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May 13, 2014 5:24 PM On Account of It Works

By Ed Kilgore

The MSM will presumably soon forget about Karl Rove’s incredible statement insinuating that Hillary Clinton might be suffering from some brain injury that would diminish her capacity to serve as president. But we need to remember it. Why? Because he keeps doing this sort of thing and getting away with it, as Peter Beinart points out at The Atlantic.

Karl Rove now denies reports that he said Hillary Clinton may have brain damage. “I never used that phrase,” he said on Fox News. True. What Rove said was, “Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.”
In other words, Rove didn’t say Hillary Clinton has brain damage. He hinted it, thus giving himself deniability while ensuring that the slur lingers in the public mind. Which is what he’s been doing his entire career.
In 2004, Joshua Green reported in The Atlantic that Texas insiders accused Rove of spreading allegations that his rival, Republican consultant John Weaver, had made a pass at a young man at a GOP event. Green also quoted an aide to a 1994 state Supreme Court candidate in Alabama who accused Rove of having quietly insinuated that his boss was a pedophile. Similarly, when George W. Bush ran for governor of Texas that same year, rumors swirled about the sexual orientation of incumbent Ann Richards. “No one ever traced the character assassination to Rove,” wrote Bush biographer Louis Dubose, “Yet no one doubts that Rove was behind it.” Most famously, when Bush was fighting for his life against a surging John McCain in South Carolina in 2000, fliers, emails, and push polls accused McCain of having fathered an African-American “love child” (he had actually adopted a girl from Bangladesh) and of suffering from mental instability as a result of his incarceration in Vietnam. McCain staffers, and McCain’s daughter, have accused Rove of orchestrating the rumors; Rove denies any involvement.
Why does Rove allegedly smear his opponents this way? Because it works.

Not only do Rove’s drive-bys leave debris on their victims; he always seems to escape unscathed. Even when the administration whose political strategy he crafted crashes and burns, he comes out of it wealthy and powerful as ever. Even when he appears to waste tens of millions of dollars in ineffective ads, there he is again wielding enormous sums of money, and pontificating in every medium.

So yeah, he’ll keep up the smears and the spin, on account of it works, to paraphrase a blue-collar ad for a gasoline additive back in the day.

And to go back further, Rove could well quote the infamous challenge of Boss Tweed: What are you going to do about it?

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.

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