Karl Rove: Behind The Myth

The blogosphere is afire with the news that Karl Rove will be departing the White House in August.

If one actually understands what Karl Rove’s position within the White House actually is, that’s not a big surprise. For all the talk about how Rove was “Bush’s brain” and some evil Svengali-like character, the truth (as always) is far more prosaic: Karl Rove’s skills were in retail-level politics. What Rove did was brand a political candidate and sell him to the masses, and he was very good at what he did. I suspect that the reason why Rove is leaving is because there are no more elections to win — Rove won three elections and lost one, and that’s that.

Far from being a policy mastermind, Rove’s skills have always been in analyzing politics. His brand of retail-level political focusing was extremely successful. His policies have not — the White House mismanaged the steel tariffs, Harriet Miers, the Dubai Ports Deal, and other matters of policy that should have been handled with more finesse (or in the case of Miers was an absolutely idiotic move to begin with). Something tells me that many of those were moves backed by Rove, and that while Rove is a political genius when it comes to elections, his policy influence in the White House has been far less than expected.

Rand Simberg has an excellent piece taking apart the “divisive” meme surrounding Rove:

But no, in the minds of the MSM, it is George Bush who is the “divider,” not the Democrats and the left who have been vilifying him for over six years now as an election stealer, a warmonger, a chimpanzee, a torturer, a war criminal–despite his acquiescing to (in partnership with Ted Kennedy) much of the liberal political agenda, with an expansion of Medicare, federal control over education, a new amnesty for illegal immigrants, and a general expansion of government on almost all fronts. All of which was pushed by the evil mastermind, Karl Rove.

And the notion that it was Rove’s “divisive” campaign tactics that were the cause of the Republican loss of the Congress last year is an analysis so simplistic (and wrong) that it would be embarrassing to see it in a college newspaper, let alone the new crown jewel of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

I think that the real reason why Rove’s magic didn’t work in the last election is precisely the reason that Simberg gives: Rove is not, nor has he ever been, a conservative ideologue or a firebrand. He’s been fine with triangulation and co-opting left-wing messages: it’s how Bush got elected in 2000 (and only narrowly). That doesn’t work when the White House has put itself far to the left of the Republican base on key issues and the press and chattering classes have had 6 years of hateful attacks under their belt. However, the real secret is that the party in power usually loses off-year elections regardless, and all the talk about how there was a massive Democratic sweep and the country is moving left isn’t the case — 2006 was a bloodbath for the Republicans, but 6th-year elections usually are. Rove undoubtedly read the tea leaves wrong, but it may not have made much of a difference.

Rove has become an Emmanuel Goldstein to the left, even though most people have no idea what he did or how he did it — but for those who have an interest in how American elections are won, Rove’s tactics and methodologies are likely to far outlast his notoriety.

5 thoughts on “Karl Rove: Behind The Myth

  1. Rove’s legacy now appears closer to Newt Gingrich’s perception. Rove had no problem polarizing the country to get his man elected with 50% of the vote plus one, and then governing as if anybody outside of that base is, at best, completely irrelevant and, at worst, a sworn enemy who needs to be taken apart limb by limb. This got Bush elected twice, but when the ferocious rhetoric used to get him elected twice backfired under the weight of incompetence and corruption, the house of cards came tumbling down. There is no margin for error when one wins the way Rove does, so when error upon error upon error is made, the consequences tend to be that much more seismic. The otherwise hapless Democratic Party of 2007 is poised to control government for the foreseeable future because of Karl Rove. His presence will definitely be missed!

  2. The greatest trick Karl Rove ever pulled off was in convincing the chattering class of his political and omnipotent genius, of which Mark’s posting above is just another glittering jewel in the crown of colossal ignorance. In the simplistic worldview of today’s poorly educated and misinformed, their frustration and unhappiness must be the fault of SOMEONE, and so what better device to complete the liberal narrative than to portray this or that political consultant as some sort of monstrous Svengali. What drama!! What a story!! The Truth is out!! Everything is explained!! Why, it’s all Karl Rove’s fault!

    Red Riding Hood had her Big Bad Wolf, and so the Democrats have had their big, bad Karl Rove. How original! But, of course in either case, it’s still just a fairy tale no matter how willing people are to believe it. Why examine your own failure and defeat when you can just play the victim of some (gasp!) evil genius. Pathetic.

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