Live by the Grift; Die by the Grift

Richard Viguerie has declared civil war on the Republican establishment and has vowed to root out traitors to the conservative cause, such as Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Reince Priebus. Yes, we weep and we mourn, not so much. But Rod Dreher at The American Conservative is really upset about it.

RINO hunt! This is astonishing, and can only be driven by an ideological mindset so impervious to reality that it would rather destroy political conservatism’s chances of actually running the country than succumb to the least impurity in the ranks. The movement types really do believe that the GOP lost because it was stabbed in the back by its own people at Versailles on Capitol Hill. The GOP tribalism is devolving into a Lord’s Resistance Army conservatism, after the fanatical Ugandan cultists who believe that shea butter and their confidence in God makes them impervious to bullets.

The thing about this dynamic is that the purer the activists make the GOP, the weaker the party becomes, and thus the less likely to achieve policy goals. Which just drives the forces of purgation harder. Ted Cruz rules the Jacobin Republicans now, but he should remember what happened to Robespierre.

I do appreciate the reference to Jacobins. But I doubt very much that Richard Viguerie gives a rodent’s posterior for achieving policy goals. Viguerie is a direct mail tycoon who makes a living by stoking the fears and phobias of the rubes to market ideological snake oil. If Movement Conservatism were ever seen as successful, and the marks got complacent, checks might stop coming in.

Indeed, there is a whole class of grifters on the Right whose incomes depend on keeping the crazy well fed. I’m thinking of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Fox News et al. No doubt Michele Bachmann will become a full-time gifter as soon as she’s out of the House. But there are tons of second- and third-tier gifters, all cashing in nicely.

And why not? If bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is, grifters infest the Right because that’s where the gullibility is. People who can be made to believe in death panels can also be sold on dubious investment schemes, survivalist kits and quack arthritis cures. It’s too easy. See especially Rick Perlstein, “The Long Con.”

There are also subcategories of specialized grifters such as the NRA/firearm industry and climate change denialists/petroleum industry. But it’s all of a piece, really.

I wrote recently that the only substantive difference between the “extremists” and the “moderates/establishment” in the Republican Party is that “the ‘moderates’ realize elections have to be won, and the ‘extremists’ don’t know that, or don’t care.” When you look at someone like Ted Cruz, who unlike many others may not be crazy or stupid, one suspects his long game isn’t winning the White House. The long game is making a ton of money. In this country, once you become a reliable supplier of red meat for the Right, you are set for life. Whether you ever actually accomplish anything that’s good for anyone is irrelevant.

The Republican Party set itself up for this, of course, by being willing to sell out anything that might be an actual principle in order to win elections on the cheap (and dirty). I’m sure most of you are aware of the arc of demagoguery that ran from Spiro Agnew to Lee Atwater to Karl Rove. But Frankenstein’s Monster took over the laboratory, and now Karl Rove (who is still making a lot of money, apparently, in spite of his colossal failure in 2012) can’t understand why no one is listening to him.


Over Rove

David Frum writes in today’s New York Times:

AS a political strategist, Karl Rove offered a brilliant answer to the wrong question.

The question he answered so successfully was a political one: How could Republicans win elections after Bill Clinton steered the Democrats to the center?

The question he unfortunately ignored was a policy question: What does the nation need — and how can conservatives achieve it?

It occurs to me that one could say something similar about the DLC. They’re still answering the question “How can Democrats win elections after Reagan and the VRWC moved the nation so far Right?” And the question they ignored was “How do we correct the nation’s political culture and move the nation back to the center?” But this is a post about Rove and his lasting impact on the Republican party.

Frum goes on to say that Rove’s polarizing tactics united the GOP base, but it also united the Democratic Party base.

Play-to-the-base politics can be a smart strategy — so long as your base is larger than your opponents’.

But it has been apparent for many years that the Democratic base is growing faster than the Republican base. The numbers of the unmarried and the non-churchgoing are growing faster than the numbers of married and church-going Americans. The nonwhite and immigrant population is growing at a faster rate than that of white native-borns. …

…Mr. Rove often reminded me of a miner extracting the last nuggets from an exhausted seam. His attempts to prospect a new motherlode have led the Republican party into the immigration debacle.

The “new motherlode” was Latino voters, of course. Rove also tried to make inroads into the African-American vote by wooing some black evangelical ministers, but that attempt was flooded out by Katrina.

Seems to me that in attempting to “mine” Latino votes, Rove stepped on a land mine planted by Richard Nixon. It was Nixon who had the brilliant idea to win white voters away from the Democrats by exploiting racism — the Southern strategy. As explained by Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips in 1970, “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are.” Reagan tapped into the same vein with his stories about welfare queens. Rove must not have noticed that the cornerstone of his base is bigotry.

Josh Marshall has a good analysis of Frum’s column. Right now I want to look at just one part of GOP base, the Christian right.

A number of Karl Rove retrospectives online today give Rove credit for cobbling together a coalition of small government conservatives and religious conservatives, but I say not all that credit is deserved. As noted here, right-wing religion and right-wing politics have been fellow travelers in America since at least the 1930s. Richard Hofstadter wrote in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Vintage Books, 1962, p. 131):

Their heightened sense of isolation and impotence helped to bring many of the dwindling but still numerically significant fundamentalists into the ranks of a fanatical right-wing opposition to the New Deal. The fundamentalism of the cross was now supplemented by a fundamentalism of the flag. Since the 1930’s, fundamentalism has been a significant component in the extreme right in American politics, whose cast of thought often shows strong fundamentalist filiations.

