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The other day, Scott mentioned the absurd yet pervasive idea that Karl Rove is a political supergenius. Particularly bizarre to me is the idea that he played an important role in moving Texas from the Democrats to the Republicans. See this Washington Post piece:

Rove’s reputation for seeing the Next Big Thing in politics goes back to the late 1970s, when he arrived in Texas to set up a direct-mail operation. At the time, Republicans held only one statewide elected office; when he left in 2001, Republicans were in all 29 of them — and most of those officials had at one time or another been Rove’s clients.’

Yeah, wow, hard to see how Texas would have switched to the Republicans if it wasn’t for Rove’s direct-mail operation. Certainly the Republicans redefining themselves as the party of the white man after 1964 had nothing to do with it at all….

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  • The Great Consultant theory of political change

    With Francis Spufford in the Tolstoy role? Can’t really think of anyone else.

  • DrDick

    I think Manju has been advising the Post writers.

  • Rove wasn’t an evil genius in 2000, nor in 2004, but that doesn’t mean he’s been a complete snake oil salesmen either. He was early on the “GOP must appeal to Hispanics” idea, and it (sadly) isn’t hard to imagine a Republican win in 2016 or 2020, with plenty of credit going to him for figuring out how to appeal beyond angry white men.

    Oh, and there’s the fact that while he blew however many hundreds of millions this year, there will be even more in the elections to come:

    “As Rove sees it, the campaign proved that American Crossroads and its more secretive issue-advocacy arm, Crossroads GPS — which allows donors to remain anonymous — are here to stay.

    Rove is pondering new missions for Crossroads to address weaknesses laid bare by the GOP’s back-to-back failures to win the White House and the fact that the party fell short when expected to win back the Senate.

    Where until now it battled only in general elections and against Democrats, Crossroads is considering whether to start picking sides in Republican primaries. The idea would be to boost the candidate it deems most electable and avoid nominating the kind of flawed and extreme ones who cost the party what should otherwise have been easy Senate wins in Florida, Missouri and Indiana.”

    All those billionaire sugar daddies may be upset, but they aren’t about to get any less crazy or rich; and 2012 will soon be just another data point on the rising graph of money spent per election. Even if Rove is a conman, he’s a good enough one to know the value of a long con versus a short one. He’ll be back, and in races up and down the ballot where the margins are close, he and his could have real effects.

    • Stan Gable

      He was early on the “GOP must appeal to Hispanics” idea, and it (sadly) isn’t hard to imagine a Republican win in 2016 or 2020, with plenty of credit going to him for figuring out how to appeal beyond angry white men.

      So he’s figured out that they need to go from point A to point B, along with half a million other people. It doesn’t appear to me that he has any idea of how to get there, so I’m not sure what value he brings as a strategist – someone will figure it out but it’s not going to be him. He’s had a couple cracks at it now and failed miserably.

      • Warren Terra

        Yup. The changing demographics were inescapable – surely, especially so to a guy living in Texas. To be fair, Rove does stand out among modern Republicans for trying to respond to those demographics, but even so his response buys into the idea that relations with the Latino community are all about La Migra, and ignore the broader issue of respect – and respect for minorities generally.

      • Bruce Baugh

        Yeah, and in the meantime he’s been just fine with running campaigns very heavy on the racism, as with McCain’s adopted child as a target. So if his thoughts ever went beyond “yeah, that’d be nice, but not at the cost of changing anything I actually do”, I see no sign of it.

    • mch

      I agree. We underestimate Rove (and his compatriots) at our smug peril.

      To succeed, you don’t have to be all that smart — just savvy enough (and Rove is plenty savvy) — when you have tons of money and access to centers of power and no moral compass beyond “ego.”

    • spencer

      I have to dispute the idea that Florida was ever going to be an “easy” Senate pickup for the Republicans. Bill Nelson may be uninspiring and frustrating (to us Democrats) in his tendency to seek out middle ground with Republicans and conservatives, but that approach works here, mainly because it makes it impossible for people like Connie Mack IV to paint him as being “totally out of touch with Florida values.”

