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Cottle writes: "What in the hell was Karl Rove thinking? This has been the question on the minds of many political observers since the Republican super-strategist opened up a nasty new front in the ongoing civil war between his party's purists and its pragmatists."

Karl Rove worked on Mitt Romney's campaign strategy. (photo: Fred Prouser/Reuters)
Karl Rove worked on Mitt Romney's campaign strategy. (photo: Fred Prouser/Reuters)


Karl Rove's War

By Michelle Cottle, The Daily Beast

25 February 13

 

By picking a fight with conservatives, did the Republican Machiavelli just ruin his career-or save it?

he storm broke February 6, when Rove, via the front page of The New York Times, debuted his newest venture, the Conservative Victory Project: an aggressive battle plan for the midterms that involves his super PAC, American Crossroads, intervening in the GOP primaries to try to ensure that the strongest, most electable candidates-not necessarily the most ideologically pristine ones-prevail.

The plan itself seems sound. The widespread sense among Republicans is that the party blew an opportunity to retake the Senate last year as a result of several not-ready-for-primetime candidates-Todd "legitimate rape" Akin being the most notable-winning primaries. "We messed up five absolutely winnable races," asserts former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer (pointing to Indiana, Delaware, Nevada, Missouri, and Colorado). Staunch social conservative Ralph Reed, who keeps one foot in the GOP's purist camp and one foot in its pragmatic camp, is also quick to acknowledge the need for better quality control: "It does the pro-family cause no good to have flawed candidates with serious candidate performance issues that end up making our issues look, mistakenly in my view, like they are a vulnerability."

Unsurprisingly, however, the purist wing takes exception to all the finger pointing in its direction. And following the unveiling of Rove's project, it went ballistic. Tea Party types, as well as conservative radio hosts like Mark Levin and Steve Deace, lined up to take their swings at Rove for plotting to marginalize conservatives and, as a seriously miffed Deace told me, "rubbing our noses in it publicly." In The New York fricking Times, no less! "There will be no fixing this," asserted Deace. "The civil war has been brewing in this party" for a couple of years now, he said, and people are operating with "short fuses." "What Karl is providing is a face to our frustration."

As the Karl-versus-conservatives story line took hold, Rove launched a Fox News apology tour, hopping from show to show, explaining to Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity and Chris Wallace how his plan had been misconstrued, how he had nothing against hard-core conservatives, and how Crossroads had, in fact, sunk millions into Tea Party candidates the last go-round. Soft and pale, sheared of his usual swagger, Rove was the very picture of a man under siege.

Many Republicans, meanwhile, clucked their tongues and marveled at why Rove had chosen to kick the hornet's nest. As some strategists noted (mostly sotto voce), there are things in politics that you sometimes have to do but that you simply do not talk about. Mucking around in primaries is one of those things. Don't announce it, just do it-and for God's sake tread lightly, taking great care to work with local leaders and play nice with everyone. "It's tricky because any time an outside group goes into a state, their actions can boomerang, and by virtue of their targeting the [anti-establishment] candidate, that candidate can prevail," says Fleischer. "So it has to be done with delicacy. It has to be done smart. It has to be done in conjunction with state officials, otherwise it is doomed to fail." By so indelicately trumpeting his plans, Rove seemed to violate this basic precept. With just a bit more tact, political watchers note, he could have avoided this whole nasty fight.

But what if, for Rove, the fight was key to the strategy?

Arguably no Republican had a deeper post-election hole to climb out of than Rove. His personal brand was badly damaged by his triumphal forecasts last cycle, including an embarrassing election night that found him on Fox News disputing the network's decision to call the race for President Obama. More materially, American Crossroads and its sister organization, Crossroads GPS, failed to deliver. Big time. (Not only did Mitt Romney lose, so did six of the eight Senate horses they backed.) When the blame game began, Rove emerged as a chief whipping boy in media accounts and among apoplectic donors (prompting him to host a post-game damage-control conference call with his top money men and women). Even Donald Trump took a turn, tweeting, "Congrats to @KarlRove on blowing $400 million [this] cycle."

The recriminations game can be particularly brutal among donors, says a former Romney adviser. "Oftentimes donors elevate the guru consultant class to a higher level than they should," he observes. "They give too much credit for being the ultimate reason for why candidates win and too much blame for being the reason they lose."

Post-election, big Republican donors have been demanding answers as a condition of future support for various groups-and players in the money game report that there has been barking, profanity, and not-so-veiled threats. "I do think you had a lot of donors saying, 'You have to demonstrate you learned the lessons of the last campaign,'" says the Romney adviser. "Then they want to see measurable results toward that end. 'What are you doing to make sure you're not spending money the same old way?' "

Rove's donors were no exception to this trend, meaning he needed to do something to unruffle their feathers. Fast. "This is all about the donors," says another veteran strategist. And what better way to make a statement to donors than to formulate a brand-new strategy and splash it across the front page of the paper of record? Message: lessons learned. Course correction set. "This is a follow-the-shiny-ball strategy," the strategist argues. "It's smart to get donors focused on the future, focused on a new mission right away as opposed to waiting."

