The Governor's 'Iron Triangle' Points the Way to Washington
Friday, July 23, 1999
AUSTIN -- Gov. George W. Bush was sitting in his office in the Texas Capitol building, a few days before his first campaign trip to Iowa and New Hampshire. He was restless, like a boxer impatient to climb into the ring. The newsmagazine photographers had just finished shooting his portrait. Outside in the ornate reception area, a foreign visitor awaited him.
Bush was explaining why he had selected a trio of political advisers with virtually no experience in presidential politics to guide his candidacy.
Their names are little known outside Texas. Some among Bush's extended family have grumbled that the inner circle may not be up to this challenge. But as he prepared to leave the cocoon of Austin that day, the candidate had no second thoughts.
"This campaign is going to have rough spots," Bush said. "These polls aren't going to be quite as glamorous as they are now. There are going to be instances where people [say], 'The Bush campaign's wheels are coming off.' Those are the moments when your friends stand up, and every one of these three people are friends. We've grown up together politically."
Known as the Iron Triangle, the three--Karl Rove, Joe Allbaugh and Karen Hughes--have formed Bush's political inner circle since he first ran for governor in 1994. Their control over the campaign is near absolute--as others are learning. Last week, for instance, Washington veteran and campaign spokesman David Beckwith was forced to resign over differences with the Bush team.
Rove is the campaign's chief strategist, Allbaugh the campaign manager and Hughes the communications director. But Allbaugh has a more colorful description. He calls them: "the brain, the brawn and the bite."
Before there was Lee Atwater, there was Karl Rove.
Back in 1972, the 22-year-old Rove was a candidate for chairman of the College Republicans. The rambunctious Atwater was his Southern regional coordinator. For a week, they drove the blue highways of the South in a mustard-brown Ford Pinto, scouring the region for support, running out of gas and courting coeds.
"Somewhere between Tallahassee and some university in Alabama, we stopped for breakfast at 6 o'clock in the morning," Rove says as if it were just last month. "Atwater orders cornflakes and pours Tabasco sauce on them because he's lost his taste buds."
In a bitterly contested election, Rove defeated John T. "Terry" Dolan, who later headed the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), the organization that helped define the scorched-earth politics of the late 1970s.
Atwater rose to national prominence ahead of Rove, serving as presidential campaign manager for Gov. Bush's father in 1988 and later as chairman of the Republican National Committee until he died of a brain tumor. "We both cut our teeth at the same time," Rove says. "He rose much faster, much farther than I did."