There is a piece by Howard Fineman about Karl Rove’s fall from grace. The focus is on Rove promoting “moderate” candidates over more conservative ones throughout most of his career. While the Fineman makes it look like Rove played the base, he fails to point out one fact-conservatives have tolerated apostates.
People like to point out Reagan raised taxes. Also health care was expanded under Newt Gingrich via SCHIP and George W pushed through the biggest expansion of Medicare with his prescription drug program. Yet, conservative voters didn’t punish these Republicans for their unorthodoxy. The base has and will continue to vote for whoever the GOP nominates.
What ultimately did Rove in was one simple fact-he lost. 2012 was suppose to be a banner year for Republicans. They had a Democratic incumbent who was presiding over the worst economy since the 1930s and almost unlimited spending power. However, not only did Obama win reelection but the Democrats gained seats in the Senate and Republicans only held onto the House thanks to redistricting. In Karl they trusted and they lost.
The lesson Rove took away from defeat was optics-if only Republicans had nominated people who didn’t say stupid things-like Akin and Mourdock’s comments regarding rape-Republicans would have done great. So, with his vast resources, Rove decided to keep a lid on the crazies like Steve King of Iowa. However, to the base, Rove lecturing the Iowa GOP on winnability was like Tim Tebow giving quarterback advice. So, Rove has backed down and people are already dancing on his grave.
What always amazes me about these Establishment Republicans is how little they understand the monster they’ve created. Rove, and his buddy Lee Atwater, made the basis of Republican philosophy simple-put people against other people. Whether it was white against black, men against women, employer against employee, the strategy was divide and conquer. The key to their success was to properly stereotype their opponent. Welfare queens, lazy unions, educated snobs, effeminate gays-they all were the enemy. I remember their message on abortion very well-a partying slut gets knocked up and, 7 months into the pregnancy, she decides to lazily opt-out. With caricatures like that, how could you not be a conservative?
Yet, times change. People want to see women in control of their bodies. People have friends and family who are black or brown or gay. More and more young people are tired of the culture war and the drug war. Religion matters less and less. More and more, people are concerned about rising inequality and how people my age will have less than our parents did. The conservative solution to any economic problem is cut taxes, deregulate business and bust unions. Only we’ve tried that for the last 30 years and growth has been slower yet more concentrated at the top.
Guys like Rove have told conservatives they could have live in their make-believe world (remember, it was most likely Rove who popularized the term “reality-based community”) and still win elections. All they had to do was put a guy who could fake caring about broader issues and throw a bone to non-conservatives once in awhile and they’d be alright. However, the groups of people conservatives managed to piss off grew bigger and bigger and now make up the majority of the electorate. All the GOP has is structural flaws they can exploit (like gerrymandering) and the backing of major donors. However, in time, even these advantages will fade.
Karl Rove is a grifter, a huckster, and a charlatan. However, in politics, he is hardly the first and will hardly be the last. What Rove’s real sin was creating a major political party based on fear, hatred, and anger towards “the other.” Something tells me he is not going to be punished for that and this rage isn’t going to go away any time soon…