The Man with the Plan – Published in the Boston Globe
Rove, President Bush’s Uber-strategist, plays a game no one else knows. Thus, he and his candidates are the only ones who can win. In the summer, when it was clear that George W. Bush had animated the left the way Bill Clinton had vivified the right, pundits began to wonder how Rove might gain the voters in the middle. No analyst earning a retainer from a television network thought the president could win without picking up support from those who were wavering in their decision and were wandering homeless around the middle of the political spectrum. Rove, though, hardly seemed concerned. As he always has since the beginning of his remarkable political ascension, “Bush’s Brain” had a plan.
Rove’s idea, like all of nature’s most elegant designs, was quite simple: motivate the GOP fundamentalist conservative base to increase turnout and then make reasonable inroads into traditionally non-Republican voter groups. Obviously, he needed a mechanism to execute his strategy. These are worrisome times, Rove reasoned, and people are seeking certainty. Regardless of how impossible it might be to deliver such goods, Rove’s candidate assured the trembling masses that he was just the man to protect them and their children from the evildoers of Islam. Being Karl Rove also required that he provide iconography and so, suddenly, 30-something mothers, holding their infants, began appearing on network newscasts and expressing their beliefs that they trusted George W. Bush to make safe the lives of their babies. The mythological “security mom” was seduced by the Texas warrior king. Mr. Bush’s share of the female vote went up four points over 2000 to 47 percent.
The voters not enthralled by the president’s saber, however, were comforted by his faith. Between the spending of the 527 interest groups and the two campaigns, Internet bloggers, newspapers, and bow-tied talk show bloviators, the average voter was suffocating under information. Making a decision was complicated, even among Democrats and Republicans who used their core beliefs to avoid analytical thinking. Rove presented these voters with a president on his knees in prayer. A humble man guided by his god, (who talks openly about being a humble man guided by his god,) became a default choice for a fretful electorate, (which has been busy lately doing a lot of its own praying.) Nothing motivated the president’s conservative base more than this relationship with his god. And faith in Mr. Bush’s faith helped many voters make their choice. Exit polls indicated 22 percent chose “moral values” as the most critical issue of the campaign. John Kerry was unable to convince the country he ever got closer to God than an altar boy while the president constantly implied he was experiencing a form of communication that was beyond the common prayer. Catholic Kerry was unable to earn more than half of the Catholic vote.
Rove, who has long been dedicated to diverting traditional Jewish support from Democrats, helped his client earn a five percentage point gain over the president’s Jewish vote numbers of 2000. Although a tiny percentage of the U.S. population, Jewish voters have historically donated millions to Democrats. Slowing this flow of cash is a critical part of Rove’s grand scheme to construct a Republican dynasty for the next 30 years. The policy expression of this is the Bush administration’s failure to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. White House spokesbot Scott McClellan uses the same template for a response every time a reporter asks whether Israel might have overreacted in specific military attacks on Palestinian territories. Regardless of civilian casualties, the Bush White House always answers, “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Of course, all sovereign nations have the same authority. Unfortunately for Americans, who are terrorizing themselves by obsessing on terrorism, Israel’s defensive actions are not viewed with such simplicity among Arabs. Radical Islamists in Iraq also believe they have a “right to defend themselves.” That is not, however, an overarching concern of Karl Rove’s. His president’s and his party’s political and spiritual destinies are connected to Israel. The Christian fundamentalists who walked the neighborhoods of America for Mr. Bush on Election Day believe they, their president, and Israel are simply performing their assigned roles in a production called, “Revelations.”
The marketplace of ideas is no different than the marketplace of products. If a product is not properly branded when it is launched, the consumers will brand it for the manufacturer. And few products ever get out from under an image stuck on them by consumers. Consequently, Coke did not become “the real thing” by accident. Senator Kerry the product did not have a reputation as a “flip-flopper,” either, until he entered into the presidential “market.” Before he had figured out how he wanted to sell himself to the public, or what his messages were, Rove had attacked the foundational strengths of the Senator’s candidacy. The man who had been tested in combat and whose character was tempered by war was painted as a politician so craven that he embellished his service record to get medals he did not earn. Never mind that the Department of the Navy had sworn affidavits testifying to their commander’s courage from men who were at Kerry’s side as the bullets were flying past. Under Rove’s tutelage, such lying has become an acceptable political tool for Republicans. Unfortunately, Senator Kerry got bad advice and ignored the guns of August aimed at him by Swift Boat deceivers. The wound left Kerry staggering and cost him, as a minimum, the 100,000 plus vote margin in Ohio. The president, however, was packaged, branded, and marketed so effectively by Rove that his image as a spiritual man dedicated to protecting us from evil seemingly overwhelmed the disaster that is the Iraqi conflict and our quickly devolving economy.
Privately, Rove has not declared victory, though. Just as he views Iraq as a solitary battle in the wider war on terrorism, Rove sees the president’s re-election as only another step to the fruition of his dream of a one party America. Trial lawyers, whose financial support has sustained the Democratic Party’s whimpering vitality, will come under further attack in Congress. Caps on medical malpractice lawsuits will seriously limit trial lawyers’ ability to fund political efforts by Democrats and will make it near impossible for aggrieved citizens to gain access to the civil justice system. No attorney will be able to afford to take contingency cases. Labor unions, the other source of Democratic strength, also need to gird for Rove’s armies of the right. Eventually, he will attain his goal of a Democratic Party too weak to compete and a government turned into a vestigial organ, too monetarily listless to help the poor or regulate business because every scarce tax dollar is servicing a monstrous federal deficit.
In his office in the West Wing, Karl Rove has a signed picture of George W. Bush on his desk. The photo is from their glory days in Texas and the inscription from the then governor reads, “To Karl, the man with the plan.” All these years later, Rove still has the same plan. And it’s working perfectly.
James C. Moore is the co-author of the best-selling, “Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential.”