voting. “Where some people came up short was where they didn’t have a program,” he told NEWSWEEK.

In fact, Karl Rove’s influence over the White House and the Boy King may explain much of the Bush Administration’s near total dysfunction. Ron Suskind wrote in Esquire, “Why Are These Men Laughing?” (January 2003):

They heard that I was writing about Karl Rove, seeking to contextualize his role as a senior adviser in the Bush White House, and they began calling, some anonymously, some not, saying that they wanted to help and leaving phone numbers. The calls from members of the White House staff were solemn, serious. Their concern was not only about politics, they said, not simply about Karl pulling the president further to the right. It went deeper; it was about this administration’s ability to focus on the substance of governing—issues like the economy and social security and education and health care—as opposed to its clear political acumen, its ability to win and enhance power. And so it seemed that each time I made an inquiry about Karl Rove, I received in return a top-to-bottom critique of the White House’s basic functions, so profound is Rove’s influence.

I made these inquiries in part because last spring, when I spoke to White House chief of staff Andrew Card, he sounded an alarm about the unfettered rise of Rove in the wake of senior adviser Karen Hughes’s resignation: “I’ll need designees, people trusted by the president that I can elevate for various needs to balance against Karl. . . . They are going to have to really step up, but it won’t be easy. Karl is a formidable adversary.”

One senior White House official told me that he’d be summarily fired if it were known we were talking. “But many of us feel it’s our duty—our obligation as Americans—to get the word out that, certainly in domestic policy, there has been almost no meaningful consideration of any real issues. It’s just kids on Big Wheels who talk politics and know nothing. It’s depressing. Domestic Policy Council meetings are a farce. This leaves shoot-from-the-hip political calculations—mostly from Karl’s shop—to triumph by default. No one balances Karl. Forget it. That was Andy’s cry for help.”

Suskind quoted the famous John DiIulio letter:

“There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus,” says DiIulio. “What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.” …

… “I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions,” he writes. “There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis, and they were even more overworked than the stereotypical nonstop, twenty-hour-a-day White House staff. Every modern presidency moves on the fly, but on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking: discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue.”

Now that Rove’s had his ass handed to him on a plate, he still makes little connection between how elected officials do their jobs and their chances for re-election. He admits scandal and corruption took a toll, but that was just part of “the general distaste that people have for all things Washington.” And Iraq may have been a factor, but Lieberman won, so maybe not.

(I agree with Arianna Huffington on the Lamont-Lieberman race; Lamont lost ground when he stopped pounding an antiwar message — “Lieberman started sounding like Jack Murtha, while Lamont got off the Iraq train that had carried him to victory in the primary.” See also “America has had Enough of Bush’s Disastrous Course in Iraq” by Rep. John Murtha.)

With tongue just a little in cheek — I hope — Will Bunch trotted out a theory that Bush and Rove blew the midterms on purpose as part of Rove’s dastardly brilliant plan to pin the disaster of Iraq on Democrats; see also Greg Mitchell’s comments. Will has one point right, which is that the Democratic Congress might actually force Bush into governing for a change, instead of just politicking, which may actually work in Bush’s favor. Jonathan Alter pretty much says the same thing.

I’ll believe it when I see it. Karl still whispers in Bush’s ear, and I don’t believe Karl has learned much from the thumpin’. I wrote a whole year ago

What about Karl Rove, who has been trying to build a permanent Republican majority? Although Rove is supposed to be some kind of all-seeing evil genius, I wonder sometimes if he isn’t more of an idiot savant. He’s brilliant at doing one thing–building political power through sheer nastiness. He may not be wise enough to see the seeds of destruction he has planted.

I stand by that. I do not think Rove will change either tactics or strategy. He’s a one-trick pony. The methods that work so well in the South are finally causing revulsion in the rest of the nation. But Rove can’t see that. He’s still thinking about a permanent Republican majority. But if the national Republican Party doesn’t cut its ties to Karl Rove, it might find itself trapped in the deep South, nothing but a quaint artifact of history and southern culture.

23 thoughts on “Rove Over

  1. This is brilliant, everything you needed to know about Rove in one place. I saw parallels with some of the ruthless, win-at-any cost righties I know personally – in both cases due to profoundly screwed up families. It’s very clear Rove sees politics entirely in terms of winning; governing draws a blank.