Ronald Reagan is likewise given credit for bringing evangelical Christians into the conservative camp. But I think it’s more correct that many evangelicals were already there, in particular the Premillenialists. Reagan simply signaled to them that the GOP was now ready to champion their views. Gary Wills wrote in 1988,

The other sign of the End, the Antichrist, took visible shape for these Christians in the Communist empire — which is why they were so excited when Ronald Reagan referred to that as the “Evil Empire” and “the focus of all evil in the world.” A leader who would recognize that was, for them, another sign. Detail after detail could be put together. Gorbachev’s forehead birthmark became “the mark of the Beast” from Revelation (13:17). Ezekial 38 and 39 suggested that the last war would begin with an invasion from the north; Falwell sought etymological linkages between Russian and biblical names. The invaders would come for “spoil,” and all you had to do was take off that word’s first two letters to get the reason for Soviet invasion of the Middle East. [Gary Wills, reprinted in Under God: Religion and American Politics (Simon and Schuster, 1990) p. 150]

But the links between the U.S.S.R. and Satan were already well established in many Christian’s heads. I well remember that illustrations in my Sunday School literature of the 1950s often portrayed Nikita Khrushchev or other Soviet leaders standing with the Devil, while Jesus hovered protectively over the United States. And this was a Lutheran Sunday School. I can’t imagine what the kids were being taught at the Assembly of God church down the street.

In other words, the connection between Satan and Communism was old news when Reagan came along. All he did was let right-wing Christians know that he “got” it.

I want to go back to Gary Wills and the 1988 presidential campaign of George H.W. “Poppy” Bush.

Bush was paying court to evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker in that same period, hoping for an endorsement from them while they were still in their glory days of running Heritage USA, the patriotic theme park. Reagan had won evangelicals away from Jimmy Carter, one of their own, in 1980, capturing the electorally important South. That region stayed with him in 1984, though he had not pushed very hard for causes like prayer in school. Now the evangelicals, feeling powerful, were ready to make harder demands — even, in 1988, to run one of their own. It was time for Reagan’s party to deliver. [Wills, ibid., p. 79]

Poppy actually went further to court the religious Right than Reagan did. Bush publicly declared that Jesus was his “personal savior,” which is not something one normally hears from a High Church WASP like #41. Reagan, Wills said, had deftly side-stepped personal confessions of faith, but Bush needed to go the extra mile, so to speak, to win them over. Further, running mate Dan Quayle was a disciple of a Dispensationalist named Robert Thieme, which may have been a factor in his being chosen for the ticket. Wills wrote (op cit., p. 80) that Bush “had finally got religion by the balls.” Perhaps, but the evangelical vote didn’t seem much of a factor when Poppy lost to Bill Clinton in 1992. Poppy really wasn’t one of them.

Now let’s pick up what Lou Dubose writes in Salon about Karl Rove:

In Texas, we saw this modern iteration of the Republican Party come together in the summer or 1994, as Bush kicked off his first successful run for public office. (He had lost a congressional race in West Texas in 1978, in which Rove was only marginally involved.) Social conservatives had already joined together with economic conservatives when Ronald Reagan got into bed with the Rev. Jerry Falwell. But it was Rove who consecrated the union. A nominal Christian and Episcopalian, Rove had little regard for the evangelical extremists who have become essential to the success of the modern Republican Party, even cracking the occasional joke about his own lack of faith.

Then the Christian right showed up at the Republicans’ state convention in Fort Worth, in 1994, with enough delegates to seize control of the party. The dominant Christian faction tossed George H.W. Bush’s handpicked state chairman and longtime friend, Fred Meyer, out of office and replaced him with a charismatic Catholic lawyer from Dallas. It banned liquor from convention hotels and replaced hospitality-room bars with “ice cream sundae bars,” where chefs prepared designer confections. It summoned delegates to Grand Old Prayer Sessions, required Christian fealty oaths of candidates for party leadership, and made opposition to abortion the brand by which Texas Republicans would be defined.

This political great awakening was not unique to Texas. But it occurred in a context in which a brilliant, Pygmalion political consultant saw in George W. Bush a malleable idol who could be fashioned into a governor and ultimately a president. And Bush was a candidate whose genuine evangelical faith was an asset rather than a liability. After initially fighting the dominant evangelical delegation at the state convention — proposing Texas Rep. Joe Barton as a compromise candidate for state party chairman — Rove joined them.

By all accounts not religious himself, Rove masterfully exploited religion as a campaign resource. To cement the relationship, right-wing Christians were given places of honor both in the campaigns and in the Bush Administration. But neither Rove nor Bush seem to have given enough thought to the long-term consequences of turning the Republican Party — never mind the government — over to fanatics and absolutists.

First, says Dubose, “the larger public — and even the Republican Party, if the candidacy of Rudy Giuliani means anything — has grown weary of the Christian right.” Remember, the “Christian right” represents a minority of Christians. The large majority of Christians do not believe in the Rapture and are not keen on starting Armageddon anytime soon. I’ve heard much anecdotal evidence recently that even many Southern, socially conservative Christians are tired of politicians who ceaselessly harp on guns, God, gays, and abortion, but have little to say about kitchen-table issues — jobs, pensions, health care, gas prices. Not to mention Iraq.

Second, you can’t very well maintain a governing coalition with people who won’t compromise and who do not even tolerate, much less respect, opposing opinions. (Disagreement with them is not just disagreement; it is Evil.) As I wrote here, Rove’s biggest blind spot is his failure to see that campaigning is not governing. Making promises and smearing opponents only takes an office holder so far. At some point he needs to follow up on promises and see to it that his policies are working. Rove and Bush seem to have plenty of the vision thing; what they don’t have is the accomplishment thing.

