If Karl Rove's departure is recorded as the effective and symbolic end of the Bush administration's tenure in active governance (and President Bush did seem a tad envious when he told his friend he'll be following him "on the road behind you in a little bit"), Rove's impact on the 2008 presidential race will be remembered by the yawning GOP silence that greeted his exit from the stage. Where once he was the ultimate guru, the single most sought-after strategist of either party, Rove will be remembered in part for fostering a political environment that made possible the rise of the woman he now thinks is most likely to take the Democratic nomination.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., made a splash yesterday with an Iowa ad (her first television buy of the campaign) that takes direct aim at the Bush/Rove legacy. (Forget bus tours -- they're so second tier.) It's hardly earth-shattering stuff -- ordinary Americans are "not invisible to me," she says (and Clinton herself is far from invisible walking through a corn field in slacks and a jacket) -- but the message works on several levels: Here's a candidate who wants to take on President Bush -- and is ready to take Iowa.
That was not always the case (remember that internal memo about skipping Iowa that seemed to have the ring of truth when it slipped in May), and how Clinton began to solve her Iowa problem is a case-study in old-fashioned organizing (Tom Vilsack and Teresa Vilmain are an impressive team) and persistent messaging. She's tangling with Sen. Barack Obama these days (and he may have provided some fresh ammunition yesterday), but she's mostly floating above the field going into Sunday's ABC debate in Des Moines.
"Mrs. Clinton may be running in the wide-open Democratic primary battle, but this commercial leaves the impression that she is running against President Bush -- which she is, to a degree," writes Patrick Healy of The New York Times. "As a leading Democratic candidate, rather than attacking or elevating her Democratic rivals at this stage, she is trying to score points off an unpopular incumbent president and outline her priorities in broad strokes."
Broad strokes were a Rove trademark -- voters have always known where George W. Bush has stood. In assessing the Rove legacy -- and keeping in mind that a shelf full of books will be written on this subject -- the strategist who earned some colorful nicknames will be remembered in as complicated a fashion as Bush himself. "His advocates credit him with devising a winning strategy twice in a row for a presidential candidate who seemed to start out with myriad weaknesses," write The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut and Michael Shear. "His detractors blame Rove for a style of politics that deepened divisions in the country, even after the unifying attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."
Rove may be remembered most for his divisiveness -- and for the convenient punching bag role he's played for Democrats since Bush assumed the presidency. "The party that bears his imprint faces a difficult question: Can 'Rovism' survive Rove?" write Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times. "Will Rove's unique combination of innovative campaign techniques and polarizing hardball tactics translate into long-term success for his party? Or has it seen its best days?"