The sliding grinding sound you hear is Karl Rove’s fingernails digging in for a hold as he slides into irrelevance in today’s political games. For those of us who were aware of his dirty dealings before George W. Bush made it to the national stage, his fall has been long overdue. His impact on American politics and manipulating outcomes will be felt by this country for years to come. I suspect there’s much more about Karl Rove that we don’t know than we do, but what we do know is deplorable. If anyone embraced the expression “the ends justify the means” it was Karl Rove.
His ties to W and the Bush family go back decades. In the 70s, he was friends at college with Lee Atwater, who went on to lead George Senior’s presidential campaign strategy. He began working with George W in 1994 on his run for governor, and if you believe in an unholy alliance, it was at this point that one for the ages was formed. Karl Rove did not have the personal skills to draw others to him as a leader, but he could be instrumental in drawing money and attention to a candidate he supported. There is no doubt that George W Bush owes his political career to Karl Rove, but it really seemed unnecessary for W to dump him on the top of the political heap driving domestic policy as thanks for getting him there. Long after George W was gone, Karl Rove, like the Energizer Bunny, kept clicking right along. Until now…
If you were to look up the words “dirty politics” in the dictionary, Karl Rove’s picture would be there. He lives by a win at all costs credo, and cares not who he takes down in the pursuit of a victory. He had a threefold strategy that put George W Bush in the White House twice, but didn’t always succeed on the Congressional level with victories. That strategy included a defined message which was controlled, getting the conservative base out and voting, and focusing on the perceived weaknesses of the opponents. He was instrumental in the development of the idea of unlimited untracked corporate funding, which resulted in the Citizens United ruling. This will undoubtedly stand as part of his political legacy. A September 2012 article in Vanity Fair effectively described the creation of the Super PAC as a result of the ruling:
[And so, as a result of Citizens United, the super-pac was born. A new kind of political-action committee, called an “independent expenditure-only committee” in federal election code and super-pac everywhere else, super-pacs suddenly provided a medium through which unlimited sums could be raised from corporations and unions as well as wealthy individuals, and be spent with the express purpose of electing or defeating a specific candidate. As long as the new super-pacs did not coordinate their efforts with the candidates themselves—a somewhat muddy and dubious constraint—they could now pour unlimited money into the election. (Under an earlier decision, the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, the Supreme Court had already struck down certain limitations on expenditures by individuals.)]
With the rise of the Super PACs came a flood of cash in donations. The United States Supreme Court ruled that yes, Corporations are People, too, and the money flowed freely. There is an expectation that with money come results, and the results are what finally did in Karl in 2013. His Super PAC American Crossroads saw only a 1% success in the 2012 election despite spending millions of dollars. As a result of the division within the Republican Party due to abandonment of core Republican values and the arrogance of the far right Tea Party conservatives, Rove found his power circle closing in on him until both Fox News dumping him and Donald Trump criticizing him happened within the same week. He lost the ability to provide predicted outcomes, and spent more than $400 million without taking back the White House. Even a Turd Blossom, as George W Bush liked to call him, can only succeed for so long when everything does not work out as expected. Politics is a tough business and if you can’t deliver, you can’t be part of the team.
The Vanity Fair article in September 2012 detailed the relationship with Ed Gillespie, who was a partner in American Crossroads with Rove. Their Super PAC was an alternative to the Republican National Committee which had too many candidates and too few dollars. A Super PAC could pick and choose in deciding where to spend it resources, and Karl was skilled at greasing the wheels of raising money. When the political dust of the Republican primary season ended, Mitt Romney was the heir apparent, and Ed Gillespie left American Crossroads to work for Romney’s campaign.
It can only be assumed how much Ed and Karl thought the presidential election was in the bag after the money that had been spent. Everything combined brought the presidential election cycle total to more than $1 billion. Of that amount, Karl Rove had been responsible for raising and distributing $400 million. How do you not win an election after you’ve purchased it outright? You back a candidate with a horrific business background, who is wealthy and entitled, and totally removed from average Americans. Oh, and you also deal with the fact that he is high up the ranks in his less than mainstream American religious affiliation, and hope it doesn’t present a bigger problem down the road. Mitt Romney was not the ideal Republican candidate for president; he was simply the last man standing when the time came. Rove’s repeated denial election night of Obama’s victory sealed his eventual fate, even if it took a couple of months to become actualized. Donald Trump’s denial of Rove’s effectiveness in masterminding political miracles is the final insult in a career that has had its share of dubious distinctions. The Donald knows dubious distinctions.
When it’s all said and done, Karl Rove will stand as a representation of how the Republican Party lost its way. They forgot it was about the integrity of the process and the people. Without those things we are not America. Rove has now effectively lost his political clout. Let’s hope neither he nor the Republican Party get that clout back until they’re willing to use it more responsibly next time.