Saturday, November 11, 2006

Midterm postmortems - Republicans

Hekuva job Karl.

Republicans are quick to rally round Karl Rove asserting that its not his fault that the Republicans lost the midterm elections.

Not so fast.

I agree that Rove is one of the finest political tactitians in US history but he isn't a good strategist and certainly isn't a genius. Exit polls indicate that the biggest issues for voters were corruption, Iraq and incompetence. Although both were outside Rove's direct control his influence was critical.

Rewind to the first 12 months of the Bush Presidency. After running as 'a uniter not a divider' Bush swung sharply to the right before the election results were counted. From the start Rove put 'the base' first. Any hope of bipartisanship evaporated as Rove attacked with a series of wedge issues beginning with abortion and gay marriage and ending with the biggest wedge issue of all - the Iraq war.

If Rove had been a political genius he would have realized that Bush could have eclipsed Reagan if he had chosen to act just slightly differently in the wake of 9/11. The entire country was behind him and wanted him to suceed. Instead of reaching out to the middle Bush sucker punched them.

Rove was not in control of every part of the Bush strategy but he was most certainly the author of the Terri Schaivo fiasco. Intended as a cheap means of ingratiating the party with the conservative right the Schiavo affair reaked of political opportunism so baddly that even the base was offended. Later when the Katrina fiasco unfolded numerous comentators noticed how Bush had rushed back to the Whitehouse from his Crawford ranch to sign the bill but didn't find Katrina as important.

If Rove had been halfway competent, let alone a genius he would have had the President on show before the storm hit. Rove was also on holiday when Katrina hit but what sort of genius does not have a halfway competent deputy to mind the store and call him in when there is a major problem?

Rove's personal involvement with Abramoff was not discussed widely enough to have been a cause of the defeat. Rove does however share responsibility for the failure to police the Congress and ensure that political liabilities were removed. In particular Rove was responsible for pressuring Mark Foley to stand for another term despite the fact that his page problem was already known to Hastert. A halfway competent strategist would have known what Hastert knew.

Rove also bears an indirect responsibility for the culture of corruption. Rove was so good at the tactics that the party had become complacent. Ted Stevens would never had his bridges to nowhere approved if the party had seriously considered the possibility of defeat. The party approved them because they thought that they could get away with it. The insistence on controlling every news cycle set the party up for failure as soon as the news cycle refused to be controlled.

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