It’s becoming clear that while the Bush campaign has spent an awful lot of money on ads, they don’t appear to have gotten much in return. This is, of course, good news, but it also raises questions about Karl Rove. His reputation as a political mastermind (albeit an evil one) has been quite strong. Over the last few years, I’ve been increasingly questioning this reputation. The more I rethink it, the more I wonder why it was so strong in the first place. Three reasons, I think. First, working under the assumption that politics is a dirty game, his willingness to engage in dirty tricks and cheap shots may have been confused with savvy. Perhaps some of them are savvy, but they aren’t necessarily so. Second, the Republican gains of 02 may have made him look good. I think this probably has more to do with bad strategy on the part of the Democrats. Third, simply put, he’s been lucky. He won without winning in 2000. The event that put him on the political scene and gave him political power shouldn’t have happened.
While it veers dangerously toward optimism about November, which I’m still studiously avoiding, it’s time to recognize the view of Rove as a political mastermind isn’t really supported by facts on the ground. It’s difficult to reconcile the Bush campaign we’ve seen so far with this view. Mark Schmitt of the Decembrist has an outstanding post that examines the Bush ads to date (including the bizarre ad all about a book Kerry wrote almost a decade ago that *wasn’t* about Al Queda, and his even more bizarre Godwin-busting ad). In this post he characterizes Rove thusly:
a political consultant convinced of his own genius is always dangerous. And Karl Rove really is beginning to seem a kind of mad scientist, enraged by his inabillity to reproduce his experiment, frantically throwing in more of the chemicals that worked before, until it all blows up.
This strikes me as an outstanding analogy.