As for the backlash among purists, some political watchers assume this too is all part of the larger plan. How better to reassure anxious donors that their distaste for Akin-like candidates is shared than to poke a stick in the eye of the party's anti-establishment forces-and, for good measure, to do so in the newspaper that symbolizes all that hard-core conservatives despise? Rove isn't an idiot, Republicans point out. He may have simply calculated that it was worth the short-term beating in order to show his donors some love, and thus live to fight another day.

Most establishment Republicans seem confident that this skirmish will peter out soon enough. "While the rhetoric may be heated right now, it will calm down," insists Georgette Mosbacher, a finance co-chair of the Republican National Committee. The anti-establishment folks, of course, vehemently disagree. "The genie is out of the bottle," says Deace. "This thing will run its course. One side will win, and one side will lose."

Though himself hardly a font of anti-establishment sentiment, Ari Fleischer happens to agree. "The first shot hasn't even been fired yet," he says, asserting that the piece in the Times was just "the announcement of the first shot." Far from blowing over, he predicts, this fight "will accelerate the first time that ads are shown against a Tea Party candidate on behalf of another candidate."

Deace and his team have, in fact, vowed to make Rove pay for his insults. "Anybody that he supports is toast," says Deace. "Anybody Rove is attached to will get a scarlet letter. At this point a candidate would be better off getting Barack Obama's endorsement than Karl Rove's."

Already the Iowa Senate race is shaping up to be an early test of this grudge match. In the Times piece announcing the Conservative Victory Project, Rove's colleague Steve Law, president of American Crossroads, took specific aim at Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), fretting that the mouthy conservative has a "Todd Akin problem" and warning that his history of intemperate statements would be "hung around his neck." King responded by taking up the purists' banner and framing his possible Senate run as a matter of principle: "If I would back up in front of Karl Rove's initiative, that would just empower him, and he would go on state after state, candidate after candidate."

Rove, meanwhile, is racing full speed ahead on all fronts. On February 15, he trekked up to Capitol Hill to deliver a lesson on messaging to House Republican leaders. American Crossroads came out swinging early-and hard-in the Kentucky Senate race, bashing actress Ashley Judd for even thinking about challenging Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. (Beyond the leader's obvious VIP status, there is a personal element to this: Crossroads' Law once served as McConnell's chief of staff.) And Rove just keeps on talking about the Conservative Victory Project, as media outlets devote vastly more ink and airtime to the subject than it could have garnered without the attendant controversy.

Of course, Rove isn't the only one poised to benefit from this spectacle. Even as he pokes purists in an apparent effort to jumpstart his 2014 money machine, the purists are looking to fill their coffers by poking back. "They need their shiny ball strategy too," observes the veteran strategist. "Everybody is trying to raise money." And just like Rove, these groups play rough-at times a little too rough. Last week the Tea Party Patriots had to issue an apology for a help-us-fight-Karl-Rove fundraising plea that included a Photoshopped image of their target dressed as an SS officer. (An outside vendor took responsibility for the pic.)

You know it's been a rough run when members of your own party start comparing you with Nazis. But don't feel too sorry for Karl-or for those at war with him. As long as the dollars keep flowing in, both sides can walk away from this skirmish feeling like winners.


 

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+23 # grouchy 2013-02-25 21:17
Oh, it may be temporary, but what fun to watch for a while! :-)
 
 
0 # NanFan 2013-02-27 07:39
This is a calculated pure Rovian power move! He never, ever does anything without a self-serving hidden agenda. And it's a good bet that we'll find out what his true purpose is in the end, and it won't be to our benefit in ANY way, but it will be to his...or...wish ful thinking...mayb e he just shot himself in the foot! :>)

N.
 
 
+23 # Regina 2013-02-25 22:16
"Divide et impera" -- "Divide and conquer." Maybe this split on the ultra-extremist "right" will enable progressives to pull themselves together and keep winning. Opportunity may be knocking.
 
 
+9 # Gogojoe 2013-02-26 06:42
I would hope so Regina but the Democrats usually never miss a chance to blow an opportunity to self destruct either.
Remember at the beginning of Obama's 1st term they held majorities in both the House & Senate. What did they do?
Blew every opportuniuty to get something accomplished.
Why? Greedy politicians trying to "divvy-up the jackpot"!

Another problem (?) is that they are very inclusive, unlike the Rs.
They have one issue voters from all spectrums that more times than not cannot agree on anything.

