And the winner is…
Karl Rove! “Bush’s Brain” had a very simple strategy for victory in the 2004 Presidential election. He had formulated it about three seconds after Al Gore finally conceded in December of 2000. And it was this: Get out the Republican base.
And he did.
Millions of right-wing conservative voters had sat out the last Presidential election, thanks to several factors: Bush’s seemingly-moderate “compassionate conservative” rhetoric during the campaign, his own father’s moderate record as President, and the Gore campaign’s last-minute dirty trick of releasing Bush’s decades-old DUI arrest record.
There is almost no question that this last item cost Bush the popular vote in 2000. Evangelical Christians were not about to vote for a pro-abortion liberal Democrat like Al Gore, but they weren’t all that thrilled about the prospect of electing a “reckless criminal drunk” either. So they stayed home in large numbers.
But, after almost four years of consistently conservative policies and rhetoric coming from the White House (with Rove encouraging it all wholeheartedly; indeed, masterminding it), these voters no longer had any qualms about voting for Bush.
The talking heads in the elite media felt this was an insane political gambit. They felt Bush needed to migrate drastically to the center in order to “be a uniter, not a divider” and therefore have any hope of winning re-election. And when Bush (with Rove as his chief strategist) did not make that move to the center, the media unleashed a barrage of harshly-negative coverage against the President, the likes of which had not been seen since at least the 1984 campaign.
But Rove’s strategy worked: Despite massive turnout of the Democrat’s base, Bush won re-election. And he won it with an outright majority of the votes, as opposed to a mere plurality (the first time this had occurred since his father won in 1988). And he received more votes than any Presidential candidate in history.
In 2000, Florida was the decisive state. In 2004, it was Ohio. And Bush won Ohio’s Electoral College Votes, despite the devastating job losses that occurred in this state during his first term, and despite the unprecedented efforts of liberal anti-Bush groups to get out their vote in that state.
But Rove’s “Conservative Strategy” won the day in Ohio. Bush publicly opposed gay marriage, and gay marriage happened to be on the ballot in Ohio. The proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution to ban gay marriage passed overwhelmingly, and Bush likely rode this amendment’s coat-tails to re-election.
So, regardless of whether you love him and think he’s a genius, or hate him and think he’s a modern-day Rasputin, one has to admit that Karl Rove was 2004′s biggest non-candidate winner in American politics.