The Unbelievable Karl Rove

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, November 13, 2006; 2:00 PM

How did Karl Rove get everything so wrong? And shouldn't we take anything he says from this point forward with a big grain of salt?

Rove's divide-and-conquer political strategy, his insistence that Republican candidates embrace the war in Iraq as a campaign issue, his supremely self-assured predictions of victory -- all were proven deeply, even delusionally wrong last week.

His prediction that Republicans would retain both houses of Congress, in particular, is hardly explicable by "bad math" and Mark Foley.

Either Rove lied or he's clueless. Or both. But will that tarnish Rove's reputation in Washington? Maybe not.

Rove, at least for the moment, remains too powerful to be ignored. Plus, he knows how to play the press like a fiddle. Right now, he's on a rare, on-the-record charm offensive -- and so far, it seems to be going pretty well.

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "For a man still climbing out of the rubble, Karl Rove seemed in his usual unflappable mood. . . .

"The Architect, as President Bush once called him, has a theory for why the building fell down. 'Get me the one-pager!' he cried out to an aide, who promptly delivered a single sheet of paper that had been updated almost hourly since the midterm elections with a series of statistics explaining that the 'thumping' Bush took was not such a thumping after all.

"The theory is this: The building's infrastructure was actually quite sound. It was bad luck and seasonal shifts in the winds that blew out the walls -- complacent candidates, an ill-timed Mark Foley page scandal and the predictable cycles of history. But the foundation is fine: 'The Republican philosophy is alive and well and likely to reemerge in the majority in 2008.'

"The rest of Washington might think Tuesday's elections were a repudiation of Rove's brand of politics, but Rove does not. . . .

"Rove's brand of politics aims to sharpen differences with the opposition, energize the conservative base and micro-target voters to pick off selected parts of the other side's constituency. As he has in past elections, Rove designed a strategy to paint Democrats as weak on national security and terrorism, the 'party of cut and run.'

"In an expansive interview last week, Rove said that strategy was working until the House page sex scandal involving ex-representative Foley (R-Fla.) put the Republican campaign 'back on its heels,' as he put it. 'We were on a roll, and it stopped it,' he said. 'It revived all the stuff about Abramoff and added to it.' . . .

"As for Rove's 'supreme confidence' that Republicans would keep both houses of Congress, Baker writes: "It turns out that Rove is mortal after all, and not always so good at math."

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