There's so much to be said about this incredible, maligned, admired figure.
Six and A Half Years
It's an awfully long time to be a senior White House official. Were there any Reagan adviser-lifers? The only Clinton lifer who comes to mind is Patti Solis Doyle, who spent eight years with Hillary Clinton. (Update: there were plenty of Clinton lifers, it turns out: Shalala, Reno, Browner and Babbitt, Bruce Lindsey, Gene Sperling, Sandy Berger, Bruce Reed and others.)
The Atlantic Joshua Green (who can, incidentally, be seen on every television program known to man today) makes a compelling case that Rove's obsession with realignment theory led to a fundamental misreading of government -- and that to the extent that history judges him poorly, it's the result of choices he made. A bigger question Green raises: to what extent were Rove's political successes a side effect of exogenous events like 9/11 and the fecklessness of the Democratic Party before the Iraq war? In other words: to what degree were Rove's problems a result of Bush's choices?
Was Rove a dabbler? A lumper? A splitter? Did he have a Whig view of history or a Tory view of history? Did he read widely and deeply or widely and superficially? How often did he change his mind?
Boy, did Karl Rove get in his gut the biases, predilections, worldviews, habits, ticks and insecurities of the national media. The first Bush campaign -- and the administration in the first few years -- consciously worked the press as simply another agent of influence. Another part of Rove's realignment theory: delegitimize, decertify and discombobulate the press; control it with psychological power; reduce its influence on the political process.
Rove in particular knew how to massage the egos of high-powered analysts, and these Rove hagiographers ought to be ready to evaluate Rove, now, in the twilight of the career. But it's to Rove's credit as a political strategist that he so deftly managed the press. (Disclosure: I met Rove twice and had an extended conversation with him only once; we never e-mailed or spoke on the telephone. I was not among the chosen few, although I may well have fallen for his charms had I been.)
An obvious and cliche point, but Democratic partisans viscerally hate the guy. Republicans are ambivalent. The people who've worked for Rove love him, literally, and are extraordinarily loyal.
I could be wrong here, but I distinctly recall conversations with Rove friends who've told me that his struggles with faith did not lead him to Jesus Christ. Yet he knew and understood how to interact with (and manipulate, at times) the standard-bearers of the evangelical right and the Catholic conservative intellectual elite; he studied them like a sociologist; he knew their language, totems and insecurities, and in the White House, he used the powers of government to give them their voice and to fill their ego-needs.
As the Hotline notes, after John Weaver's resignation from John McCain's campaign, no current '08 candidate has a Rove-like guru. (In so many ways, Bill Clinton's role in Hillary Clinton's campaign is entirely distinctive.) Friends say that Democrats overstate Rove's influence over Bush and that Rove understates it.
Bush and Rove were acquaintances, then buddies, then totally inseparable. 34 years of camaraderie and deep trust. In a conversation with a friend today, both Bush and Rove joked about their codependency. Moving on will be tough for both men.
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