    Is Rove becoming the R’s James Carville?

  2. On the other hand, Ken Mehlman’s numbers were pretty close to reality: “the GOP would lose 23 in the House (5 short of the final tally), 5 in the Senate (1 shy) and 6 governors (spot on).”

    Mehlman’s numbers for House and Senate at least were close to the consensus estimate on (The consensus bet was closer to +21/22 seats for the Dems, if one interpolated to find the 50% odds, and +5 in the senate; the senate odds were harder to figure since there wasn’t a direct bet available on Senate seat pickups.)
    The Democrats got lucky in the Senate. Nearly anything positive in the news for Republicans would have flipped one or both of the close races. I do not understand why Bush announced the Rumsfield resignation after the election; perhaps they had polling that said it wouldn’t play well, but I doubt it. There is still the Lieberman issue; he was elected with 70% of the Connecticut Republican vote according to exit polls, vs 33% of the Democratic vote (and 54% of the indy vote), and he knows this. If we don’t give him a very good excuse to break his word, he’ll caucus with the Democrats – after all he did get 33% of the Democratic vote even though the Democrats fielded a decent candidate.

    Lieberman numbers for reference:

    Lieberman 50/Lamont 40/Schlesinger 10

    Exit poll numbers for party affiliation (from CNN site):
    TOTAL Lieberman Lamont Schlesinger
    Democrat (38%) 33% 65% 2%
    Republican (26%) 70% 8% 21%
    Independent (36%) 54% 35% 10%

  3. “Face it rove isn’t in politics so he can champion ideas. He’s in politics so he can act out his Issues and get paid for it.”

    Absolutely. I’ve said it myself. He has real issues as does little George. And we got it all played out on us.
    But I have always noted too that Republicons( as opposed to Republicans the old party) always push issues that cannot be opposed without being a commie pinko lesbian traitor, and that ALWAYS do 2 things: inhance their power and put lots of CASH in their and their friends pockets. It is always a twofer. Always.
    And I think rove is a big part of this strategy.

    My question now is this: what is Karl’s job now? Why is he on the public payroll? Isn’t his work done?

  4. What’s even scarier is how many people in this country have issues, serious issues that blind them. How else to explain an insipid little narcissistic prick like George W. Bush with his sick flunky Karl Rove ever commanding such loyalty in the first place? It has always astonished me.

    I just deeply hope for some relief. Not that I expect things to be completely fixed, but it’s comforting to know that the spell has worn off for a large number of people. As I sat in a movie theater today, I just thought how fantasy fuels our culture, and this entire presidency is an extension of that impulse gone horribly awry.

  5. One statistical measure that does directly reflect Rove’s level of political smarts and influence: Bush’s approval rating.
    With about 70% of Americans disapproving of Bush, I’d say those who were counting on ‘genius’ Rove to secure them a permanent majority were co-delusionarys.

    Maha, I about choked on my apple salad when I read your line, “the Democratic Congress might actually force Bush to govern for a change…” It just struck me funny because I had an image of some big people [anxious about the realm] trying to pump growth hormones into a child king…..

  6. They call Rove the Architect, but any builder will tell you that a structure is only a sound as its foundation. Looks like Rove built house on a foundation of sand in the form of George Bush. Rove’s structure is collapsing under the weight of scrutiny and nobody is going to invest anything more in Rove’s architectural skills..Maybe he can try his hand at selling used cars or aluminum siding when they pull him off the teat in Washington.

    Bush has become a Jonah!

  7. No one praises football coaches for losing by five touchdowns instead of six.

    What an incredibly short-sighted viewpoint.

  8. #

    I’ve been waiting years for this prophecy to come true:

    Maybe now?

    Oh, come on :). The pendulum of politics means that EVERY prediction about the “coming defeat” of some party/coalition/whatever is eventually going to appear to “come true”. Considering that piece was written in 98 and the Reps got STRONGER after it was written, I think it earns few points.

