Karl Rove was lucky. I think everyone can agree to that.
But now it comes down to two cliches about luck:
- Is it better to be lucky than good
- You create your own luck?
Where does Rove's career fall if we look at those two clinches?
Take a step back and look at Rove's mythical status inside the Beltway. The Democrats, because he won elections, viewed Rove as the the problem, as some sort of asshole who was attempting to destroy America.
It's fairly obvious that the Democrats, or more specifically, Progressives/Liberals feared Rove more than they should have. And what they feared was that Rove was doing things (organizing) that they should have been doing. But liberals are very good at talking about what needs to be done. Often times they wish/hope/pray for someone to actually do it. And that was Rove's greatest success - he actually did the grunt work, the boring work of organizing. He was a man of action - and that's what people feared.
But Rove was never the Evil Genius behind Bush - that's Dick Cheney. Rove, rather, was on the Bush bandwagon far before Cheney. Rove's job was then and always was to get Bush elected. And he did just that.
Or did he? The 2000 election is the outlier when it comes to elections. Rove's 'victory' is thanks in part to about 100 different factors breaking his/Bush's way:
- Clinton's blowjob
- Clinton lying about a blowjob
- Al Gore being pre-2002 Al Gore
- Al Gore forgetting about the economy
- Al Gore deciding not to use Clinton to his advantage
- Janet Reno sending men to get Elian Gonzalez (easily the most overlooked factor of the 2000 election).
- Poor design of ballots in Palm Beach
- Ralph Nader
- The Electoral College
I mean the list goes on and on and on... if one of those factors, just one, goes the other way, Gore's president and Karl Rove is a nobody.
But Rove deserves credit for make the election of 2000 close in the first place. Sure he was aided by missteps by Gore and company and Bush won because, let's face it, a technicality. But the 2000 election shouldn't have been close in the first place - Al Gore, like the 1978 Red Sox or the 1962 Phillies, choked. And Rove ceased the opportunity.
The 2004 election is different. On one hand, Rove was dealt a great hand - another poor candidate from the Democrats and Bush's 'leadership' after 9/11 and the War on Terror. But at the same time, he had to deal with the Iraq War and the inability of the US military capturing bin Laden (remember, as Bush likes to claim, he is the Commander and Chief, so the failure to catch bin Laden, still to this day, lays on Bush's lap - but the Buck Never Stops Here with Bush, does it?). Yet Rove maneuvered around all this and was able to get Bush reelected, not because of gay marriage as most on the left believe, but rather by stressing the strengths of Bush's first four years: The Decider. He makes decisions and sticks to them - and you know what you're getting (we've said it over and over again, but just because one makes a decision and sticks to it does not make it the right thing to do, let alone the right decision. It's also not a great characteristic, flexibility is a much better characteristic).
What Rove was, after all, was a realist. Unlike so many in DC, Rove had a solid pulse of what the country actually felt and desired. He didn't concern himself with Hill gossip or FOXNews (which I'm sure Rove would even admit has little to no effect on the country's political outlook and beliefs) - rather he understood that what people in the US don't like about Washington, is Washington itself. This is lost on anyone who has lived in DC for two years or more. If New Yorkers are arrogant, then DCers are ignorant.
Rove, or at least his legacy, was once again lucky in that less than six months after the 2004 election, Bush reached his tipping point. Only months into his second term, the nation turned on the war, the White House, and Bush was fast becoming a lame duck - in fact Bush was probably a lame duck before the 2006 midterm elections - and achievement in its own right. Rove over played his hand after the 2004 election. By all accounts, he has had little to no say on foreign policy (and we would venture to guess he was against the War in Iraq), but in domestic policy Rove has been a failure. Bush's second term is, after two and a half years, littered with failure. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a positive to come from the second term thus far. From Social Security reform to Harriet Miers and Valerie Plume to the Justice Department, Bush's second term has a 'turn your eyes from the wreck' type feel.
As every paper and quasi-intellectual chip in their two cents on Rove's departure, something like this always seems to come up:
He [Rove] liked to recall Mark Hanna, the political operative behind the rise of President William McKinley a century earlier, who not only helped his boss win the presidency but launched a period of Republican dominance -- the sort of era Rove wanted to usher in himself.
As Rove leaves after six years as the president's closest aide, the biggest question hovering over him may be why this great crusade failed, why the Republican version of a New Deal era seems as elusive as ever.
One has to wonder what Rove was thinking with the Republican New Deal type dreams. The GOP tent has been, at least in the last 80 to 90 years, a small tent. It has never really tried to be an all encompassing and welcoming party, like the Democrats. This has been a positive for the party for the most part. Sure when things go bad, they go really bad for the GOP. But the small, tight-nit GOP of our fathers has been a fairly successful formula. By attempting to 'open' it up to everyone seemed problematic since all it was going to do, eventually, was piss off the base. And that base? The Rockefeller Republicans - wealthy, white males, who desired smaller government, with a slice of libertarian mores. Rove wanted to change this, not with "compassionate conservatives" but to some sort of hybrid Democrats with socially conservative morals. But the social conservatives pissed off Northeast GOPers to the point where the Republican party looks as if it may need to be rebuilt in the Northeast (and scandal has nearly destroyed it in the Midwest from Illinois to Ohio). Immigration reform pissed off the 'newer' social conservatives. Social security reform pissed off everyone. Where have you gone, fiscal conservative Republican? Because right now, the difference between the Democrats and "Bush" Republicans isn't your classical ideological government debate. This isn't Reagan vs. Tip O'Neil or Goldwater against LBJ's Great Society. Today's 'fight' has more to do with some sort of moral correctness - who is more right in their ideas, not actions or policies.
For such a student of history, how and why did Rove seemly forget his history of the Republican party? The New Yorker had this to say:
Rove never pushed for a policy unless he saw a group of big funders or a significant electoral constituency which it might bring to the Republican Party. Social Security privatization was supposed to attract middle-class people whose pensions had been invested in the stock market; immigration reform to attract Latinos and small-business owners; the No Child Left Behind law public-school parents; and so on. Conversely, Rove was always looking for neglected constituencies—the most important by far being frequent churchgoers—and trying to figure out what mix of government goodies and organizing techniques would bring them into the Republican fold. (He was never a real conservative, except in the liberal-hating sense, because the idea that everybody who participates in politics expects something from government was at the heart of his thinking.)
But I think the preceding paragraph probably sums up Rove best:
Whatever Rove really thinks about McKinley, it’s fair to say that his vision of the good in politics (and maybe Bush’s, too) is rooted in the late nineteenth century, when parties and bosses were at their most powerful, when the federal government was run on patronage, and when the distinction between “politics” and “policy,” and the idea that “partisanship” is bad, hadn’t occurred to anyone but a few patrician reformers. If Ronald Reagan was trying to abolish Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, Rove and Bush were trying to abolish the Progressive Era, which, in their view, had given liberal “élites”—judges, journalists, policy analysts, bureaucrats—an electorally unearned thumb on the scales of government.
It's an interesting thought and probably one that isn't too far off. No matter how you voted or what you think of Bush (then or now) there always was an agenda, to undo something and create something new or at least felt new. And as I said, Rove was attempting to enlarge the Republican tent, but the result, partly thanks to Iraq, is a party who lacks a true vision and goal.
And that's scary since now we have TWO parties who have no idea what they want to do or how to lead this country.