      I remember when Nelson ran for Governor in 1990; in the primaries, every single one of his commercials seemed to start out with “I’m Bill Nelson, and I support a woman’s right to choose.” He got smoked by Lawton Chiles and then spent the next 22 years moving slowly rightward.

      • John

        Is Bill Nelson really that frustrating? I’m not from Florida, and haven’t paid close attention to him, but I can’t remember any important initiatives during the 111th Congress where he opposed the Administration, or, really, him making any trouble at all. He’s obviously not a liberal hero, but he seems to be a fairly reliable vote for the Democratic agenda.

        • spencer

          He’s been quiet lately, yes. I think my frustration with him is a holdover from the Bush years, where he seemed to feel the need to play bipartisan more frequently. That, and the fact that I do remember how liberal he was back in the day.

          So yeah, could just be in my head. I’m not going to discount that possibility.

        • rea

          It’s the other Senator Nelson (D-NE), now gone, that was the DINO.

  • Scott Lemieux

    Yeah, amazing how this also happened in pretty much every other southern state too. Must have been osmosis.

  • Mike

    And let’s not forget that Alabama judge race in 1994, when Rove used the brilliant and original strategem of spreading rumors that his client’s opponent was a pedophile. As they say during March Madness, he just wanted it more! Gotta respect.

    • John

      He turned his opponents strength (not being a pedophile) into a weakness (maybe being a pedophile). Classic Rove.

      • jalrin

        It was actually worse. Rove picked that particular rumor because the opponent in question was highly regarded for having been the author of rather substantial improvements in the Alabama Juvenile Justice system. There is a reason you had to use Rove’s name as a curse when even when I attended law school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama even a decade after this outrage.

  • Stag Party Palin

    I thought this post was going to be about Notre Dame.

  • Lev

    Rove’s not worth all that much when it comes to elections–indeed, his work from 2000 on (at least) has uniformly underperformed expectations. But he is a rather brilliant publicist, selling a mediocre upper-class boor as an inspirational leader who had the common touch. The effort he put into selling Bush vastly outstripped the effort Bush put into doing the job he was elected to do. He’s a clever amoral flack who somehow convinced people to give him huge budgets to run campaigns, an unwise decision that I dearly hope will be repeated again and again. Every dollar given to Rove is one not going to something that could be more dangerous.

    • Anonymous

      Proceed, Mr. Rove.

    • NonyNony

      But he is a rather brilliant publicist, selling a mediocre upper-class boor as an inspirational leader who had the common touch.

      Bullshit. People on the left want to give the win to Rove because W was such an obvious fool.

      But W was a natural campaigner. He was an animal for the election spotlight. His favorite thing in the world was to be on the campaign trail. And he hated to lose, so he pushed himself hard to win.

      Rove is a parasite. W had natural talent and Rove was able to worm his way in to get credit for it when people started casting around for an explanation for how W could be such a brilliant campaigner and yet so lousy at everything else. There’s no explanation needed – he liked campaigning, so he put effort into it. He hated governing, so he put no effort into it. I see it in students all of the time – especially students from a privileged background, where they know that they don’t need to put effort in because their dad already has a job lined up for them when they graduate.

      Rove has been an awesome self promoter I’ll give you that one. But his status as a political guru far outstrips his actual accomplishments.

      • witless chum

        Rove wasn’t the only one who managed Bush, either. Karen Hughes was a huge influence there, too.

        Compared to Romney, especially, Bush was a very good campaigner.

        • John

          I think this is mostly right – Bush’s own natural talent as a campaigner, and Karen Hughes’s abilities, are much more responsible for his political success than anything Rove did.

        • NonyNony

          Compared to Romney, especially, Bush was a very good campaigner.

          Hell compared to just about anyone W was a very good campaigner. I’ve only witnessed 4 other presidential campaigners in my life so far who were in the same ballpark as W: Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton seemed to get the joy out of it that W, Reagan or Bill Clinton did, though they’re both very good at it.

  • He was always overrated. His candidate did not win the 2000 election. The candidate’s brother being governor and his campaign manager being in charge of voter registration and vote counting in Florida is what made it close.

    And even then it wouldn’t have worked unless, following the pattern of his whole life, George W Bush got rescued by his father’s cronies.

