Home / Can Karl Rove Conjure That Old Black Magic One Last Time?

Can Karl Rove Conjure That Old Black Magic One Last Time?

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By most accounts, the Bush administration is now drifting through its darkest days, and what may make things appear most bleak to those vestiges of the Republican Party who still proudly refer to themselves as Bushies is that the silver lining has yet to be detected.

Enter Karl Rove, the Merlin behind the throne who, it might be inferred, may see holding onto Republican control of the House and Senate as the greatest challenge of his political career.

rove With polls now hovering in the low 30s, things have gotten bad enough to be something of a late night talk show joke. In fact, what must be truly disturbing to the White House is that self-described conservatives are now leaving the reservation, as a recent AP-Ipsos poll shows that forty-five percent of that group disapprove of the president’s performance. To wit, The Washington Post quotes Lance Tarrance, a “prominent GOP pollster,” as saying, “This administration may be over.”

Some vulnerable Republicans have been tacking away from the president for some time, what E.J. Dionne Jr. calls the Great Republican Rebranding. Suddenly, issues such as poverty, environmentalism, and cracking down on corporate abuses are being taken on by Republicans, such as Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, nervous about a national backlash this November.

The political game plan for Republicans these days clearly looks to be defense, while the Democrats are gearing up their offense after a long, cold off-season. Names such as Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Patrick Leahy will likely be oft heard from Republican political operatives in the coming months, as they will look to frighten swing voters into locking the Republican majority in for another two years. The idea that will be conveyed: Democrats will waste time holding investigations while the nation’s priorities go untended.

It will likely be a tough sell in districts and states where vulnerable Republicans will be looking to retain their seats. With Iraq, economic jitters, high oil prices, scandal, and basic governmental competence on the minds of voters, Rove will likely look to push Republican candidates to run on local issues on the one hand, while brandishing fears about a Democratic takeover of Congress on the other.

One of Karl Rove’s strengths is his ability to define the opponent and the issues first, while casting – at times cruelly – the opposing candidate’s core strengths as negative attributes. In the most recent midterm elections, in 2002, the shadow of 9/11 still loomed large, allowing Republicans to make gains in the face of a largely stunned and listless opposition.

By contrast, the Democrats of 2006 are feisty, largely united, and confident:

“We are more and more confident that we are going to have the responsibility of leading the House, so we have to prepare,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.).

rangel This confidence stems from a general sense that the American people seek a responsive and accountable government on all fronts, from war policy to domestic crises, from domestic wiretapping to hunting accidents involving the Vice President. One of the feistiest (and raspiest) Democrats of them all, Charlie Rangel of New York, sums up this sentiment:

“I think when the Congress finally joins the American people, this president is going to have to not just show how stubborn he is by sticking out his jaw,” said Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, who would be in line for the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee if Democrats took the House. “He’s going to have to answer some questions.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, in the same New York Times piece, says, “The only things they can bring back this year are the old saws… They just won’t play. We’re in a new world.”

This theme, as can be imagined, is echoing and ringing throughout the left-leaning blogosphere. The Anonymous Liberal, for one, points out and dismisses what may be a key stratagem for Rove and the Republicans:

Can we please dispense with the whole “party of ideas” nonsense now? To the extent the GOP has an electoral strategy this Fall, it appears to consist of warning voters that if the Democrats take over, it will result in a number of Congressional investigations into Bush administration activities. That’s quite possibly the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard.

Daily Pundit defends the notion of the now famous phrase “subpoena power,” writing: “Mr. Bush and his policies deserve to be on trial. It is Mr. Bush and his policies that have created the necessity for ‘re-energizing’ the conservative base.”

So what can Rove do, beyond frightening voters with visions of a Congress led by Pelosi and Reid and Conyers and Leahy? The New York Times reports that the White House will look to tout its ideas for immigration and Medicare reform, ideas that the Sadly, No! blog finds to be “goddamn insane” and a sign that “this administration has grown increasingly desperate.”

Perhaps this is all cause for President Bush to focus on other things, such as his unabashed enthusiasm for the outdoors. When asked what the high point has been since he took over the office of the presidency in early 2001, President Bush related that it was the time he caught a big fish while out at the lake.

The noises of machinations and toil can be heard from behind Karl Rove’s office door even now.

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  • Let us not forget that the top Democrat on the Ethics committee just had to step down because of his own ethics issues and another Kennedy has had issues of driving while altered.

