By Craig Robinson
After winning re-election in 2004, then President George W. Bush referred to his long time friend and trusted advisor, Karl Rove, as the architect of his political machine. The accolades were well deserved. Rove did more than help Bush win re-election, he successfully piloted Bush’s political career from the governor’s mansion in Austin to the White House.
After the 2004 re-election, Rove set out to create what he called a “permanent Republican majority.” The idea that somehow Republicans could stay the majority party in America for an extended period of time was music to the ears of many in the party, but it was also naïve. Things far beyond a political consultant’s control tend to impact American politics, thus making Rove’s Republican utopia an impossible dream from the start.
As President Bush has faded into the foreground since leaving office in January 2009, Rove has remained a constant and ever growing force in Republican politics. Although Rove’s not shepherding another ambitious candidate through the political guillotine of American politics, he does have an enormous influence on the outcomes of elections. Funded with hundreds of millions of dollars, Rove influences elections from the outside with his super PAC, Crossroads GPS.
From his new perch, Rove and his group poured over $300 million into the nine battleground states that would determine the 2012 presidential election. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, was only successful in one of them – North Carolina.
Following the disastrous results of the 2012 elections, Rove and Republicans figureheads have been doing plenty of soul searching. There are numerous reasons why Republicans struggled up and down the ballot last November, but the main culprits, according to many GOP power brokers, are the party’s beliefs on core issues like abortion, gay marriage, and immigration.
All the post election soul-searching has led to the same conclusion. The problem with the GOP is that it actually has soul in the first place.
For months now, the media has lectured Republican voters saying that their belief in issues like the sanctity of life and traditional marriage are losers at the ballot box. Never mind the fact that these are religious beliefs for most people. To the profession political class, everything is negotiable because, in their minds, winning elections paramount to everything else.
Apparently, it’s not just the handful of long held Republican social positions that are making it difficult for Republican to win at the ballot box, it’s also who primary voters select to be their nominee.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Rove and his Super PAC have a plan to help prevent the Republican Party from nominating conservative candidates who believe in such things as the rule of law, traditional marriage, and the sanctity of life. According to Steven Law, the president of American Crossroads, Rove is launching a new entity aimed to help more moderate candidates defeat their conservative challengers in primary contests.
Playing in primary contests is something that Rove has avoided until now, but the problem is that Rove and his associates are not even patient enough to wait until candidates declare their intentions to actually seek higher office. The New Times article quoted Law saying, “We’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem,” in regards to a potential U.S. Senate run by King in 2014.
It is widely accepted in Iowa that Congressman Tom Latham is the Republicans’ strongest general election candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2014, but if Latham doesn’t run, King is the best alternative by far. Instead of a full frontal attack of King in the New York Times, Rove and Company would have been more effective in lobbing Latham to get into the race than trying to scare King out of running.
Law’s remarks in the New York Time also reek of hypocrisy. If King is such a toxic candidate for Republicans, why did Crossroads spend $400,000 attacking King’s opponent last October? Taking a preemptive strike against King before anyone has formally announced his or her intentions for the Iowa’s U.S. senate seat is not just destructive to King should he run, but it also creates a bigger rift among party activists in the state.
King might not be the preferred candidate of the Washington establishment, but Iowans could do far worse. Besides being very conservative, King is also smart and possesses an incredible work ethic. It also shouldn’t be overlooked that the candidate he would likely face if he runs for the U.S. Senate is either going to be Christie Vilsack, whom he has already defeated, or Congressman Bruce Braley, who is as liberal as King is conservative.
The real question that the New York Time article raises is, what actions will Rove and his new subsidiary actually take to thwart a candidate like King from winning the Republican nomination? The article states that Rove and his minions will use hard-edged campaign tactics, including negative television advertising, against conservative candidates.
One has to wonder how well Rove’s negative attacks will go over in a state like Iowa. Rove spent over $300 million attacking President Obama, and he’s still in office. Attacking someone like King in a Republican primary is going to go over like a lead balloon. In fact, attacking King before there is an actual primary only makes it more likely that Rove is not going to get the result he desires.
In the past four years, there have been countless examples of conservatives rallying around their candidate when attacked by someone or something they perceive as being the Republican establishment. If any one should realize this, it’s Rove himself.
The most recent example is the Todd Akin senate race in Missouri. Rove called on Akin to drop out of the Missouri senate race following his unfortunate comments to a local television station. Republicans were justified to be concerned about the impact those remarks would have on the race, but Rove’s heavy-handedness actually worked against him.
Conservatives all across the county rallied around Akin’s candidacy. Instead of running to the nearest TV camera and insisting that Akin drop his candidacy, Rove could have let his actions (Rove cancelled a $875k ad buy in Missouri) speak for him. Instead, Rove amplified the situation, which only gave news organizations more opportunities to report on the incident and discredit the candidate.
This wasn’t the first time Rove’s bravado actually worked against him. Before the 2010 elections, Rove ripped Christine O’Donnell after she won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Delaware. His comments created a media frenzy that was bad for all Republicans, not just the candidates he opposed. In most cases, Rove’s position on certain candidates is understandable, but his words and actions end up aiding the Democrat candidates he’s trying to defeat.
If Rove follows through on his initiative to seek and destroy conservatives he finds to be unacceptable, Bush’s architect will have become the GOP’s demolition man. With the Republican Party already being divided along philosophical and ideological lines, the last thing we need is an out-of-state outsider trying to determine who is best to represent Iowa Republicans.
Rove would also be well served to follow the advice in his own book. In his book, Courage and Consequence, Rove details how Sen. John Kerry’s campaign was off message because it didn’t advance its own positive agenda. Instead it merely attacked the Bush administration for everything it did. Like the Kerry campaign, Rove is severely off message by wanting to bring cause chaos to primary battles.
Maybe instead of spending millions of dollars attacking fellow Republicans, Rove might be better served by trying to figure out how he can use his vast resources to do something constructive. A good place to start might be keeping his nose out of other people’s business.
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