10 Lessons Learned From Karl Rove

ByRick Klein
January 08, 2009, 1:46 AM

Aug. 13, 2007 — -- With Karl Rove leaving the White House, The Note's Rick Klein offers 10 lessons learned from Rove's tenure as President Bush's top strategist.

1. There's no such thing as perma-anything in politics. Rove spoke longingly about building a "permanent" Republican majority. But President Bush's two terms in office -- particularly last year's midterm congressional elections -- prove that American politics is too narrowly divided, and too cyclical, for anything to last forever. (Even the Bush-Clinton-Bush cycle can't last forever -- can it?)

2. The Bush model works. Rove and his gang revolutionized base-emphasizing "micro-targeting," handing Bush two of the narrowest electoral wins in recent history. And the streamlined message machine Rove and company oversaw is now the rule, not the exception; Hillary Clinton's campaign is but one convert.

3. The Bush model works too well. This administration will be defined by its insularity -- by cronyism, obstinacy and loyalty to the extreme -- providing the president little cushion when things start to slide. Other campaigns should take note.

4. "Turd Blossom" is not necessarily a nickname of derision. In an age of white-bread political operatives, Rove was a colorful figure who earned a stable of nicknames worthy of the Roaring '20s. Bush himself coined the "Blossom" sobriquet, and also called Rove "Boy Genius" and "the Architect." Journalists, meanwhile, called Rove "Bush's Brain." And Rove had a talent for labels himself -- will anyone in politics be able to look a flip-flop -- or a windsurfer -- again and not think of John Kerry?

5. No one can outmaneuver a national wave. On the eve of last fall's congressional elections, Rove was defiant in insisting that he had "the math" that showed the Congress would stay in Republican hands. What followed was a GOP wipeout that devastated Rove's reputation as an electoral genius.

6. Political advisers work best in the shadows. Rove cultivated his man-behind-the-curtain image but never quite stayed in the background -- and ended up a celebrity for all the wrong reasons. He was once set to depart as the most-coveted strategist in the world, but his reputation was tarnished by the Valerie Plame affair and the mess over the attorneys general. He remains popular with Bush's (ever-shrinking) base but was too useful a lightning rod for Democrats and other critics of the Bush administration.

7. Fifty-six year-old white men named Karl should not rap in public. They should also refrain from dancing on stages whenever possible.

8. Groundbreaking political thinking comes from outside Washington. Before Rove took over national politics, he remade Texas politics, turning the state Republican. And he championed a baseball owner with a famous last name who would come to redefine the GOP well into 2008 and beyond.

9. Presidential capital does not flow down Pennsylvania Avenue. Rove and company overreached by believing they could browbeat Congress into acting on politically sensitive topics -- think Social Security, immigration and tax reform -- and ended up with a gallery of disappointments and defeats.

10. There is no successor to Karl Rove. For all his many flaws, trying to pick one is like naming the next Michael Jordan. It's unfair to Rove and unfair to the person he's being compared to.

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