In a perfect world Regina, you would be spot on. Sadly in American politics it's greed, greed, and hubris that seem to lead.

"Party above Country" is the sad reality.
 
 
+8 # motamanx 2013-02-25 22:29
Why are people with money supplying Rove with even more money? Didn't he lose a bundle for them last time out?
 
 
+5 # flippancy 2013-02-26 08:35
Quoting motamanx:
Why are people with money supplying Rove with even more money? Didn't he lose a bundle for them last time out?


Because they can see that the people he's fighting will destroy the party they own.
 
 
+9 # Jim Rocket 2013-02-26 08:47
They've got so much money that it doesn't matter to them.
 
 
+1 # Pickwicky 2013-02-26 12:21
Oh, Jim, baby--the more ya got, the more ya care.
 
 
+3 # Pickwicky 2013-02-26 12:19
Really--why does anyone listen to Karl Rove. Didn't Turd Blossom advise our not so dearly beloved "W"? Wot the 'ell?
 
 
+24 # X Dane 2013-02-25 22:36
It sounds like a civil war in the republican party is heating up. May they devour each other.
 
 
+6 # dick 2013-02-26 01:43
Since primaries begin earlier & earlier, this should get interesting pretty soon. Perhaps Rove mainly meant to create the fear of being primaried in some of the guys currently dragging down the Party.
 
 
+25 # Vegan_Girl 2013-02-26 03:23
So sad. To think of all that money those donors spent on the election. Maybe it could have been cheaper to pay taxes.... Just an idea.

Based on its record and ideology, the GOP should be a tiny fringe party on the far right. And extreme right wingers should not get away with calling themselves conservatives. No, they aren't.

Maybe one day I will see the GOP be as irrelevant as it deserves to be. Until then, we must settle for incremental changes (sometimes even in the right direction) and the occasional schadenfreud over news like this.
 
 
+3 # lobdillj 2013-02-26 04:08
And we thought Lee Atwater was in the gutter!
 
 
+13 # MainStreetMentor 2013-02-26 04:59
Really ... I do not give a damn about Karl Rove's career one way or the other. It wouldn't botter me one iota to never again see that name in print again.
 
 
+8 # Floridatexan 2013-02-26 05:58
Yeah, I'm trying really hard not to feel sorry for Rove. He should be in leg irons, not writing for the Times or polishing the party image. And what happened to Mike Connell? Strategist? He's nothing more than a con man.
 
 
+5 # JSRaleigh 2013-02-26 06:10
"A plague on both your houses"
 
 
+9 # Smokey 2013-02-26 06:20
Looks like an attempt at a party purge. It happens, sometimes, on the extreme right. Some extremists are too extreme for their fellow extremists.
 
 
+9 # fredboy 2013-02-26 06:26
What amazes me is how Americans, and now Republicans, allow a wimp like Rove to call the shots. And even start fake wars, both those that cost trillions and kill hundreds of thousands of souls and those that disunite a party with no soul at all.

The most extensive damage Rove and his ilk cause is the destruction of faith. Many of us no longer believe that karma or any natural presence of justice exist. I pray we are wrong. I am sure good people trapped in Nazi Germany felt the same way. Fortunately, in that case karma delivered and eradicated the evil.
 
 
+4 # jon 2013-02-26 07:00
"'You have to demonstrate you learned the lessons of the last campaign,'" says the Romney adviser. "Then they want to see measurable results toward that end. 'What are you doing to make sure you're not spending money the same old way?'"

There is the problem. As long as the party platform remains the same oligarchy support system, it makes no difference what electorate manipulation devices or techniques are devised by a spin doctor.

The manipulable, old, mean-spirited to the point of voting against their own best interests white guys are being replaced by voters who can think past the propaganda.
 
 
+21 # ericlane 2013-02-26 07:22
Do you remember the Karl Rove meltdown on Fox? When he almost had a heart attack about Fox news declaring an Obama victory in Ohio? (I think it was Ohio). You know what ran through my mind? The first thing I thought was Karl Rove could not believe Ohio went to Obama because Republican operatives owned the electronic ballot boxes. Rove's behaviour makes no sense unless you decipher his actions in this context. The threat of paperless, electronic voting machines is that they can be manipulated without any oversight or coroboration. This is why Karl Rove was so upset. He thought he had bought and paid for a Romney presidency. The turnout must have been so in favor of Obama that even the machines couldn't be manipulated enough to deliver a Republican victory. My take. Nothing else makes sense.
 
