Did Karl Rove Lose a Generation of Republicans?
James Carville has an editorial in the Financial Times, of all places, explaining “How Karl Rove lost a generation of Republicans.”
He’s generous in noting that, “If we concluded our analysis in 2007 and confined our judgment merely to Mr Rove’s immediate electoral record, we would have no choice but to judge him a spectacular success. There is no doubt that Mr Rove won elections. He has perhaps one of the most remarkable win-percentages in modern American politics.”
From there, though, he touts a series of polls showing that the Democrats have made huge gains among young voters (which Carville surely knows is an oxymoron) and swing voters. Naturally, he blames Rove. So far as it goes, he’s got a point. There’s not much doubt that the divide and conquer strategy had its cost.
Still, Carville takes this well beyond its logical conclusions:
Mr Rove’s famous electoral strategy — focusing on the Republican base first — is also largely responsible for a shift in international public opinion against the US. It would not be fair to blame Mr Rove for the Iraq war. But it is clearly fair to blame his strategy for the Terry Schiavo fiasco and the Republicans’ adherence to the policies and doctrines of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson. The world and now most of the US are contemptuous of the theocratic underpinnings of the policy Mr Rove ushered into government.
I thought the Republican majority’s actions in the Schiavo case were outrageous and said so frequently. Still, I’m rather sure they’d have taken place were Rove to have retired after the 2004 election. But the idea that Rove — or anyone else — has ushered into government some sort of theocracy is absurd. What policies and doctrines have been adhered to, pray tell?
The irresponsible interventions of the former Republican majority in Congress notwithstanding, Terry Schiavo was allowed to die. Otherwise: Abortion? Still legal. Prayer in public schools? Still illegal. Gay marriage and civil unions: More legal than they were under Bill Clinton or ever before.
It’s likely true that the Republican Platform is out of step with the consensus on these issues, since the platform has been essentially static since 1980 and the public view has shifted inexorably leftward. But that’s hardly Karl Rove’s doing.
He has been assistant to the president, senior advisor and deputy chief of staff. Mr Rove was the architect of social security reform, immigration, the hiring and firing of justice department officials and the placement of literally thousands of ideologically driven buffoons throughout the US government. As deputy chief of staff he was also responsible for handling the White House post-Katrina reconstruction efforts. On these actions, history has already rendered its judgment on Mr Rove. And, as we say in Louisiana, “it ain’t pretty”.
This ascribes too much to Rove, I think. Certainly, it’s absurd to lay Katrina at his doorstep. Social Security reform barely made a blip on the radar screen;surely, it’s not responsible for the GOP’s poll standings.
The McCain-Kennedy immigration bill was bipartisan and the opposition was almost entirely from the Right. That issue, more than perhaps any other save the Iraq War, has hurt the GOP. But it goes against the thesis that Rove was pandering to the base at all costs. Indeed, politically speaking, the president and the party would have been far better served adopting the Rovian strategy.
To the extent that the under-25 cohort is permanently alienated from the Republican Party — and I’m more than a little dubious that it’s so — it has much, much more to do with the war than with a polarizing political strategist. And, ultimately, it’s decision-makers, not advisers, who get the blame for that. To paraphrase Rove’s predecessor, “It’s the President, stupid.”