It’s hard to read a story like this so soon after dinner….

The Dallas Morning News has named Karl Rove Texan of the Year, an “honor” that was bestowed Bush just last year. They cite his singlehandedness at getting Bush reelected with Iraq and the US economy both going so bad.

Rove was able to fool over 50,000,000 people, he’s got that. But anyone who’s ever seen Bush’s Brain knows just how unethical this evil man is.

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The man who is building a Republican majority

12:01 AM CST on Saturday, December 25, 2004

By WAYNE SLATER / The Dallas Morning News

Editor’s note: Today the editorial board names Karl Rove, the chief political adviser to President George W. Bush, as The Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year for 2004. He has the distinction of following in the footsteps of his boss, who was our 2003 choice, and therefore ineligible for consideration this year. After making its decision, the editorial board turned to Dallas Morning News political reporter Wayne Slater, one of the country’s leading Rove experts, to analyze for our readers why Karl Rove mattered so much this past year.
[Click image for a larger version] Michael Hogue / DMN Illustration
Michael Hogue / DMN Illustration

The president, that famous giver of nicknames, bestowed a new one after his re-election on Karl Christian Rove: The Architect.

A perfect tribute. It was Mr. Rove – master strategist and political grenadier – who drew up the plan to win George W. Bush a second term in the White House and bird-dogged every detail to victory. He honed the central theme of the presidential campaign. He built the biggest, shiniest, most elaborate voter-identification and turnout machine in history. And in the process, he advanced an audacious goal of making the GOP America’s permanent majority party.

In selecting The Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year, the editorial board sought someone of uncommon character who demonstrated both leadership and vision in 2004, who exemplified a trailblazing instinct and ability to navigate adversity. In these, Mr. Rove emerged as one of the most creative and influential political figures of our time. His work for the president helped assure the Bush agenda will affect Americans for the next four years. His desire for a Republican-dominated realignment of government could affect us for decades.

To be sure, candidates win elections, not consultants, and Mr. Bush proved the better candidate in 2004. But even the best candidate needs a savvy adviser, someone to match a leader’s strengths with the mood of the moment. Bill Clinton had his James Carville, Woodrow Wilson his Col. House and President McKinley a nimble political guru-in-chief named Marcus Hanna.

Mr. Rove might very well be the best of the bunch.

Consider this year’s election achievement. Mr. Bush flew into the teeth of considerable obstacles (Iraq and a lackluster economy to name two) and scored a convincing victory – the first president since 1988 to win a majority of the popular vote. He became the first president re-elected while gaining seats in both the House and Senate since 1936, knocked off the Democratic Party’s pesky Senate leader and accomplished something his father never did – a second term.

Mr. Rove’s genius was to mobilize a million moving parts while at the same time focusing the campaign around a central idea: Mr. Bush the war president, a strong and resolute leader who will stand tough against an insidious evil.

Sure, critics might complain that the war is a mess of the president’s own making and that Rove & Co. unfairly lampooned Democrat John Kerry as an inveterate flip-flopper. But the Bush campaign beat a relentless message: Who would you rather have protect us against the terrorist threat at home? A majority of American voters picked the president.

“There’s not a part of the campaign that Karl didn’t touch significantly in some way,” said Mark McKinnon, the Bush-Cheney campaign media director. “He laid the foundation, he framed it and he put on the roof. The president paid him the highest compliment when he called him the architect.”
A portfolio beyond politics

Mr. Rove is White House senior political adviser, but his portfolio is broader. He’s not just Mr. Politics but, increasingly, a figure guiding policy as well.

During Mr. Bush’s first term, he intervened in the fight between farmers and environmentalists over the salmon in Oregon. And he helped convince Mr. Bush at one point to impose steel tariffs – anathema to Bush free traders – to woo union workers in politically important West Virginia and Pennsylvania. And he’s already at work on plans with Republican activists outside the White House to prepare a national campaign to promote private Social Security accounts.

To understand Mr. Rove’s deft touch at synthesizing politics and policy, consider this expert maneuver: Last month, as the president looked for new blood to fill his Cabinet in the second term, he dispatched Mr. Rove to sound out Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat. Mr. Nelson wanted to stay in the Senate, but he was worried that Republican Gov. Mike Johanns might challenge his re-election in 2006.

The solution? Make Mr. Johanns agriculture secretary and, in the process, earn the gratitude of Mr. Nelson, considered by many to be the president’s strongest Democratic ally in the Senate. When the White House needs votes across the aisle next year, count on Mr. Rove to pay a repeat visit to Mr. Nelson on behalf of the president’s agenda.