  9. True to form, it looks like Democraps are already busily looking for a
    way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Who better to provide
    relevant advice than the Democraps’ outstanding expert on losing
    presidential elections George

  10. With 2 days of personal gloating left to go I will hold my comments about rove because I don’t want to appear smug…I will be in the corner till tue.I hope the dems will ask, now that they are the majority, why mr rove is still on the payroll after his violation of the SF 312 nondisclosure agreement he signed when he went to work for the American people,, but thats all I am sayin…..

  11. True to form, it looks like Democraps are already busily looking for a
    way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Moose..get a clue. It’s over! Now they( the republicans) are just scrambling to figure out who’s gonna take the hit for the defeat in Iraq, and how they can make it the most palatable to the American public. If James Baker doesn’t pull a rabbit out of his hat Bush will be finished. America just ain’t buying Bush’s bullshit no more. Victory is the last thing you’ll see coming out of Iraq..believe me

    Now Mr. BRING IT ON is eager to talk with the Iranians..? That’s on par with Tom Delay being eager to get his day in court.

  12. The Iraqi situation is sorta like being back in chemistry class. If you change one molecule in a compound you end up with an entirely different substance. In Iraq, if you withdraw the American troops from the mix, the insurgency will become a civil war.I guess that would be considered a political chemistry…right?

  13. Wonderful and insightful.
    I believe Karl and Jr. only know the politics of government but, nothing of policy or governing. Jr. got in the game the same way he did in the oil biz. He had issues with daddy. The problem was that Jr. has a long track record of failure. I believe this is because he believe he can use money, call himself something but, he doesn’t learn his business and about it. I bet he still doesn’t know the basics of the oil biz and the same goes for governing. The guy has serious daddy issues.
    Karl is a classic sociopath. He feels and cares for nothing. He gets his jollies from pain. He feel no sense of repsonsibility or guilt for his actions. He is a master at manipulation. He does not have a real honest one on one relationship with people but, more a series of who to manipulate and what they can do for him. If they don’t or are of no use he will use them to inflict his need to cause pain. Look at the media. He manipulates them so they think he is a genius, and they believe it and tout it to his ego. But, they know if they cross him or Jr., extreem pain and lost of career will happen. They tried it with Helen thomas but, she did not break. They knew if they went to far with an 80 year old ledgend they would be roasted.
    Like sociopaths, if they come up against someone who is not intimidated and can see thru them, they will try to push to see how far they can go. Kerry they played like a fiddle. Murtha was an iron wall.
    One thing they miscalculated. Iraq is forever intwinted with Bush. They will never be able to blame the dems and it holds. It’s so emeshed in the administration that they will have it around thier necks forever.
    I remember reading Rove saying he uses psychology on his victims. He knows who to push and which buttons. another classic example of sociopathic behavior. You never go after the person who can turn on you. Only those you know will play and allow themselves to be used. And they do it in a way that the victim doesn’t realize he is being played.
    that’s your genius. Your brain. He is a sociopath. Bush is immature and stuck in teenhood. Forever repeating his loop of him against his dad. As forever screwing up.

  14. So it’s Dilulio who came up with “Mayberry Machiavellis” – a term that in my view perfectly captures the essence of this crew.

    You’re right, maha, they won’t change.

    It’s going to be a lot of fun watching those who can’t or won’t change over the next few years. I believe we are at the beginnings of a very profound political realignment. Almost all the big names in politics will be completely obsolete within 4 years. All the coalitions that make up the parties are rearranging. Just watch the pundits declaring the new crew of Dems are “conservative” because of their stand on one or two issues – completely missing the fact that those issues are no longer good indicators of positions on other issues. Or Rove losing an election because he was watching the wrong bellweathers.

  15. Hey, r4d20 — You HAVE heard of the Federalist Party, have you not? And the Whigs? Artifacts of history, now.

    Sometimes that pendulum swings very wide, indeed.

  16. Nancy Pelosi will lead the first Democratic post-Civil War majority that is not dependent on Southern conservatives.

    Excellent point.

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  18. ‘One-Pager for Karl’

    – Mi$$ion Accompli$hed (Treasury Raided)
    – Dems are in their last throes (well, J Kerry is anyway)
    – Stay the course (“Fuck the base, they are nuts”)
    – “Go fuck yourself” (I have a headache)

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