And third, now that the Christian right owns the Republican Party, it remains to be seen if the GOP can nominate someone moderate enough to win the general election.

Deb Reichmann of the Associated Press reported recently that President Bush still has majority support of only three demographic groups:

The only subgroups where a majority of people give Bush the nod are Republicans (67 percent), conservatives (53 percent) and white evangelicals who attend religious services at least once a week (56 percent).

These are the same three subsets of voters who support Bush on Iraq.

White evangelicals as an entire bloc – regardless of how often they report going to church – have been a reliable support group for Bush since he first set foot in the Oval Office. But even their overall approval of the president declined to 44 percent last month from 57 percent in May – a decline driven partly by bad news from the battlefield in Iraq and conservatives’ opposition to Bush’s ideas on immigration.

Of course, there are plenty of people who have soured on Bush but who are still inclined to vote for Republicans. But in a close election, can a GOP candidate afford to distance himself from the Christian right base? I doubt it. But can a presidential candidate packaged to appeal to the Christian right win a general election? I doubt it. What’s a Republican party to do?

And might I point out that the GOP didn’t have this problem back in Dwight Eisenhower’s day. But that was a long time ago.

Karl Quits

(Updates below)

This deserves a banner headline —

Karl Quits

Even better, a dancing banana —

He’s going to be spending more time with his family, children. Paul Gigot says so at WSJ

“There’s always something that can keep you here, and as much as I’d like to be here, I’ve got to do this for the sake of my family,” Mr. Rove says. His son attends college in San Antonio, and he and his wife, Darby, plan to spend much of their time at their home in nearby Ingram, in the Texas Hill Country.

Well, certainly, a son attending college in San Antonio is a crisis that can’t be ignored. But could there be other reasons for this departure? Gigot speculates —

Mr. Rove doesn’t say, though others do, that this timing also allows him to leave on his own terms. He has survived a probe by a remorseless special counsel, and lately a subpoena barrage from Democrats for whom he is the great white whale. He shows notable forbearance in declining to comment on prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who dragged him through five grand jury appearances. He won’t even disclose his legal bills, except to quip that “every one has been paid” and that “it was worth every penny.”

What about those who say he’s leaving to avoid Congressional scrutiny? “I know they’ll say that,” he says, “But I’m not going to stay or leave based on whether it pleases the mob.” He also knows he’ll continue to be a target, even from afar, since belief in his influence over every Administration decision has become, well, faith-based.

“I’m a myth. There’s the Mark of Rove,” he says, with a bemused air. “I read about some of the things I’m supposed to have done, and I have to try not to laugh.” He says the real target is Mr. Bush, whom many Democrats have never accepted as a legitimate president and “never will.”

Is this guy a pathetic whiner, or what?

There’s also the possibility that Rove is leaving the White House so that he can sign on to another presidential campaign, as psericks speculates here at MyDD. And that would be grand with me. I think most of the electorate is heartily sick of his scorched earth style of campaigning. I very much doubt Karl has much in the way of a future career, however, except perhaps as a Fox News analyst.

Seriously, it’s seemed to me for some time that Rove was in over his head. I wrote in November 2005

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.

Ron Suskind saw this back in 2003 (emphasis added) —

… people in Washington, especially Rove’s friends, are utterly petrified to talk about him.

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.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, that’s Rove’s biggest blind spot — his failure to understand the substance of governing. Rove built his reputation as a political genius because of his ability as a campaign manager to knock off Democratic incumbents in southern states by means of dirty and dishonest campaigning. But seems to me Rove’s “genius” was less smarts than it was ruthlessness. Rove knows neither boundaries nor scruples. He won campaigns because he was willing to ignore moral and ethical lines and fight dirtier than other (non-sociopathic) campaign managers could imagine.

(Ruthlessness can get you a long way. Most top-office corporate executives I’ve ever had to work with were not all that bright; they were just very, very self-assured and relentlessly aggressive about getting what they want. But that’s another rant.)

So his boy gets to be President, and Rove is given a free hand to run domestic policy initiatives. And he runs them like he ran his political campaigns, because that’s all he knows how to do. And after nearly seven years in the White House, the Bush Administration is floundering, and its most remarkable characteristic is that the Bushies never did get the “substance of governing” thing.

Put another way: If blustering, smearing and intimidation were governing, the Bush Administration would have been a roaring success.

But why now? And how will this impact the rest of Bush’s term in office?

I’m speculating that the investigations into the U.S. Attorney scandal are getting too close for Rove’s comfort (see Marcy Wheeler on this). Or maybe he had a falling out with the Boy King, who might be starting to notice that, um, his administration has hit some bumps. More may come to light in the next few days to clarify this.

As for the rest of Bush’s term — well, it’ll be interesting. It’s obvious that Bush is a weak and unaccomplished man who has been more or less playing the role of President while Cheney and Rove actually ran the nation (into the ground). Will someone else step into Rove’s place (where’s Karen Hughes, btw?) so the Creature has free time for bicycle rides and naps? Or will Bush start trying to do his job (and that should be jolly)? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I guess I’ll have to revise the All-Purpose White House Press Gaggle handout.

Updates: See also The Talking Dog and Obsidian Wings.

And here’s an old David Broder column from September 2006 in which the Lord High Poohbah says the media has been too mean to poor Karl.

Update2: Here’s another clue to the Rove Mystique, from John Dickerson in Slate:

Bush loyalists looking to pinpoint Rove’s role in the difference between the Texas and Washington years note that in Texas, Rove was merely a consultant to Gov. Bush. In Washington, he was physically in the White House, with his hands directly on the levers of policy-making.