    The Democrats are the best thing going for Republicans and the Bush White House. Neither party is currently worth a damn. No one has their “A” game. The Republicans have been asking to lose for four years now. Fortunately for them, their opponents are the Democrats who refuse to win anything. The game might have changed but the players have not.

    If the best message the Democrats have is “hearings” they are in trouble. I think most Americans are too cynical to believe Congressional hearings will ever uncover anything. The Republicans might be on defense but the Democrats are shooting paper air planes. Election ’06 is going to be lame.

  • Well, time for some gay marriage amendments.

  • What in the world does P Kennedy’s drug habit have to do with anything other than the fact it was an excellent and convenient way for the main steam media to deflect away from the real stories this weekend and focus on one idiot’s antics? I have said in three different comments this morning, I am amazed at how the Republicans can really think things are fine, and the ’06 elections are a lock. I am afraid the only lock on the elections this year, will be on the other side of the door for them.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Paul, IO pulled this out from your last comment:

    “…excellent and convenient way for the main steam media to deflect away from the real stories this weekend…”

    For quite some time (decades), that is all your media has done. Is it any wonder that you are blessed with the idiots you have? Nobody needs to exercise dictatorial power in your country. The media does its best to dumb you all down all by itself!

  • I couldn’t agree more, and isn’t it kind or Freudian how I typo’d it “main steam media”?

  • As luck would have it we’ve entered a new golden age of blogcritcism!

  • What Rep. Kennedy has to do with this is the galvanizing force the Kennedy family and Hillary Clinton are in Republican ranks. She and The Kennedy’s rile Republicans up and bring the money in the campaign coffers and get the faithful out to the polls. Naturally, his personal problems and struggles have little to do with actual policy.

  • JP

    Ruvy, excellent point. As a sign of how moronic our media is, watch them keep saying the Democrats have no agenda!

  • DJR — I love ya, but I think Hillary and Kennedy are going to have about zero effect on the ’06 races. The Democrats do have an agenda, but it remains to be seen whether they can make it cohesive and sell it well to the American public. If the Republican Party continues to implode, they may — for once — not have to have their A Game on to win.

  • Dawn

    Excellently written piece EB!

    I can’t get excited by any party or candidate. I was hoping a while back that Biden would be a good candidate to back, but after his lengthy, boring, self-serving confirmation hearing shenanigans, I am back to wishing for the return of the Messiah.

    With all the problems facing us as a nation, it’s sad that we can’t find someone with the energy and vision to lead this nation into the next renaissance.

  • I think Hillary will have a negligible impact and I don’t think the Kennedys will have a huge one either. I might not have been so clear on that. I guess I was alluding to the fact that for at a minimum of four years the Republicans have been ripe for the picking and the Democrats have yet to take advantage of it. But I do think the emergence of favorite targets of either side in the news only serves to help stoke the fires.

    What I was really trying to say in my initial comment is that I don’t believe the promise of hearings is the way to inspire voter turnout. Bush is going to finish his term. Pestering Bush for the final two years is not an agenda and I think it will fail. The Democrats need to advance an agenda that excites people to start momentum for 2008 when they might really make inroads.

    I think at the end of this cycle we will be exactly where we are today. Slim Republican majorities that allow Bush to tilt the agenda but not really steer it. I think we are going into a holding pattern until Bush is termed out and a new discussion can really begin.

  • DJR — The Republicans will try to spin the election by saying that hearings will be the entirety of the Dems’ agenda. Democrats will counter with an agenda of their own — it remains to be seen who will win but the overall storyline is that the GOP is in trouble and certainly vulnerable to losing the House for the first time since ’94.

  • Vulnerable, yes. We certainly agree there. As to whether or not the Democrats present an agenda of their own, I will believe it when I see it. They didn’t in 2004. They ran the, “We’re not Bush” campaign and it didn’t work. If they run that again in 2006, I think we will see the status quo prevail. I might be totally off-base here but I almost think I detect a certain amount of “Let’s just wait until 2008 when we can clean house” sort of mentality. I don’t think that necessarily bodes well for either party. I just think there is not likely to be massive change (such a small amount of truly vulnerable seats in any year) until 2008 when a candidate might be able to run and have coattails.

    I’ve guessed wrong in the past. I might be wrong here, too.

  • Thanks Dawn! One request: find me a candidate who is not “lengthy, boring, self-serving,” particularly at confirmation hearings, and thou shalt win my heart forever more !

  • Yes, DJR, I really do sense that the Dems realize that they must present their own agenda. I’ve been impressed with Rahm Emanuel’s efforts at the DSCC and think that will yield results in the House races. Even uber neo-con Bill Kristol predicts a Democratic House, by the way !