    • BobS

      Careful there- no one wants to read about what actually happened in Florida 12 years ago and no one needs another 1000 comment thread about Ralph Nader being The Most Evil Man in the Universe.

  • Thlayli

    Texas has 29 statewide elected offices???

    New York has four: Gov, Lt Gov, AG, Comptroller. And Gov/Lt Gov run as a team, so we only vote for three.

    But it’s the Texans who believe in “small government”….

    • Warren Terra

      Well, Texas does have a legislature that meets every other year and is nearly unpaid. Which to my mind might as well be a Property Requirement to hold office.

    • Joel Patterson

      Maybe judges are getting counted in that 29.
      There’s 2 courts of 9 justices as a court of last resort, one for criminal cases and one for civil.


    • spencer

      But it’s the Texans who believe in “small government”….

      To be fair, there is a difference between “government” and “elected officials.”

      It’s entirely possible that New York and Texas have very similar governing structures, with the main difference being that many elected positions in Texas are appointed positions in New York. For example, in Florida we have elections for posts like Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of State. I’m sure New York has equivalent offices, even if they aren’t elected positions there.

      • KadeKo

        Texas’ Gov is famously a weak office; I think even the “Lite Gov” there has more power.

    • John

      Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, Commissioner of the General Land Office, Commissioner of Agriculture, 3 Commissioners of the Railroad Commission, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, 8 associate justices of the Supreme court, Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, 8 Associate judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

    • Jonas

      As a transplant to Texas, I can’t say for sure exactly how many statewide offices there are and am too lazy to look it up, but dear God, our ballots are unbelievably long.

    • Bruce Vail

      Aren’t the Judges of NY Court of Appeals elected statewide? That’s the state’s highest court.

      I lived there 20 years ago, so my recollections aren’t so sharp. But I think I remember clearly that these judgeships were elected statewide…

      • Bruce Vail

        Ooops. Spoke too soon.

        Those judges aptd by the Gov and confirmed by the Senate.

  • c u n d gulag


    Maybe all of those years we were told that Rove was “Bush’s Brain,” it was actually W who was ‘Rove’s Brain?’

    On the political front, he ain’t done too good, since W’s disasterous mis-administration neared its end.

    And maybe his only political legacy, besides the W disaster, will be that he almost single-handedly took the big money out of Citizens United and Super PAC’s?

    Would you, as a rich, rich, person, want to give money to political consultants, and get worse of an ROI than if you decided to spend that money on scratch-off lottery tickets, or let your Admin take that money to Vegas and bet on which of the competing football team’s colors she likes more, and so that team will beat the spread?

    No – wait! That last one IS a winner.

  • Deggjr

    Rove’s donors might have a nice bridge to drive over had they paid that money in taxes, but nooooooo.

    • Warren Terra

      To be fair, I doubt Sheldon Adelson’s received this much attention in years, and I assume he enjoyed it immensely. Of course, practically anything he did with $60M would have gotten him notice, even if he’d just burned the notes in a big pile, but if we wanted to be the object of speculation in the national press, in every political magazine, and from famous serious reporters and bloviators, his options were limited.

  • Bart

    Between 1970 and 2001 Texas oil production dropped by around a half. Was that caused by Rove as well?

  • ChrisS

    If nothing else, my favorite outcome of the 2012 election is that the far right ideologues have spent nearly two generations telling their faithful not to trust the mainstream media and to trust theirs. And now they’re telling the faithful that they can’t trust the right wing media.

    So delicious, their tears.

  • Texas was one of the last states in the South to fall to the Southern Strategy, despite its proximity to the Goldwater movement. For instance, it voted for Carter in 1976 and only had its first Republican governor ever in 1978.

    Yes, it was evolving. Rove shoved it through the door.

  • Murc

    To be fair, while rove isn’t a political supergenius, being able to see the waves BEFORE they crest isn’t exactly a common skill. Anyone can buy in at the top of the market.

    We see the demographic and cultural changes in the American landscape that Rove exploited as being obvious and inevitable NOW. But they required genuine foresight to see before they happened.

    t=To be sure, Rove is no supergenius. and he’s had his share of failures. But ‘overrated’ isn’t necessarily the same as ‘bad at his job.’

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