That’s something I’ve wondered. So a college dropout was put in charge of U.S. domestic policy after zero experience within government. And he failed, big time.

I’d also like to point out that a great many circumstances came together to make the Rove Phenomenon possible. For example, he capitalized on the right-wing media infrastructure that was already in place long before he got to Washington. Had there been a real Washington press corps such as existed, say, 40 years ago, Rove would have had much less room to maneuver. And he served under a weak, disinterested commander in chief who was all too happy to delegate the details to Karl. He also was dealing with Republicans in Congress who were so well trained to be cogs in the VRWC machine that they didn’t stand up to him, even after they must have realized he was dragging the GOP off a cliff.

Getting Even

Margaret Talev and Marisa Taylor of McClatchy Newspapers report that

Only weeks before last year’s pivotal midterm elections, the White House urged the Justice Department to pursue voter-fraud allegations against Democrats in three battleground states, a high-ranking Justice official has told congressional investigators.

In two instances in October 2006, President Bush’s political adviser, Karl Rove, or his deputies passed the allegations on to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.

Sampson tapped Gonzales aide Matthew Friedrich, who’d just left his post as chief of staff of the criminal division. In the first case, Friedrich agreed to find out whether Justice officials knew of “rampant” voter fraud or “lax” enforcement in parts of New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and report back.

But Friedrich declined to pursue a related matter from Wisconsin, he told congressional investigators, because an inquiry so close to an election could inappropriately sway voting results. Friedrich decided not to pass the matter on to the criminal division for investigation, even though Sampson gave him a 30-page report prepared by Republican activists that made claims of voting fraud.

Friedrich testified in a closed-door session, but a “senior congressional aide familiar with the testimony” described it to McClatchy Newspapers.

After Murray Waas reported yesterday

The Bush administration has withheld a series of e-mails from Congress showing that senior White House and Justice Department officials worked together to conceal the role of Karl Rove in installing Timothy Griffin, a protégé of Rove’s, as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

… I’d say it would be hard for the White House to claim that Karl or somebody was not trying to use the Justice Department to gain advantage in midterm elections. The White House, of course, claims this anyway.

At Salon, Garrett Epps writes that “the assault on voter fraud was a solution looking for a problem.”

Republicans do cherish their little practical jokes — the leaflets in African-American neighborhoods warning that voters must pay outstanding traffic tickets before voting; the calls in Virginia in 2006 from the mythical “Virginia Election Commission” warning voters they would be arrested if they showed up at the polls. The best way to steal an election is the old-fashioned way: control who shows up. It’s widely known that Republicans do better when the turnout is lighter, whiter, older and richer; minorities, young people and the poor are easy game for hoaxes and intimidation.

The latest and most elaborate of these jokes is the urban legend that American elections are rife with voter fraud, particularly in the kinds of poor and minority neighborhoods inhabited by Democrats. In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that fraudulent voting would be a major target of the Department of Justice. As the New York Times reported last month, the main result of this massive effort was such coups as the deportation of a legal immigrant who mistakenly filled out a voter-registration card while waiting in line at the department of motor vehicles.

But the administration has remained ferociously committed to suppressing voter fraud — as soon as it can find some.

I like this bit:

As part of the Help America Vote Act, Republicans insisted on creating the Election Assistance Commission, which commissioned studies of the asserted problem. When the studies failed to turn up evidence of fraud nationwide, appointed Republican officials on the EAC insisted that the language say only that “there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud in elections” — the same approach to inconvenient evidence that’s made the Bush global-warming policy the envy of the world.

IMO the legend that Democrats only get elected because they cheat has been brewing among Republicans for decades. You might remember that the old big city bosses, from William Tweed of New York to Richard Daley (the Elder) of Chicago, were famous for delivering votes for Democrats using less than honest means. But though he’s been dead for more than thirty years, the ghost of Richard Daley, the last of the bosses, still haunts the GOP.

For decades after the 1960 presidential elections Republicans complained that John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon only because Daley stuffed ballot boxes to deliver Chicago (and thereby Illinois) for Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson likewise fixed the vote in Texas. The legend is that Richard Nixon shrugged it off and let Kennedy get away with stealing the election. The truth is that local and national GOP officials investigated allegations of fraud vigorously and challenged results in many precincts in court. As David Greenburg wrote in Slate awhile back, the only tangible result of the several recounts was that Hawaii’s three electoral votes were taken away from Nixon and given to Kennedy. Otherwise, whatever fraud probably occurred wasn’t significant enough to have changed the outcome.

Nevertheless, I noticed through the years that many rank-and-file Republicans nursed a massive grudge about being cheated at the polls. As a result, IMO, they see fraud every time a Democrat wins an election. And they’ve developed a sense of entitlement that it’s OK for them to cheat back.

An article by Phyllis Schlafly written in December 2000 justifies George Bush’s “win” by dredging up the ghost of the 1960 election (“The stuffing of the ballot boxes in Cook County, Illinois and in Texas has been so well substantiated that it is no longer disputed today.”) and implying that William Daley, Gore’s campaign manager, was a vote-stealer like this old man.

See also this “analysis” of the 2000 Florida recount that presents most of the rumors and allegations flying around at the time —

As this is written, we do not know who will be the next president,” the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal declared on Nov. 9, 1960, as the nation awaited results in the presidential contest between Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Vice President Richard M. Nixon. The closeness of that 1960 race and the undeniable fraud were followed by the manly response of Nixon. What a far cry that was from the lachrymose Chinese opera now surrounding Al Gore and George W. Bush as history no longer is being repeated but reshaped.

