Monday, August 13, 2007

Rove: just time for him to go

After talking with several sources in Washingto9n, here's my preliminary take on Karl Rove's impending resignation as chief White political adviser and personal guru to Dubya:

It may be that the simplest explanation is closest to the truth. This was simply the most efficacious time for him to leave, to get going writing that book he's been talking about, and make some serious money on the lecture circuit while demand for his words is still high, which it might not be after a new administration moves in. One person fairly close to him said he would likely have resigned after the congressional election if the GOP hadn't been beaten -- and then there was the Valerie Plame affair.

Some say he's still vulnerable to congressional investigations, and the Democrats might yet beat back the executive privilege claim and compel him to testify before some committee or another. But the likelihood of an indictment or serious legal trouble seems pretty low to me. There's little doubt he was instrumental in politicizing the Justice Department in the U.S. attorneys affair, but while that may be reprehensible I doubt if it's indictable.

Rove's departure also means the Bush presidency is pretty much over. The strategy for the remainder of the term is set, and Bush doesn't need Rove standing by to tell him to veto a couple of spending bills to try to repair the GOP's tattered (mostly by him) reputation as the party of fiscal discipline.

I met Rove only once, in a small group, when Dubya was running the first time. He struck me as very bright and self-confident and enjoyable to talk with, but perhaps not the universal genius some preferred to see him as. And the loss of Congress and Bush's low approval ratings certainly suggest he hasn't been an unqualified success.

Like most administration defenders and many who are separating themselves from the administration, he hasn't come to terms with the importance of the unpopularity of the Iraq war in bringing about the GOP loss last November; even understanding his desire to keep spinning for the administration, that suggests a certain lack of the qualities that make for objective analysis. His insistence in the Paul Gigot interview that it was almost solely Congress's corruption that led to the loss is just lame. And while his strategy of appealing to the "base" first may have won the 2004 election, it led fairly directly to Bush's current unpopularity. There's also the oddity of appealing to the base during elections and alienating it on governance issues (immigration, Medicare entitlement, etc.).

It's too early to judge whether he helped create a permanent GOP governing coalition -- and probably unwise to credit him rather than deeper trends too much if it turns out that way. Democrats are certainly aware that the 2006 results could have been an anomaly and that the right circumstances could send a sufficient number of independents and moderates back to the GOP side, especially if the Iraq war finally becomes part of the past, not the present.

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