Rove's Dismal Legacy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, August 13, 2007; 1:54 PM

Karl Rove's legacy will not be what he wanted it to be.

The political guru who made President Bush what he is today had hoped to leave behind a permanent Republican ruling majority. Instead, his tenure will stand as an example of how divisiveness and partisanship are not conducive to successful governance.

After years of being lauded as a political genius, Rove nevertheless leaves his party in worse shape than he found it, with his boss profoundly discredited in the eyes of the American people.

When historians look back at Bush's squandered opportunity to unite the country and even the world behind a shared agenda after 9/11, part of the blame will go to Vice President Cheney and the decision to invade Iraq. But part will accrue to Rove for choosing to use national security as a wedge issue.

Why Did He Resign?

"I just think it's time," Rove said, announcing and explaining his decision to resign in an interview with Paul A. Gigot, the editor of The Wall Street Journal's far-right editorial page. The interview was published this morning.

Rove told Gigot he first floated the idea of leaving a year ago and made his decision after White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten recently told senior aides that if they stayed past Labor Day they were committing to stay to the end -- to January 2009.

But is there some other reason? Is there some other shoe about to drop? Some Democrats have been demanding Rove'e resignation ever since the original suspicion -- eventually proved correct -- that he was one of the administration officials who leaked Valerie Plame's secret CIA identity to reporters. And since Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, Rove has been a central figure in any number of House and Senate investigations, most notably the ones relating to last year's firings of several U.S. attorneys who may not have met Rove's standards for partisanship on the job.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux reports that she asked Rove this morning for his reaction to those who say he's being "run out of town." His typically grandiose yet nonresponsive answer, by e-mail: "That sounds like the rooster claiming to have called up the sun."

But as Doug Feaver writes after looking over comments from readers: "[M]any of them [are] expressing jubilation at the departure of one they see as evil, [but] many more [are] stating a firm conviction that Rove's statement to the Journal that 'I've got to do this for the sake of my family' is a cover story at best and that the real reason has to be to defend himself from some yet unspecified scandal or legal hassle."

Rove's Many Faces

Rove is in many ways a walking political Rorschach test. Often called the "architect" of Bush's victories, he is considered by many to be "Bush's brain." The president alternately calls him "boy genius" or "turd blossom," a Texas phrase describing a flower that grows in manure.

In a survey of press coverage on Nov. 8, 2004, just after Bush's re-election, I found Rove described as bright, brilliant, capable, charming, funny, generous, ingenious, omnipotent, powerful, shrewd, skilled, thoughtful and visionary. And also: crude, devious, dorky, evil, feared, foolish, mean, repellent and vindictive.

Rove was the prime mover behind -- and the ultimate example of -- the Bush White House's confusion of politics and policy. Bush gave Rove license to subordinate policy decisions to political goals.

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