Despite allegations of Democratic election fraud, particularly in Texas and Chicago, where former senator Lyndon Johnson and the family of former mayor Richard J. Daley were past masters at political pilfering, the Nixon campaign surmised that legal challenges would, in the end, be fruitless. The Gore campaign saw the landscape differently. In fact, it produced a “Chad”-aquiddick drama that has cast a cloud over the Sunshine State’s 25 electoral votes — something which may have been foreseen by Gore when he chose Richard J. Daley’s son, William Daley, to be his campaign manager.

The pattern was there. From the hyperactive get-out-the-vote effort launched by the Democratic National Committee and such sympathetic interest groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and organized labor, the ward-healing Democrats were well ahead of their more inhibited GOP rivals. With Gore unable to gin up enough energy with his policy lectures and high-spirited, pulpit-pounding pronouncements, the party stepped up its effort to scour every county, district and precinct in search of Gore voters who might be bused, wheeled or carried drooling to the polls. Churches, schools, homeless shelters, mental asylums, nursing homes and even prisons were seen as housing potential voters to do their bit for the veep.

I remember at the time encountering a Bush supporter who was absolutely certain the Gore campaigned had bussed thousands of illegal immigrants across the border to vote for Gore. There were also rumors about thousands of convicted felons who had voted for Gore.

I have no idea if Karl Rove himself believes the legends, but I do know that Karl is brilliant at manipulating right-wing resentment and paranoia about “liberals” and Democrats. That’s where the sense of entitlement comes in; the Right long has believed it is literally at war with us, and all’s fair in war. Take, for example, the so-called “Brooks Brothers riot” of paid GOP operatives who terrorized the Miami-Dade canvassing board into stopping their vote recount. To us, that was bare-knuckle thuggery. But to righties it was a righteous strike for justice against an evil, powerful oppressor.

At this point I don’t think any amount of hard evidence would dissuade these loons that voter fraud is not the massive problem they think it is and that they are not entitled to cheat back. They see themselves as the peasants storming the Bastille. And yes, they’re nuts. What else is new?

Imperium Rovanum

You’ll appreciate this editorial in the Sunday New York Times:

Turn over a scandal in Washington these days and the chances are you’ll find Karl Rove. His tracks are everywhere: whether it’s helping to purge United States attorneys, coaching bureaucrats on how to spend taxpayers’ money to promote Republican candidates, hijacking the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for partisan politics, or helping to organize a hit on the character of one of the first people to publicly reveal the twisting of intelligence reports on Iraq.

Whatever the immediate objective, Mr. Rove seems focused on one overarching goal: creating a permanent Republican majority, even if that means politicizing every aspect of the White House and subverting the governmental functions of the executive branch.

You’ll want to read the whole thing.

A Bush Too Far

Harold Meyerson wants to know what the Bushies were thinking.

The truly astonishing thing about the latest scandals besetting the Bush administration is that they stem from actions the administration took after the November elections, when Democratic control of Congress was a fait accompli.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ hour-long meeting on sacking federal prosecutors took place after the election. The subsequent sacking took place after the election. The videoconference between leaders of the General Services Administration and Karl Rove’s deputy about how to help Republican candidates in 2008, according to people who attended the meeting, took place Jan. 26 this year.

During last year’s congressional campaigns, Republicans spent a good deal of time and money predicting that if the Democrats won, Congress would become one big partisan fishing expedition led by zealots such as Henry Waxman. The Republicans’ message didn’t really impress the public, and apparently it didn’t reach the president and his underlings, either. Since the election, they have continued merrily along with their mission to politicize every governmental function and agency as if their allies still controlled Congress, as if the election hadn’t happened.

Last week Wayne Slater was on one of the politics talk shows opining that Karl Rover was convinced the GOP lost the midterm elections because of the corruption scandals, e.g. Duke Cunningham. D. Kyle Sampson and Harriet Miers began drawing up a list of attorneys to be purged in 2005, but most of the purging occurred in December 2006, after the midterm. So, yes, one does wonder what they were thinking.

Democrats such as Waxman clearly had planned to hold hearings on the administration’s hitherto-unexamined follies of the past six years. Instead, the most high-profile investigations they’re conducting concern administration follies of the past five months, since they won the election.

And then there’s Iraq. In spite of overwhelming public opposition to the war and an overwhelming lack of confidence in Bush to make something good out of it, Republicans in Congress continue to support the war and the President. I admit, I expected a lot more rats to desert the sinking ship by now. Meyerson provides four possible answers to this mystery.

  • They still think they can win in 2008.
  • They want to block the Dems from doing anything so they can run against “do-nothing Democrats” in 2008.
  • “The alternative reality conveyed by the Republican media — Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk — has created a Republican activist base that is genuinely not reality-based, and from which the current generation of Republican pols is disproportionately drawn.”
  • “…good government is just not in their DNA. Bush and Rove are no more inclined to create a government based on such impartial values as law and science than they are to set up collective farms.”
  • Bush and Rove are a symbiotic creature. They were both problem children; Bush was the screwup son of a prominent family; Rove attended nearly half a dozen colleges without getting a degree. They both took an interest in politics, and found each other, and out of that symbiosis came a Formula for gaining and keeping political power. And that formula served them well for a long time. Neither was interested in government, but while Bush was governor of Texas that didn’t matter much. He went through the motions well.

    Once in Washington, BushRove finessed the September 11 attacks to maximum political advantage. But the creature was also being protected by a Republican Congress and the Noise Machine — the media-think tank infrastructure that wealthy conservatives began building in the 1970s, about the time Karl Rove dropped out of his last college. With the full force of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy enabling it, The Formula worked just fine.

