Monday, August 13, 2007

Rove To Spend More Time With Family

Farewell, Karl Rove: you will not be missed.

Rove, probably the only person to have attended both my mother's and my father's alma maters, was one of the most influential political minds of the last seven years. His "50 percent plus one" style practically defined modern politics. Think of the mythical red state/blue state divide, the rise of the hot-button issue that can make or break a candidate - mostly initiated by Karl Rove.

Compare Rove with James Carville, the other wildly successful political adviser of the modern era. They have similar resumes, but their styles are much, much different. Carville always had an eye towards the center - he sought to pull votes from Republican-leaning independents who would sympathize with Democrats on certain issues. As a result, Bill Clinton's victories in 1992 and 1996 were relatively convincing. Rove, by contrast, saw the country as irreparably divided on the important issues, and saw that victory would come by getting reliably Republican voters to the polls and keeping independents and Democrats home. Whereas Carville motivated with issues important to the center - health care, economy, etc. - Rove trotted out the specters of gay marriage and abortion. Think of Rove's tactics on issues important to everyone - could you imagine the Clinton/Carville team implying that Republicans are unpatriotic and sympathize with the terrorists? And when that failed, Rove borrowed the politics of personal destruction from his old mentor Lee Atwater - think Swift Boat and John McCain's black baby.

Rove's strategy was successful, but only barely so - Bush's margin of victory in 2004 was one of the smallest in history, and the 2000 election fell within the margin of error. But Rove's style has stuck, and has even been adopted by the Democrats to some extent. Rove and Rove-style tactics created a political base that expects to have red meat (red tofu for you vegetarians) thrown its way - as such, Rove's lasting legacy will be a political conversation where everyone is "playing to the base" first and thinking about consensus solutions second.

But Rove's big failure was in not realizing that, eventually, you're going to have to work with the people you just spent the last election trashing. And if you lose an election, your agenda can get into some serious trouble. Clinton was able to recover from a 1994 electoral disaster and get some meaningful policy ideas through, mainly due to the fact that he and Carville weren't that harsh towards conservatives. Not so with Bush, who had so thoroughly disgusted Democrats with his and Rove's scorched-earth politics that the 2006 Republican electoral collapse, for all intents and purposes, doomed his presidency.

What's next for Rove? He could follow in Carville's footsteps and run a prime ministerial campaign in Israel. He'll probably be involved in the 2008 race in some way, though probably not as a chief adviser to anyone. Most likely, he'll just ride the lecture circuit, write books, and try to get the conservative base excited - just like he always did.

Speaking of hot-button issues, this guy is hilariously crazy.


Mike said...

The concept of a vegetarian Republican amuses me somehow.

I often wonder if perhaps Bush really would have shown himself to be the uniter-not-divider he claimed himself to be without the influences of Rove, Cheney, and their ilk. Guess we'll never know.

Can't say I'm sorry to see Rove go. I hope the door hits him in the ass on his way out, 'cause he's been a pain in the collective national ass for years.

(Collective National Ass - band name?)

Michael said...

I agree about not missing Rove.

However, his pit-bull style of politicking is here to stay. It's main feature (attack, attack, attack) works be keeping the other side always off-balance, and on the defensive.

Unfortunately, as you correctly pointed out, it makes consensus building after the fact almost impossible.

Ben said...

Clinton's victories were more convincing? How so? Sure things were less shrill back then (I think), but he never pulled a majority of the popular vote. Bush, I'm ashamed to say, did just that in 2004.

Jeff said...

The first time Bush "won," 538 votes could have changed in Florida and he would have lost. The second time Bush won, 100,000 votes in Ohio could have switched and he would have lost. Clinton never had a razor-thin margin of victory - the only reason Bush pulled a majority of the vote in '04 is because there was no viable third-party candidate.

Fact is, Clinton hammered the crap out of his opponents both times. It doesn't matter that he never broke 50 - remember, there were three candidates in both '92 and '96. Without Perot, Clinton likely would have broken 50 both times, and by healthy margins. Conversely, a viable third-party candidate would have kept Bush from breaking the 50% barrier in '04.