  • they might want to present their own agenda, but as soon as the “swift boat machine” gets cranked up, they’ll just stand around with that deer in the headlights look plastered on their faces.

    you’ll see.

    mr. ultra-cynical

  • Mark, it’s not an unfair point — many will be looking for the coming of the swift boats.

  • JP

    DJ, Congress has been so negligent of its responsibility to provide oversight that Democrats’ suggestion of investigation, while weak, is radical in comparison to what we’ve been doing. It’s a centrist suggestion, and if nothing illegal took place, conservatives shouldn’t have a problem with it.

  • JP

    Eric, to answer your original question: Not if Karl is indicted!

  • EB, I know you’re not a disinterested bystander in all of this. Willing it so won’t make it so. I don’t see any signs of it. Rahm Emanuel is not going to be able to carry the party’s water nationwide.

    Of course, I have my biases as well. I know I could be misreading things. The House might be a possibility- the Senate less so. I have a feeling the Republicans will lose seats but not control and that will set the stage for a flamewar in ’08.

  • JP, ask President Clinton if a person has nothing to fear if they “did nothing wrong.” Congressional hearings rarely ever arrive at the truth. They are for meting out political retribution.

    Should Congress have been more awake at the wheel all along? Maybe. But the Democrats have signed off on too many Bush Administration policies and have nearly as many members with ethical issues as the GOP. Neither party is credible on issues of reform.

  • I think I made a promise at one point to run on a “free sandwich” platform.

    Meh. I’m too lazy to campaign. Just write me in, dammit.

  • Naive, Naive Paul Jordan: “What in the world does P Kennedy’s drug habit have to do with anything other than the fact it was an excellent and convenient way for the main steam media to deflect away from the real stories this weekend and focus on one idiot’s antics?”


  • MCH

    “With all the problems facing us as a nation, it’s sad that we can’t find someone with the energy and vision to lead this nation into the next renaissance.”

    That will be impossible until we get the fuck out of that shithole Iraq.

  • DJR — It sounds like you might be falling into the age-old political trap: assuming that past conventional wisdom will continue to hold. The times, they are changin’. We just have to see how much.

    That said, it’s not in the bag that the Dems can take back anything. There’s a hell of a road ahead, and Rove has six months to work his dark arts.

  • Great piece, Eric! Thank you for the important info.

  • Sorry–forgot, did you know that “That old black magic”-song was wonderfully sung by Marilyn Monroe, in her movie BUS STOP. Just FYI.lol

  • Bliffle

    The only reason for supporting GWB seems to be blind loyalty. IMO he’s failed on the most important conservative issues: national security and fiscal responsibility. Other issues, such as abortion, are just side issues.

  • Bliffle

    So, who will Karl slander next?

  • Bush seems to be on a run of bad luck–not just the events, but the timing of events has been very bad for him.

    Does anyone know when would be the worst possible time for criminal charges to be brought against Mr. Rowe? (as that ia probably when it will happen!)

  • JP

    DJR, re #21, touche’. I’m all for checks and balances, whether it be Republican Arlen Specter arguing that the signing statements need to be investigated, or a Democrat making the same argument.

    I don’t quite agree the Democrats have as many ethical lapses as the Republicans, however. So far, the Republicans are just trying to make it look equal. And it’s NOT going to appear equal AT ALL if or when Karl Rove gets indicted, he’s known on both sides to be the brains behind the operation.

  • It doesn’t matter in some ways if the “ethical lapses” are equal. I’d argue that lying under oath about sex and matters of war and life and death are very different things, but that’s really neither here nor there.

    What really matters is that the Republicans have been in power for six years.

  • JP, if Rove gets indicted you are right- the balance will tip.

    And when I say “as many” I admit I don’t have a direct count but I think there is enough mud for both sides to sling that neither comes out clean and that is all it takes to remove the issue from the table. Probably.

  • DJR, hypothetically you’re right (if both sides are “equally unclean,” let’s say) but in reality, the party in power gets more blame. That’s part of the reason why the Dems got their asses handed to them in ’94.

    I really do think, on a very broad level, that Americans like divided government, though it often seems like “nothing gets done.”

  • EB, The age old trap of using history to predict the future? I thought that’s what most of us did. It’s not always a perfect predictor but I’ve seen it used to dramatic effect.

