Karl Rove Resigns, Effective August 31st

White House political adviser Karl Rove has announced his resignation, effective August 31st:

“I just think it’s time,” Rove told the Wall Street Journal. “There’s always something that can keep you here, and as much as I’d like to be here, I’ve got to do this for the sake of my family.”

He told the newspaper that he would leave Washington to return to Texas and that he had first suggested the idea of leaving a year ago. However a series of problems for the Bush administration, starting when the Democrats took control of Congress and then as immigration and the Iraq war topped the agenda, made the enormously powerful Rove stay on.

But one of President Bush’s most trusted advisors claimed his hand was forced when White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten announced that any senior staff that were working past Labor Day (September 3) would be expected to stay on until the end of Bush’s term in January 2007.

To paraphrase Freud, sometimes political figures “resign to spend more time with their family” because they really want to spend more time with their family. Whether or not that’s actually the case with Rove is anyone’s guess, however.

UPDATE (James Joyner): The WSJ story is here. CNN paraphrased it almost in its entirety. This, however, is interesting:

In the interview, Mr. Rove said he expects Democrats to give the 2008 presidential nomination to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he described as “a tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate.” He also said Republicans have “a very good chance” to hold onto the White House in next year’s elections.

Mr. Rove also said he expects the president’s approval rating to rise again, and that conditions in Iraq will improve as the U.S. military surge continues. He said he expects Democrats to be divided this fall in the battle over warrantless wiretapping, while the budget battle — and a series of presidential vetoes — should help Republicans gain an edge on spending restraint and taxes.

I think Rove’s right on Clinton. Otherwise, though, his public prognostication skills have been really off for a while, despite his having access to the good polls. It’s probably technically true that Bush’s approval numbers and the situation in Iraq will improve; that’s not difficult given the baselines.

Still, as Paul Gigot notes, it’s been quite a ride.

Mr. Rove doesn’t say, though others do, that this timing also allows him to leave on his own terms. He has survived a probe by a remorseless special counsel, and lately a subpoena barrage from Democrats for whom he is the great white whale. He shows notable forbearance in declining to comment on prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who dragged him through five grand jury appearances. He won’t even disclose his legal bills, except to quip that “every one has been paid” and that “it was worth every penny.”

What about those who say he’s leaving to avoid Congressional scrutiny? “I know they’ll say that,” he says, “But I’m not going to stay or leave based on whether it pleases the mob.” He also knows he’ll continue to be a target, even from afar, since belief in his influence over every Administration decision has become, well, faith-based.

“I’m a myth. There’s the Mark of Rove,” he says, with a bemused air. “I read about some of the things I’m supposed to have done, and I have to try not to laugh.” He says the real target is Mr. Bush, whom many Democrats have never accepted as a legitimate president and “never will.”

It is his long and personal relationship with Mr. Bush that has made Mr. Rove arguably the most influential White House aide of modern times. The president calls him to chat about politics on Sunday mornings, and they have a contest to see who can read the most books. (Mr. Rove is winning.) I’ve known Mr. Rove for 19 years and spoken to him hundreds of times. Yet I can’t recall a single instance where he disclosed how his views differed from Mr. Bush’s. Mr. Bolten hasn’t decided on a replacement, and Mr. Rove’s duties may yet be divided up.

Mr. Rove’s political influence has been historic, notwithstanding the rout of 2006. His crucial insight in 2000 was recognizing that Mr. Bush had to be both an alternative to Bill Clinton’s scandalous behavior and “a different kind of Republican.” In 2002, the president’s party gained seats in both the House and Senate in a first midterm election for the first time since 1934.

And in 2004, for only the second time in history, a president won re-election while helping his party gain seats in both houses of Congress; the other time was 1936. Much has been made of John Kerry’s ineptitude, but the senator won some eight million more votes than Al Gore did in 2000, and Mr. Rove claims Democrats outspent Republicans by $148 million thanks to billionaire donations to “527” committees. Yet amid a difficult war, Mr. Bush won by increasing his own vote by nearly 25% over 2000, winning 81% of U.S. counties. The Rove-Ken Mehlman turnout effort was a spectacular achievement. If it did nothing else, that 2004 victory put John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, the upside of all this has been a virtual inability to govern. How much of that is Rove’s doing, of course, it’s impossible to say.

Politically, it would have been good for the Bush administration had Rove decided his family needed him quite a while back. Bush’s vaunted loyalty was at least understandable in Rove’s case, given that he had guided him through four successful election campaigns, but his divide and conquer style did not serve a wartime president well.

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Chris Lawrence
About Chris Lawrence
Chris teaches political science at Middle Georgia State University in Macon, Georgia. He has a Ph.D. in political science (with concentrations in American politics and political methodology) from the University of Mississippi. He began writing for OTB in June 2006. Follow him on Twitter @lordsutch.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I think there’s a kernel of truth in Rove’s pronouncement. It looks to me as though Democrats were following a well-trodden path: nominating a candidate really unlikely to secure the presidency, convincing themselves that the candidate is the best of all possible candidates, and then being surprised and hurt that the unelectable candidate (sometimes nominated on the grounds of electability) doesn’t get elected.

    The Democrats’ hope is that Republicans will do exactly the same thing and I think they may be doing just that.

  2. legion says:

    Bush’s vaunted loyalty was at least understandable in Rove’s case, given that he had guided him through four successful election campaigns, but his divide and conquer style did not serve a wartime president well.

    It wasn’t so much the divide & conquer strategy that made him so reviled, it was the overt identification of the GOP with America(TM) – the spreading of the idea that any criticism of the GOP (let alone the President) was redefined as criticism of America, and tantamount to disloyalty, if not outright treason. The alignment of “what’s good for the GOP” with “what’s good for America”, even when what’s good for the GOP is clearly _bad_ for America, also gets him a free kick in the junk on the infintesimal chance we ever meet.

    That said, he was undenably successful at what he put his mind to. The real excitement will occur in September (and is no doubt going on behind the scenes right now) when the crop of GOP candidates start bidding for his services. That’s the reason I suspect he’s bailing now – he needs time away from W to choose the next king…

  3. Triumph says:

    Does Rove even HAVE a family?

    He will be sorely missed. Hopefully he will be signing on with the Freddy Thompson campaign and will ride that horse back into the White House.

  4. davod says:

    I sense more sour grapes than real commentary. Rove was one of the most successfull campaign men of all time.

  5. Anjin-San says:

    Rove was one of the most successfull campaign men of all time


    I don’t think anyone denies Rove’s great talent for politics. But to what use what it put? The Bush Admin has been a disaster for America…