    The big flaw in the BushRovian Formula was the governing thing. Even when government business is conducted in maximum secrecy, the results of incompetence and corruption can only be kept hidden for so long. Chickens do come home to roost.

    No matter how much trouble it gets into, the creature is not going to change. It won’t try to work with Congress; it won’t stop trying to get by on spin and bluster. When backed into a corner, the creature will fall back on The Formula, because that’s all it knows.

    As to why the rest of the Republicans are still carrying water for the creature — hell if I know.

    Old Rightie Lies Never Die

    First, I want to thank everyone for the input into my hypothesis for the Stages of Rightie Reaction to a Republican Scandal. I definitely want to re-work this into something more ambitious. If anyone knows a good cartoonist/illustrator, chase ’em my way.

    Along these lines, I want to share with you this charming email received this morning from Greg S.:

    How come, as a journalist, you failed to report that Janet Reno demanded the resignations of all federal prosecutors? The NYT ran the story on 3/23/93. I guess it’s only political when a Republican culls the herd. You should have no problem getting a job in the New York area. You bozo’s all think and act alike, I’m sure some going out of business newspaper will pick you up.

    Here is my response:

    Greg: How come you can’t read? I’ve brought up the Janet Reno episode several times in the past few weeks. The last time I mentioned it was yesterday, in this post . I also brought it up on March 9 in this post.

    I wrote about it extensively in these posts, which I urge you to read:

    January 18: ” U.S. Attorneys: It’s the Replacing, Stupid

    In the post linked I dug some stories from 1993 about Janet Reno’s firing of the attorneys out of the New York Times archives and quoted from them at length. You really should read it and educate yourself about what really happened, because you are embarrassing yourself by being ignorant of the facts.

    February 16: “Drooling Idiot Alert

    The “drooling idiot” post was inspired by a comment I had received from some other pea-brain rightie who demanded to know why I didn’t report that Janet Reno had asked for the resignation of all federal prosecutors. What was hysterically funny about that was that the drooling idiot had made this comment to a post in which I had extensively discussed Janet Reno’s firing of the attorneys.

    BTW, why is it you righties all have the reading comprehension level of gnats?

    I also mentioned the Janet Reno episode on January 19.

    You can apologize to me whenever you’re ready.

    Of course, he’s not going to apologize. He’ll slink off somewhere, whining that I was mean to him. Righties are so pathetic.

    But this encounter made me think about where this kind of reaction falls on the “reaction” scale. It’s so typical I definitely need to work it in somewhere.

    As I have explained at great length already, it is standard procedure for a new administration to ask for the resignations of the the former president’s attorneys, particularly if the former president was from the other party. U.S. attorneys serve for four-year terms, so as a rule when a new administration begins their terms are about to expire, anyway. George W. Bush asked for the resignations of most of Clinton’s attorneys, and replaced them with his own appointees, in 2001.

    [Update: I just found this paragraph in an Associated Press story

    When the party in the White House changes hands, it is common for the new president to fire all the sitting U.S. attorneys, as Ronald Reagan did in 1981 and Bill Clinton in 1993. By contrast, Bush allowed some to stay on the job for several months when he took office in 2001, although all were replaced eventually.

    In 1993, the Dems should have been shrieking “Reagan did it, too!”]

    As I have said before, replacing U.S. attorneys is not, in itself, scandalous. However, as explained at length in the posts linked above, the circumstances surrounding the recent replacements make these replacements grossly unethical if not illegal.

    The Right Wing Noise Machine raised a huge stink when Janet Reno made the very routine and long anticipated request for the resignation of the Republican-appointed attorneys, which was all of them. (The Clinton Administration, for some reason, allowed one prosecutor to stay over — Michael Chertoff. Very weird. There’s probably a story behind that.) The Machine pretended there was something sinister about the firing of the attorneys and accused Bill Clinton of getting rid of all of them just to interfere with an investigation of Rep. Dan Rostenkowski. (The investigation was not stopped; Rostenkowski would be indicted in 1994.)

    This huge stink was just part of their ongoing campaign to smear, bash, discredit, and destroy the Clinton Administration any way it could, honest or dishonest. The Right’s knuckle-dragging followers dutifully got all worked up about it, and we see now that many of them still are.

    ABC News is reporting that Senator Hillary Clinton is calling for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Righties who reacted with “nyah nyah Clinton did it to” (Stage 4) include: Macsmind (who, remarkably, somehow connects the U.S. attorneys to then-First Lady Clinton’s health care proposals), Gateway Pundit, Betsy Newmark, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Congratulations to the first three for being brainless stooges, and to WSJ for so diligently doing its job as a propaganda machine.

    A clue about how these replacings are different — the Seattle Times reports today:

    Former Washington state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance acknowledged Tuesday that he contacted then-U.S. Attorney John McKay to inquire about the status of federal investigations into the 2004 governor’s race while the outcome was still in dispute.

    Vance also spoke regularly with presidential adviser Karl Rove’s aides about the election, which Democrat Christine Gregoire ultimately won by 129 votes over Republican Dino Rossi. But Vance said he doesn’t recall discussing with the White House McKay’s performance or Republicans’ desires for a formal federal investigation. …

    … Vance is one of at least two Republican officials who called McKay to inquire about a possible investigation by his office into the governor’s race. …

    …Vance said he felt compelled to approach McKay as a fellow Republican.

