How Karl Rove Made His Comeback

With a new girlfriend, more money, a sweet bachelor pad, and a pair of baby shoes

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Karl Rove has made a comeback, New York magazines Joe Hagan says in a long profile of the Republican adviser. This time it's with ambitions even grander than those that propelled him into the White House and earned him the nickname "Bush's Brain." What does Rove want now? To be the whole GOP's brain.

Rove is feeling a bit peppier now than he was two years ago, when his energy and bank account were depleted by his involvement in outing Valerie Plame as a C.I.A. agent married to Iraq war critic Joe Wilson. He's determined to shape the future of his party and build a durable majority. One important step to doing that is marginalizing the figures like Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell, who are popular with the right but are unlikely ever to win mainstream support.

How is he going to do that? Well, we looked through the profile to find the answer to that for you. First, he had to acquire the necessary tools:

1 New girlfriend, lobbyist Karen Johnson.

$400,000 Salary as a Fox News political analyst
huge new political action committee, American Crossroads, which received $25 million donations from conservative financiers before it even had a name
Titanium Jaguar
Biographical screenplay, called College Republicans, about his rise to power under the tutelage of notorious southern Republican adviser Lee Atwater. Okay--Rove didn't write the script. But he'd be a consultant on it, "For the right price, baby!"
Immaculate bachelor pad in Georgetown, stocked with:

2 twentysomething female aides, one of whom is a dead ringer for Jenna Bush

1 model plane (Air Force One)

1 pair of lacquered white baby shoes which once protected baby Karl's little feet

Then, Rove tirelessly set about drumming up the necessary publicity. This is what his 2010 looked like:

111 cities visited on his book tour in 90 days

61 op-eds penned

83 Fox News appearances

1,400 tweets tweeted

Next, he began his Rovian maneuvering:

He sidelined the one person who could challenge him as the person who shapes the future of the GOP--Sarah Palin:

"Did you see that?" he says, adopting a high, sniveling Palin accent: "'Holy crap! That fish hit my thigh! It hurts!'"
"How does that make us comfortable seeing her in the Oval Office?" he asks, disgusted. "You know—'Holy crap, Putin said something ugly!'"
"He deserves a medal," says one Republican operative who is friends with Rove. "This is a guy who understands what’s involved in being commander-in-chief. He looks at Sarah Palin and says, 'Are you fucking kidding me?'"

He hedged his bet against the Tea Party by backing Sharron "Second Amendment Remedies" Angle:

The investment was a classic Rovean gambit, a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose wager that put his new organization in the center of the action and on the right side, whichever side triumphed. If Angle won, American Crossroads had a huge Democratic pelt on the wall. If she lost, as she would, Rove’s skepticism of the tea party’s fringier elements would be proved correct. The bet was hedged. Rove, a realist prospecting for winners, his eyes fixed firmly on 2012, knew the deep-red base couldn’t win independents in a national race. As a former White House official who worked closely with Rove says, "Karl Rove is not a conservative. Karl Rove is a man who wins elections."

He maintained his reputation for niceness, with a little cold-hearted calculation:

Many of his colleagues describe him as a genuine and loyal friend, a good-humored and fun-loving pal who ... remembers everybody's birthday. He even arranged to have a get-well note from President Bush sent to John Weaver, Rove’s former ally turned major antagonist, when Weaver was diagnosed with leukemia.

Some of these same friends, however, question whether Rove’s warmth is genuine or just good business. "Is it real?" wonders one person who worked closely with Rove for over a decade. John Weaver, for one, didn’t believe it was: He says he received a press call from NBC News’ Campbell Brown about Bush’s note two days before it actually arrived in the mail.

He's basically a political Krang, the creepy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles villain who's just a pink brain in a mechanical suit:

As he positions himself as Republican kingmaker in 2012, Rove is trying to make sense of a post-Bush party, one riven by ideological schisms and splintered into a dozen or more potential Republican nominees. To take back power and reestablish his dream of a permanent Republican majority... Rove must carefully negotiate a new media world revolutionized by Sarah Palin and bring order to a restive party upended and realigned by tea-­party populists, who view Rove as the elitist Machiavellian who once played them like a Stradivarius for George W. Bush. But with W. down on his ranch in Texas, the Brain needs a new body to inhabit. And that body, he’s decided, is the Republican Party itself.

And he kept his eyes on the prize:

When I ask him which of the prospective candidates is the purest ideological heir to Bush, he won’t answer... But later, in an unscripted moment worthy of Palin, Rove does tell me about his dream candidate, a would-be "incredible" president of the United States, the one person he’d support without reservation, if only this man were running for the White House...

Name of Bush. Jeb Bush.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.