Karl Rove has announced he is stepping down from the White House staff. When he goes, the President will lose one of his ablest advisors, and the Republican Party its finest political strategist.
In Texas, over the course of two decades, Rove engineered a series of victories that took the Republican Party from the hopeless underdogs to the unquestioned masters of the Lone Star State. Even in 2006, when the national Republican Party was suffering defeats from East to West coasts, the Republican majority in Texas remained rock solid.
Rove easily transitioned from the direct-mail politics of the 20th century into the internet-driven politics of the 21st century. In the wake of the 2000 election, he designed a 72 hour program that gives the Republican Party the edge in any close election. But Rove was more than a political strategist.
Unlike many of his contemporaries or predecessors in both parties, Rove was also a master of policy. Few political strategists have understood the connection between tthe two more than Karl Rove, and this was perhaps his greatest strength as well as the quality that most irritiated his critics on the right and the left.
This would seem to be a good place to note that despite irrational opposition from right-wing talk radio hosts, Rove attempted to undo the damage done by several decades of neglect through a concerted outreach effort to minorities.
While the gains have been slow, the Republican Party has made its voice heard in areas of America where it was silent for too long. It may be some time before these efforts realize their full potential, but when they do, no man will deserve more credit than Karl Rove.
In his victory speech the day after Election Day in 2004, President Bush referred to Karl Rove as the “architect.” It could not be more true. In 2000 and 2004, by any reasonable standard, George W. Bush should have lost, and lost big. The country was at peace in 2000, and the American people were still experiencing the false euphoria of the 1990’s economy.
While the scandal-ridden Democratic Bill Clinton had been impeached, the country had shown no inclination to punish Democrats for his faults in 1998. In spite of all this, George W. Bush led in the polls throughout most of the campaign and won a 30 state victory.
In 2004, again, by any objective measure, President Bush should have lost re-election. The economy was recovering, but was by no means strong. Employment growth throughout the summer had been weak. The war in Iraq, already in its second year, was already starting to become a drag on the President’s political fortunes.
Yet, whether it was his preemptive attack on the Democratic nominee in the spring, or the highly effective Republican Convention, Karl Rove ran a disciplined campaign that made George W. Bush the first candidate to win a majority of the popular vote in 16 years. While the President lost many Northern and Midwestern states by painfully small margins, he won the West and South by margins that seem to put them out of play for a long time to come.
Democrats and similarly obsessed conservative critics will point to 2006 as a blemish on his otherwise sterling record. This is extremely unfair. At the beginning of the 2006 fall campaign, the polls showed the parties running relatively even as the Democrats foolishly opposed the Military Commissions Act.
The wheels came off the Republican wagon in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal and the October offensive by insurgents in Iraq. It had very little if anything to do with any mistakes by Karl Rove. Each of the Republican Senate incumbents who lost did so because of either their own gaffes or guilt by association with corrupt Washington/local politicians.
Indeed, one could argue that the relatively limited nature of Republican losses, given the terrible conditions that the party faced in the fall of 2006, was due in no small part to the highly efficient 72 hour program that Rove created.
My only hope is that Karl Rove will emulate one more time the man who he has often cited a role model – Mark Hanna, the man who ran both of President McKinley’s campaigns. If a Republican wins the White House in 2008, it is conceivable that he might select one of the Lone Star State’s Senators for the Supreme Court or a Cabinet position. I could think of no one who would deserve that vacant seat more than Karl Rove.
And so, for three national victories, I can think of no better way to end than by saying:
Thanks Karl, and good luck!