Mr. Rove’s considerable influence was evident early in Mr. Bush’s first term. John DiIulio, a former presidential adviser, warned in a 2001 e-mail to a journalist for Esquire magazine that Mr. Rove was dictating White House policy based on raw politics. “Karl is enormously powerful, maybe the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political adviser post near the Oval Office,” he wrote. “Little happens on any issue without Karl’s OK.”

Early on, Mr. Rove shared a sphere of influence with Karen Hughes, another trusted Texas adviser with equal claim on the president’s attention. Insiders say the pair served a kind of yin and yang inside the White House – Mr. Rove the dark master of hardball partisanship and Ms. Hughes the pragmatic keeper of Mr. Bush’s compassionate persona.

When Ms. Hughes returned to Texas in the summer 2002, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card said it disrupted the balance of power and sent him scurrying for “people trusted by the president that I can elevate for various needs to balance against Karl.”

“It won’t be easy,” he told Esquire, as if describing a battle outside the White House. Only it was within. “Karl,” he said, “is a formidable adversary.”
The rise of Rove

Born in Colorado and raised in Utah, Mr. Rove came to Texas in the mid-1980s to start his own political consulting business. His Texas connection was George Herbert Walker Bush, for whom he had worked at the Republican National Committee while still in college. Mr. Rove remembers first meeting the son, then a student at Harvard.

In George W. Bush, Mr. Rove saw everything he was not: handsome, easygoing, the son of a political family with the burnished look of those frat boys who sail the gilded edges of Republican politics. In Mr. Rove, the younger Bush saw his complement: driven, wonkish, a brilliant strategist with a penchant for smashmouth politics.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Mr. Rove helped convince Mr. Bush to run for governor in 1994, and directed that campaign – and every Bush campaign that followed through last month’s re-election to the White House.

The political wars, over time, have earned Mr. Rove his share of devotees and detractors. Friends call him brilliant, charming and indefatigable. Enemies say he’s devious, mean, driven and vindictive. Like him or hate him, both sides agree he’s formidable.

In virtually every political campaign he has run over the years, there have been accusations against Mr. Rove of hardball tactics and dirty tricks. Mr. Rove denies it, but does acknowledge there’s a dark side to his reputation. Asked recently on ABC television how he thinks people view him, Mr. Rove did not hesitate. “Evil Rasputin,” he said.

As a College Republican, Mr. Rove got his start teaching seminars on dirty tricks. In Mr. Rove’s political rise, critics have been quick to see an instinct for winning at any cost. A Rove campaign, they say, always follows a pattern: virulent whisper campaigns or damaging attacks from surrogate groups against his opponents, but never evidence that he was involved.

Adversaries call it the Mark of Rove.

In 1994, when Mr. Bush ran for governor, incumbent Gov. Ann Richards says she was targeted by an astonishingly effective word-of-mouth campaign in East Texas over gays and lesbians in her administration.

Four years ago, Sen. John McCain says he was targeted in the Republican presidential primary by a group of veterans who questioned his temperament to be president – code for whether his prisoner of war experience had made him crazy – and by Bush supporters who spread vicious rumors about his personal life.

In much the same way, the Kerry team saw the Mark of Rove in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack on the Democrat’s Vietnam war record. Mr. Rove denies involvement with the Swift Boat Veterans and in the earlier episodes, and dismissed as political paranoia the left’s insistence that he’s behind everything that works to Mr. Bush’s fortune.

“I’ve become a convenient myth,” he said.
‘Commander in Geek’

His colleagues inside Team Bush have another assessment of the round, bespectacled uber-achiever: Commander in Geek.

In a White House where workaholics thrive, friends say Mr. Rove works harder than anyone, is smarter than anyone and immerses himself in the gears and levers of everything. The big themes, the wording of the TV scripts, the layout of the phone banks in Orange City, Iowa – Mr. Rove’s mystique is that he knows it all.

At one point late in October, a reporter questioned Mr. Rove during a swing through Florida about whether the campaign had paid enough attention to Ohio where, according to media reports, Democrats were doing a better job at voter registration. It was as if someone opened a fire hydrant. “We’ve been to Moreland Hills, Ashtabula, Cleveland, Cambridge, Canton twice, Akron, Cambridge, Portsmouth, Marietta, Troy, Lima, Columbus several times, Cincinnati several times,” he said rapid-fire, in a torrent of words.

