Political Animal


July 26, 2012 4:01 PM Triumphal Return of the Boy Genius

By Ed Kilgore

Here’s a warning: if your faith in divine providence, human progress, or simple justice is dangerously shaky, you probably should not read Paul Barrett’s long Business Week feature on Karl Rove’s return from ignominy to the heights of influence in American politics:

The bespectacled 61-year-old, once known as Bush’s Brain, left the White House five years ago. His patron was sinking in the polls, and Rove himself had barely escaped criminal indictment. Now he’s back—big time, as his friend former Vice President Dick Cheney might say. In a performance that rivals Rove’s nurturing of a famously inarticulate Texas governor into a two-term president, the strategist is reengineering the practice of partisan money management in hopes of drumming Barack Obama out of the White House.

That’s just the top line summary. Barrett explains in much greater detail how Rove managed to get out of the White House just ahead of the gendarmes; side-step responsibility for the 2008 disaster; position himself shrewdly as a technocratic (if highly partisan) pundit; and then become the first money wizard to fully comprehend and then exploit the wild west environment of campaign financing consummated by Citizens United. And with Bush campaign buddy Ed Gillespie, Rove set about creating a state-of-the-art advertising machine appropriate to the new era:

As they began planning how to make Obama a one-term president, Rove and Gillespie saw most Republican outside organizations as either one-shot affairs, like the Swift Boaters, or preachers to the base that pushed candidates to the extreme right. The anti-tax Club for Growth fit in the latter category. Some wealthy political benefactors had their own groups, Rove notes, most of which were run by a single strategist who siphoned off enormous fees for as long as the sponsor would tolerate it.
Rove pitched his proposed startup as a more professional alternative, one built to have impact in 2010 but endure long beyond. “The business model of a consultant-driven, vendor-directed entity that hired itself increasingly lacked credibility with donors and was unsustainable,” Rove explains. Among those who were convinced and made big contributions: Richard Baxter Gilliam, a Virginia coal mogul; Houston homebuilder Bob Perry; and Harold Clark Simmons, a Dallas industrialist.

In effect, Rove told big donors he’d give them the opportunity to contribute to a large, powerful and viciously partisan outfit determined to drive Obama from the White House, but also one that wouldn’t waste resources on intra-party factional fights or siphon money off to ad-makers. It was the perfect model for 2010 and then 2012.

The grand irony, of course, is that Rove is thriving at the very time that the entire Republican Party has decided to write off W.’s administration as a heretical failure, precisely because of the initiatives Rove himself designed as strategic masterstrokes (the Medicare, Rx Drug benefit, No Child Left Behind, and comprehensive immigration reform, not to mention all the spending associated with swing-voter-pandering). By all rights, the movement conservative takeover of the GOP that ensued from the 2008 disaster should have been puncuated by a ritual tarring-and-feathering of Rove, and his exile to some banana republic where he could practice his dark arts without consequences at home. Yet here we are today, with Rove back on top.

It is indeed enough to make you want to howl in rage at the injustice of it all.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on July 26, 2012 4:21 PM:

    only in the Republican Party could this be

  • dalloway on July 26, 2012 4:23 PM:

    Our only chance to defeat Rove and his poison is a constitutional amendment barring corporations from being considered people. If and when there's ever a serious campaign for it, this post should be mailed to every household in America.

  • c u n d gulag on July 26, 2012 4:54 PM:

    This malignant festering pustule on the anus of humanity, has, with right-wing talk radio, and FOX "News," done more harm than any group of "Fifth Columninst's" could ever have done to America.

    Rove is as anti-American, as most people know America, as Lenin, Stalin, McCarthy, Mao, and Castro.

    Right now, he should be wondering what they're going to be serving at the Super Max prison for dinner tonight, and what they'll be serving for his "3 hot's" every day for the rest of his miserable, cancerous, life.

  • Skip on July 26, 2012 5:23 PM:

    Shit floats, Ed. But maybe if enough Americans care in November, we can pull the handle on a few one-term dreams, for another 4 years at least.

  • Peter C on July 26, 2012 5:26 PM:

    Return??? Did Rove ever leave power, really? He's always had ultra-rich funders; they never left him. He's always been in thick with Republican Congression leaders. Yes, we wrenched his hands from Administrative Branch controls, but did ANYONE EVER think he'd disappered? He deserves ignominy, but he never got it.

    He should have been prosecuted for contempt of congress for refusing to testify in the US Attorney scandal. He should have been prosecuted for his role in the Plame affair. And, Bush should have been impeached for violating FISA and the Geneva Conventions. When we refuse to prosecute, we don't really rid ourselves of them. It leaves the job unfinished. And, did our restraint buy us cooperation???? HA! Next time, we've got to throw the book at them, HARD!

  • keen sense of it on July 26, 2012 7:28 PM:

    Even veterans of foreign wars are turned off.
    His pac fundraising is a tax free enterprise cooked up by saying it is educational...meanwhile.
    Fleshy dude, he.
    Like scifi movie villain he keeps on keeping on.

  • Cha on July 27, 2012 1:34 AM:

    I clicked on to read your piece, Ed, and I see this "sign the right to work petition that Obama Fears"..what a bunch of 1984 Bullshit Garbage! I know you don't have anything to do with it but I don't see any other recourse for my outrage. Smug Ayn Rand Lying A$$hole.

  • esaud on July 27, 2012 9:02 AM:

    During the Bush years, not only did the "inside the beltway" media establishment tolerate Rove, they absolutely loved the guy.

    To me, Rove symbolizes the terrible media imbalance more than anything else - Democrats are constantly having to distance themselves from anything that at worst is slightly off, e.g. Hilary Rosen's comment on Ann Romney never having a job. Republicans are given endless leeway to troll in any sewer they want.

    One of the dirtiest political operative of all time was ensconced in the White House, and it was just business as usual to Sally Quinn and the rest of the Village.

  • royalblue_tom on July 27, 2012 10:57 AM:

    I don't think any of the initiatives were Rove's. He's who you bring in to demonize the other guy, no matter what the issue du jour is. Similarly, Luntz is who you bring in to make your issues sound and resonate better.

    I don't think either of them cares what the actual issue is (or who's issue it is), their services can be applied in either direction, for the advantage of the Republicans (in their club - see Republican infighting 101).