    “Republican activists were furious because they felt that you had a Republican secretary of state [Sam Reed], a Republican county prosecutor in Norm Maleng and a Republican U.S. attorney, but still they saw the governorship slipping away, and they were just angry,” Vance said.

    Combine that story with this March 7 story from the Seattle Post-Ingelligencer, and it’s hard not to conclude that McKay’s firing was punishment for not convening a grand jury and seeking indictments against Democrats in the Gregoire election. McKay says he couldn’t find enough evidence of voter fraud to convene a grand jury; apparently, that was no excuse.

    From an editorial in today’s New York Times:

    Among the documents is e-mail sent to Ms. Miers by Kyle Sampson, Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff, ranking United States attorneys on factors like “exhibited loyalty.” Small wonder, then that United States Attorney Carol Lam of San Diego was fired. She had put one Republican congressman, Duke Cunningham, in jail and had opened an inquiry that put others at risk, along with party donors.

    More disturbing details have come out about Mr. Iglesias’s firing. We knew he was ousted six weeks after Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, made a wildly inappropriate phone call in which he asked if Mr. Iglesias intended to indict Democrats before last November’s election in a high-profile corruption scandal. We now know that Mr. Domenici took his complaints to Mr. Bush.

    After Mr. Iglesias was fired, the deputy White House counsel, William Kelley, wrote in an e-mail note that Mr. Domenici’s chief of staff was “happy as a clam.” Another e-mail note, from Mr. Sampson, said Mr. Domenici was “not even waiting for Iglesias’s body to cool” before getting his list of preferred replacements to the White House. …

    …The Justice Department has been saying that it is committed to putting Senate-confirmed United States attorneys in every jurisdiction. But the newly released documents make it clear that the department was making an end run around the Senate — for baldly political reasons. Congress should broaden the investigation to determine whether any other prosecutors were forced out for not caving in to political pressure — or kept on because they did.

    There was, for example, the decision by United States Attorney Chris Christie of New Jersey to open an investigation of Senator Bob Menendez just before his hotly contested re-election last November. Republicans, who would have held the Senate if Mr. Menendez had lost, used the news for attack ads. Then there was the career United States attorney in Guam who was removed by Mr. Bush in 2002 after he started investigating the superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. The prosecutor was replaced. The investigation was dropped.

    In mid-December 2006, Mr. Gonzales’s aide, Mr. Sampson, wrote to a White House counterpart that using the Patriot Act to fire the Arkansas prosecutor and replace him with Mr. Rove’s man was risky — Congress could revoke the authority. But, he wrote, “if we don’t ever exercise it, then what’s the point of having it?”

    Sort of how I’m feeling about impeachment power these days.

    Update: McClatchy Newspapers explains

    Mass firings of U.S. attorneys are fairly common when a new president takes office, but not in a second-term administration. Prosecutors are usually appointed for four-year terms, but they are usually allowed to stay on the job if the president who appointed them is re-elected.

    Even as they planned mass firings by the Bush White House, Justice Department officials acknowledged it would be unusual for the president to oust his own appointees. Although Bill Clinton ordered the wholesale removal of U.S. attorneys when he took office to remove Republican holdovers, his replacement appointees stayed for his second term.

    Ronald Reagan also kept his appointees for his second term. …

    … Nonetheless, Bush aide Dan Bartlett noted Clinton’s first term firings in defending Bush’s second term dismissals.

    “Those discretionary decisions made by a president, by an administration, are often done,” he told reporters Tuesday.

    This Is Huge

    A White House document dump has provided new revelations about the U.S. Attorney purge. And the biggest revelation — although not a surprising one — is that the idea to fire U.S. Attorneys and replace them with politically compliant toadies originated in the White House.

    I’m piecing together two news stories, one by David Johnston and Eric Lipton in today’s New York Times, and the other by Dan Eggen and John Solomon in today’s Washington Post. The story thus far:

    In early 2005, White House legal counsel Harriet Miers asked D. Kyle Sampson, a justice department official, if it would be feasible to fire and replace all 93 U.S. attorneys. It appears the White House was unhappy with the attorneys because Republicans were alleging widespread voter fraud on the part of Democrats, and the attorneys were unwilling to bring indictments against the Democrats, most probably because the allegations were a fantasy. (Josh Marshall provides an archive of his posts on the voter fraud allegations going back to 2001.)

    However, as Johnston and Lipton note, the documentation isn’t clear if the voter fraud issue was the real or only reason.

    The documents did not provide a clear motive for the firings. Some suggested that department officials were dissatisfied with specific prosecutors, but none cited aggressive public corruption inquiries or failure to pursue voter fraud cases as an explicit reason to remove them.

    As has been widely noted in the recent past, the pattern suggests that the White House and the Republican Party generally have been using the Justice Department as part of their election campaign process. In other words, Karl and Co. have been turning our criminal justice system into a Republican Party machine.

    Sampson — who resigned yesterday, btw — replied to Miers that filling that many jobs at once would be too big a job. (The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the same thing at the time.) Instead, Miers and Sampson began working together on a select list of attorneys to replace. As they did this, Karl Rove and other White House officials helpfully relayed the complaints they were getting from Republican officials about the attorneys’ failure to indict Democrats on voter fraud.

    Eggen and Solomon, WaPo (emphasis added):

    The e-mails [between Miers and Sampson] show that Rove was interested in the appointment of a former aide, Tim Griffin, as an Arkansas prosecutor. Sampson wrote in one that “getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.”

    Sampson sent an e-mail to Miers in March 2005 that ranked all 93 U.S. attorneys. Strong performers “exhibited loyalty” to the administration; low performers were “weak U.S. attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.” A third group merited no opinion.