As for voter registration? He glanced at his Blackberry and delivered a real-time accounting: 57 Ohio counties that voted Republican in the past four presidential races had added about 20,000 likely Bush voters to the rolls. And the state’s 11 biggest Democratic counties? “There are 106,000 fewer registered voters today than there were four years ago – 106,000 fewer!” he declared. He seemed to be on top of every detail.

Mr. McKinnon recalls Mr. Rove once calling from Air Force One to say that the script of an upcoming television commercial was 87 words and only needed to be 85. “And by the way, you don’t need that extra comma,” he added, fixing the grammar.

It’s no accident that throughout the campaign year, the picture of the president striding across an airport tarmac or the White House lawn often had Mr. Rove at his side.

Campaigns, in politics or on the battlefield, are often won on a key decision. Mr. Rove’s big decision was to target the GOP base, not depend on moderate swing voters to build a majority. The idea was to identify your reliable voters – religious conservatives, rural voters, white men, married women in suburbs, exurbanites and business-friendly Republicans – and get them to the polls in bigger numbers than four years ago.

Energizing Christian conservatives was an important part of the strategy. Churches conducted voter-registration drives. The campaign collected church membership directories and recruited volunteers in congregations. With the Bush team’s encouragement, allies put proposals to ban gay marriage on the ballot in 11 states.

This attracted evangelicals and social conservatives in droves. In the pivotal battleground state of Ohio, a quarter of those surveyed in exit polls identified themselves as “white evangelical/born-again Christians” – and most of them voted for Mr. Bush.

The election machine that Mr. Rove and company built for the 2004 race was like nothing ever seen before in an American election. Two years before a vote was ever cast, the team began assembling an enormous list from voter files, magazine subscriptions, marketing lists, population trends, TV viewing habits, census data, demographic information – and created a computerized model capable of identifying their voters with extraordinary precision.

They studied how many of their likely voters were watching CSI on television in Cleveland. They placed ads on the Golf Channel. They discovered that although the president supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, many married Republican women – an important constituency – regularly watched the sitcom Will & Grace, which portrays gay life positively. In battleground states, Will & Grace became a favorite spot for Bush-Cheney TV ads.
Rove the visionary

In making its decision, the editorial board said that his second-to-none tactical skills were not the only thing that earned Mr. Rove Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year status, but an uncommon political vision in which he has cast Mr. Bush’s political success as part of something larger: a permanent Republican revolution of U.S. politics.

The blueprint started in Texas in the 1980s, where as a young political acolyte in the camp of Republican Gov. Bill Clements, Mr. Rove wrote a memo anticipating the GOP takeover of the Lone Star State.

He was right. And two decades later, he’s taken the thing national.

Although he never graduated from college, Mr. Rove has proven himself an adept student of history. He finds particular meaning in the election in 1896 of William McKinley that launched a fundamental realignment of American politics. With Mr. McKinley began a 30-year run of near-exclusive Republican rule in the White House, ending only with Franklin Roosevelt and another fundamental realignment.

It’s a model – an enduring Republican majority lasting decades – that Mr. Rove would like to duplicate in the 21st century.

In Washington, Republicans have indeed become the majority party. The party controls the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. It controls a majority of governorships. And the results of the 2004 race suggest that the ideological center of the nation has moved toward Mr. Bush, who captured 51 percent of the vote. The shift is not wholly of Mr. Rove’s making, but it is consistent with his larger design.

(And by the way, over 20 years in Texas, Mr. Rove was instrumental in turning Democrat-dominated Texas into a state where the GOP today holds every statewide office and both Senate seats, as well as dominating the courts and the Legislature. When U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay spearheaded the successful drive to redraw congressional boundaries in Texas, he found a Legislature and state leadership friendly to his purpose – thanks in part to Karl Rove’s handiwork.)

A few days after the November election, Mr. Rove appeared on Fox News and was asked whether the outcome had the same kind of potential as the McKinley victory in 1896 to give a governing majority to the Republican Party for decades.

“It does. We’ll only tell with time,” he said. “It was an election that realigned American politics years afterwards. And I think the same thing will be here.”

Critics dismiss the prospects, but it is a big idea, the kind of idea that makes him more than so many political operatives interested only in the chess move of the moment. “He’s so strategic,” said Texas political consultant Ken Luce. “His mind works at a different level.”

If his advocates are right, Mr. Rove is one of the most creative political minds in history. If his critics are right, his unrelenting partisanship will only exacerbate the polarization that divides the country. Either way, his impact and influence on Americans in 2004 – and beyond – are unmistakable.

Wayne Slater reports from our Austin bureau. He is the co-author, with James Moore, of Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential (John Wiley & Sons, 2003).

By walterh

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