alien & sedition.
Monday, August 13, 2007
  Fall of a "Genius"

So Karl Rove is resigning. Words I'd been wanting to type for some time now (though not as much as I've wanted to type, say, "Rove Frogmarched to Federal Prison; Norquist Eaten By Howler Monkeys," but it's an imperfect world, so hey). Why he's leaving isn't so clear -- though Marcy Wheeler has some theories. I can't speculate as to whether he might be in any legal jeopardy, but when Wheeler suggests that "Republicans think he's a loser," she's at least partly right. That may not, in itself, be why Rove is leaving, but it's certainly hard to imagine that many in the GOP will be shedding tears to see him go (I'll look at conservative responses to the move a little later).

Michael Tomasky has a good piece at the Guardian, arguing that Rove's twin legacies are "incompetence and duplicity." With regard to the former, Tomasky points out that, for all the "genius" talk, Rove's actual electoral record is pretty shabby. He lost in 2000 and 2006, and 2004 is not exactly the stuff of legend:
So Rove engineered only one successful presidential election. By a bare 3 million votes (or just 70,000 votes in Ohio, if you care to count it that way). Against a mediocre candidate who ran another bad campaign. For an incumbent president during wartime. Not really a feat for the ages, but okay, a win is a win.
Matt Yglesias, drawing off a new Atlantic article by Josh Green, suggests that "Rove's talk of masterminding an electoral realignment wasn't just bluster, but played an actual causal role in his thinking about the administration's political and policy choices." I think this has been pretty clear from the beginning, in fact. Generally speaking, as much as we (righfully) demonize Rove as the catalyst of so much of the Bush administration's mendacity and cynicism, it's important to keep a clear analytical picture of the role he played within the GOP coalition. He was the strategist who aimed to create a lasting Republican majority with a combination of "big-government conservatism" and a broadened appeal to minority voters.

And that combination, I think, has a lot to do with why Rove is marginalized these days. Big-government conservatism has become the bete noir of the establishment right, while the minority-outreach strategy -- never really much more than a fantasy given the political realities of our era -- foundered on the twin shoals of Katrina and anti-Latino nativism. Wheeler notes the irony of this last point:
I said there was one exception to the rule that Rove simply "creates his own reality" and makes policy promises without delivering on those promises. The exception was supposed to be Latino voters. That is, Rove really did want to court the Latino vote, rather than just claiming Republicans had Latino support. The reason is obvious: if Republicans don't get Latino voters, they're sunk.

Of course, this conflicts (and has, in noticeable ways) with the nativist instincts of the base of the Republican party. About the only thing, at this point, that could mobilize the Republican base (and save some Congressional seats, if not the White House) is to give in to these nativist instincts, and start attacking brown people with gusto. But I doubt Rove would stick around for that--he knows the numbers too well. So it's possible that Rove is out so the Republicans can turn into the full-fledged racist party they've always been.
But then, that's the broader historical irony surrounding Karl Rove's turn at the wheels of power. He failed because he was a bit stupid, and because he was so dishonest, and because he was so easy to dislike. But mainly he failed because he was simply unable to overcome the challenges he correctly identified as needing to be overcome. There's a very good case to be made that Rove's basic strategic instincts were correct. The Republican party can't remain the party of white Christians and survive. And it must come to terms with the fact that the majority of Americans do expect the government to provide effective services and to act on behalf of the common good.

Rove was no humanitarian; he was a hack who happened to notice the major structural problems facing the Republican coalition. Thanks in large part to the incompetence of his boss and the stubbornness of his party, those problems loom at least as large today as they did in 1999. Karl Rove, it seems, simply wasn't possessed of the genius to find the answers.

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