 
+8 # jon 2013-02-26 07:53
Quoting ericlane:
Do you remember the Karl Rove meltdown on Fox? When he almost had a heart attack about Fox news declaring an Obama victory in Ohio? (I think it was Ohio). You know what ran through my mind? The first thing I thought was Karl Rove could not believe Ohio went to Obama because Republican operatives owned the electronic ballot boxes. Rove's behaviour makes no sense unless you decipher his actions in this context. The threat of paperless, electronic voting machines is that they can be manipulated without any oversight or coroboration. This is why Karl Rove was so upset. He thought he had bought and paid for a Romney presidency. The turnout must have been so in favor of Obama that even the machines couldn't be manipulated enough to deliver a Republican victory. My take. Nothing else makes sense.



Rove was not alone. I too expected a large scale election theft based on the electronic ballot boxes.

I made predictions to friends to expect a banana republic style fraud end result - what a relief to be wrong!

There is nothing more urgent than insuring the legal, accountable, fairness of elections.
 
 
+11 # flippancy 2013-02-26 08:32
That's why Ireland got rid of them and most democracies don't allow them.

The hacker(s) known as Anonymous claimed that they hacked the machines and removed the Rove virus that was supposed to do what it did in 2004 when they stole that election.
 
 
+4 # bmiluski 2013-02-26 11:01
Except that our hackers were better than their hackers.
 
 
0 # flippancy 2013-02-26 20:58
Quoting bmiluski:
Except that our hackers were better than their hackers.


In the TV show Scandal, the Republican president was elected through the theft of votes on the Ohio machines. Shades of 2004. The big difference is that he didn't know about it and would be appalled if he did. The difference between him and Bush is that he's a decent guy trying to do the right thing for the country and not an incompetent twit like the former moron-in-chief.


Of course there are no actual Republicans like that, but it is a fictional TV show. The last Republican like that may have been Ford, maybe Eisenhower?
 
 
0 # goddessmother 2013-03-10 22:46
Quoting ericlane:
Do you remember the Karl Rove meltdown on Fox? When he almost had a heart attack about Fox news declaring an Obama victory in Ohio? (I think it was Ohio). You know what ran through my mind? The first thing I thought was Karl Rove could not believe Ohio went to Obama because Republican operatives owned the electronic ballot boxes. Rove's behaviour makes no sense unless you decipher his actions in this context. The threat of paperless, electronic voting machines is that they can be manipulated without any oversight or coroboration. This is why Karl Rove was so upset. He thought he had bought and paid for a Romney presidency. The turnout must have been so in favor of Obama that even the machines couldn't be manipulated enough to deliver a Republican victory. My take. Nothing else makes sense.

Here is all about when Anonymous hactivists blocked Karl Rove's hackers. http://www.opposingviews.com/i/politics/2012-election/did-hacker-group-anonymous-stop-karl-rove-hijacking-election
 
 
+10 # rockieball 2013-02-26 07:33
Mr. Rove think that because of his behind the scenes shenanigans that lead to the Idiot getting appointed by the Supreme Court that he and he along is the king maker. That if the whole of the party had listened to him the Republicans would hold every seat in every area of politics and it would be a perfect one corporate party allowing the continued rape of the country. He and he alone created Bush II. He cannot comprehend people just not listening to or following him. Instead he began the slide of the Corporate party to the far extreme that any person with any intelligence would see through his smoke and mirrors.
 
 
+4 # reiverpacific 2013-02-26 09:26
Is it just a teeny li'l-ol' piece of possible that the Rethugs, of whatever degree of antediluvian persuasion they might cleave to, still canna see that their various half-baked REGRESSIVE theorems are appealing to fewer and fewer Americans, especially in the women, youth, black and Latino-a and native peoples demographic, which is growing exponentially as their angry ol' white guy base shrinks and chooses to remain wantonly ignorant like their leaders?
This in spite of all the huge sums flung at the owner-media and especially "Fix" to try and make their brands stick. (I know, I know, the Obama crowd raise a disgusting amount of mass-bribery funds too).
It's rather delicious to watch them all squirm at their own confused bellicosity and blowing foul-smelling smoke up each other's kilts, devouring each other, particularly as this is the same malady that what passes for a left in the US has long suffered from from the "I'm more lefty than you" crowd to the more conformist blue-dogs.
Trouble is, none of it gets anything significant done for those who really need help starting with jobs, universal health care and infrastructure rebuilding.
And it keeps the money diverted from where it should be, flowing into the bloated pockets of the big owner-media, passed around by those omnipresent termites, lobbyists ("burrowers") and their shills in the government.
As the old Scottish song goes, "Such a parcel o' rogues in a nation".
 
 
0 # goddessmother 2013-03-10 22:33
Why does everyone ignore the fact that Anonymous hactivists blocked Rove's hack on the voter tallying machines the night of the election? Everyone is acting like it was a mystery why Rove was so certain that his candidates were going to win. I don't like the way media erases events as if they never happened.
 
 
0 # goddessmother 2013-03-10 22:35
The real mystery is why Rove hasn't been arrested yet?
 

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