    As to Rove’s “dark arts,” they are hardly new or original. They’re the same plays from the same playbooks as political operatives of the past (there’s that past again) and they have been used by both parties. I guess I’m jaded- nothing new under the sun.

  • the tactics are not new. what is new, at least over the last ten years or so, is how incredibly consistent and tenacious the republicans have become at disbursing these “themes”.

    they remain ‘on-message’ and are quite good at it.

  • Blue Meanie

    Karl’s tactics do come from tried and true methods. Some from the formal propagandists of the 30’s-50’s and most from Machiavelli.

    Friday should be interesting to see if he gets indicted, perjury and obstruction, same as Libby, would be my guess.

    Couldn’t happen to a “nicer” guy, and would be only a fraction of the punishment he deserves for his track record.

  • Dick Morris did a great job of keeping Clinton “on message” when they trounced Dole/Kemp in ’96 and Rahm Emanuel was great at this during the impeachment period. The Republicans were in the wilderness and got slapped. The Democrats, to me, seem to still be in the wilderness. I don’t think they are going to find their way back in ’06. I still don’t see it. Six months, though, is an eternity in politics. Who knows?

  • Blue Meanie

    DJR- Good point raised, but nowhere near the same order of magnitude. Morris was fine for just the White House message for the most part, and was instrumental in the “triangulation” approach. However, he had none of Rove’s clout upon the party as a whole, and after ’94, the WH did not have control of Congress.

    If the WH control had been anywhere near what this Administration enjoys and abuses, they might not have lost 40 seats in ’94 , because they would have been united in their Agenda, rather than fracturd and factional.

    Now, as for scale and the use of “the politics of personal destruction”; no one comes near Rove.

    Ask Max Cleland or even McCain after you walk around the swiftboats.

  • Blue Meanie, I really wasn’t trying to suggest that one side is more vilianous than the other. Obviously, depending on which side of the political street you are on you are going to see the other guys as the bad guys. I suppose I was just trying to say there is enough dirt and there have been enough underhanded tactics employed by partisans of both sides. Period. Both sides hit below the belt early and often.

  • Blue Meanie

    DJR- I wasn’t trying ot imply that you were. Instead I was clearly stating that both sides have their scumbags.

    It’s just that Rove is literally an order of magnitude worse than any other operative I’ve seen in the last 30 years of paying attention to politics.

    Your comment in #40 would be perfectly accurate for Ed Rollins, Bob Schrumm, Carville, Dick Morris and many of the rest who would stoop way low to get a dirty shot at someone’s political nutsack.

    But you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has risen to the levels of the three examples I’ve given above, and that was my point.

  • djr is clearly more vilainous than me.

  • I am The Evil Empire.

  • I’ve been waiting for six years for the Bush crowd to self destruct and somehow, although his support keeps waning he just walks unscathed through the fire !(no brain, no pain)Every time a problem arises another of his loyal crew gets tossed to the wolves, throws himself into the fire or another crisis arises that requires immediate attention from the whole nation!

    I thought we finally had it nailed when Karl Rove came under fire for leaking the identity of a CIA agent. Now, had this been any one else in the Bush rank and file he or she would have been tossed immediately ! Rove? No way!
    What would Bush do without him? Stutter ? hide ? Run like Hell ?

    He sure couldn’t be the President of the United States!And nobody knows this better than Bush.How long has the Rove incident been going on? It’s not ! It’s not even an issue anymore.

    Now, consider where our attention has been focused since that incident.Well, we try not to go to Iraq, being a war president isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Still, when a good size group of our young heroes gets blown up all at once you can’t just ignore it so you play it for what it’s worth! We’ll use it to deflect attention from Rove and talk about those ‘Bad people who hate us for our freedom (like the freedom to elect our own President without the worry of a coup de gras or miscount?)or some other mishap that would divert attention.
    It seems you can’t even catch your breath long enough to focus on the real issues.Like Karl Rove!
    More dead, more diversions,,rapidly escalating oil prices,diversions,,tax cuts for the wealthy,on and on,,!

    This is the one issue which if pursued with the furvor it is warranted that would put an end to this entire nightmare once and for all. Then and only then can we begin rebuilding this country to the stature of respected superpower we were seven years ago.

    The Democrats (and Republicans who have come to their senses) need to turn the heat up full force and indict Rove as should have been done many weeks ago!

    As far as Bush is concerned Karl Rove is the most valuable man alive and he is well aware he could not continue to pretend to do his job without him !Focus on one thing, the man who is really running this country and quit being waylayed by other issues. We’ve got to fix THIS problem before we can attack all the others!