    In January 2006, Sampson sent a first list of attorneys to be fired to the White House. Four of the attorneys who would be fired were on this list: Chiara, Cummins, Lam and Ryan (the final list is here). This list also suggested Tim Griffin be one of the replacements.

    Eggen and Solomon, WaPo:

    In September, Sampson produced another list of firing candidates, telling the White House that Cummins was “in the process of being pushed out” and providing the names of eight others whom “we should consider pushing out.” Five on that list were fired in December; the others were spared. …

    … Sampson also strongly urged bypassing Congress in naming replacements, using a little-known power slipped into the renewal of the USA Patriot Act in March 2006 that allows the attorney general to name interim replacements without Senate confirmation.

    “I am only in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed,” Sampson wrote in a Sept. 17 memo to Miers. “It will be counterproductive to DOJ operations if we push USAs out and then don’t have replacements ready to roll immediately.

    “I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments,” he wrote.

    By avoiding Senate confirmation, Sampson added, “we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House.”

    [Update: See also Think Progress.]

    Note that the Patriot Act provision came into being in March 2006, about a year after Miers and Sampson began work on their list. Coincidence? Not a chance.

    Notice this little detail, from Eggen and Solomon:

    Iglesias, the New Mexico prosecutor, was not on that list. Justice officials said Sampson added him in October, based in part on complaints from Sen. Pete V. Domenici and other New Mexico Republicans that he was not prosecuting enough voter-fraud cases.

    You may remember that in October 2006 — shortly before the elections — Domenici had called U.S. attorney David Iglesias and asked him about the status of an investigation into a Democratic state senator. Domenici also spoke to President Bush. Then Bush spoke to Gonzales “to pass along concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud,” Johnston and Lipton write. Thus Iglesias was added to the purge list, even though he had received a “strong performer” rating from Miers and Sampson in the earlier stages of their list-making.

    A White House spokeswoman insisted that the President did not call for the removal of any specific attorney. Nor did he know that Miers, Sampson, and Rove had been drawing up a list already. (Bush never seems to know anything that’s going on under his nose, does he? I find it hard to believe that Bush didn’t at least mention Iglesias to Sampson.)

    A few weeks after the conversation between Bush and Gonzales, the Justice Department forced out seven prosecutors.

    Johnston and Lipton, NY Times:

    On Dec. 4, 2006, three days before the dismissals, Mr. Sampson sent an e-mail message to the White House with a copy to Ms. Miers outlining plans to carry out the firings

    “We would like to execute this on Thursday, Dec. 7,” Mr. Sampson wrote. Because some United States attorneys were still in Washington attending a conference, he planned to postpone telling them they were being fired. He wrote, “We want to wait until they are back home and dispersed to reduce chatter.”

    Eggen and Solomon, WaPo:

    On the day of the Dec. 7 firings, Miers’s deputy, William Kelley, wrote that Domenici’s chief of staff “is happy as a clam” about Iglesias.

    A week later, Sampson wrote: “Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias’s body to cool).”

    Domenici is so busted.

    E-mails show that Justice officials discussed bypassing the two Democratic senators in Arkansas, who normally would have had input into the appointment, as early as last August. By mid-December, Sampson was suggesting that Gonzales exercise his newfound appointment authority to put Griffin in place until the end of Bush’s term.

    Griffin’s appointment and his connection to Karl Rove was reported in Arkansas newspapers in mid-December. This was one of our first clues that something screwy was going on regarding the U.S. attorneys.

    Miers resigned as White House counsel less than three weeks later, in early January.

    As for D. Kyle Sampson, in a sidebar story the New York Times reports that he had been using his post as chief of staff to the attorney general to get named U.S. attorney in Utah, his home state, even though he had never worked as a full-time prosecutor. The White House and Justice Department backed Sampson, but Senator Orrin Hatch wanted Brett Tolman, “a one-time Utah federal prosecutor who had spent the previous three years working on antiterrorism issues for the Judiciary Committee staff.”

    This suggests to me that Orrin Hatch has known about some of these shenanigans for some time. But let’s go on …

    This put Mr. Sampson in an unusual position. As Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff, he was fielding calls and letters from Mr. Hatch’s office, even though he was vying for the job that Mr. Hatch was writing about, two former officials from Mr. Hatch’s office said. That made at least some Senate officials uncomfortable.

    “It was a little like the fox watching the hen house,” said one former Senate staff member, who asked not to be named because he now works in a different job.

    Mr. Sampson did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

    Mr. Hatch finally made a personal appeal to Mr. Gonzales to drop his bid to nominate Mr. Sampson. After a four-month delay, President Bush nominated Mr. Sampson’s rival for the job last June.

    Sampson — did I mention he resigned yesterday? — is a religious conservative (a Mormon) who “told the Brigham Young University news service that he admired Mr. Bush because the president recognized that politics and religious beliefs could not be separated.” Apparently Mr. Sampson’s religious beliefs didn’t teach him anything about ethics.

    This really is huge. The “underlying crime” in the Watergate scandal was the White House’s illegal activities — such as money laundering and breaking into Dem Party offices to look for something incriminating — to ensure Nixon’s re-election in 1972. Now there is mounting evidence that the Bush White House and other Republican officials have been trying to use the entire federal criminal justice system to win elections for Republicans. I say this has Watergate beat all to hell. So far we know thatGonzales has lied to Congress about the reasons for purging the attorneys, and certainly more juicy bits will be revealed as time goes on.

    Yesterday Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said he intends to subpoena Karl Rove if he doesn’t testify to Congress voluntarily. Stay tuned.