"The election of 1894 remade national politics. It terminated the years of even balance, opened a generation of Republican dominance, and condemned the Democrats to a minority status, with the exception of the accident of Woodrow Wilson's presidency, until the Great Depression and the New Deal." -- presidential scholar Lewis Gould, quoted by James Moore and Wayne Slater. These words would drive Karl Rove's political plans for asserting Republican dominance in the 21st century.
"[Rove is] a grotesquely corpulent, politically sociopathic parasite who destroys all government he touches." -- Cliff Schecter
"The mad monk Savonarola ushered in the Inquisition to medieval Florence. What Savonarola did to Florence, Karl Rove is doing to the United States." -- Max Black
"All roads lead to Karl." -- former Reagan chief of staff and Republican lobbyist Ken Duberstein
"The influence of Karl Rove on the president may raise constitutional questions. But there is little doubt about the practical applications of his position. Rove has a more profound influence on American lives than most officeholders. He is the co-president of the United States. And Americans cannot deny otherwise."
"In everything he's done, George W. Bush's senior political and policy advisor has had a transforming effect on how democracy functions in the United States. Rove's grand vision, complex strategies, and knockdown tactics exceed everything dreamed up by other consultants." Authors James Moore and Wayne Slater, who have produced two critical biographies of Rove, focus not only on Rove's strategies for Bush's success, but on Rove's "considerably larger goal -- a generation of Republican hegemony." Of his legacy, they write, "One piece of that legacy is transforming government into a vestigal, almost debilitated entity. ...The rolling back or elimination of regulations concerning the environment and business will have effects across decades. Programs to expand military reach, often at the expense of education and the poor, will profoundly define who we are as a nation, and it will only be later that we recognize Rove as the minstrel who sung us happy songs we chose to hum."
Rove will likely be remembered most as the man who figured out "how to game the American political system," in the same way that Enron gamed the nation's energy markets. Deception is Rove's primary political tool. Rove uses the millions he garners from corporate supporters to create "television and radio ads that create an alternate reality." Moore and Slater write, "When parents, busy over the kitchen table with their children, glance at the television flickering across the room and see their smiling president beneath a 'Mission Accomplished' banner, they assume the worst is over. Image trumps truth. The stage is more important than the facts. Polls go up." Rove scurrilous lies about his political opponents aren't designed so much to drive committed voters away from their candidate towards the one Rove is working to elect, but to create enough "doubt about opposing ideas and candidates that voters are drawn to their historical default positions." The "Swift-boating" of John Kerry in 2004 was classic Rove gamesmanship. Democrats howled about the fundamental lies underpinning the SBVT ads against Kerry, but they were not Rove's primary target. The targets were Republican moderates and political independents who weren't sure of where their votes would go, and were swayed enough by the ad campaign to reconsider their intent to vote against Bush. The effort, along with numerous elections frauds perpetuated during the campaign, was enough to re-elect Bush to the White House.
Rove's modus operandi is to use "cutouts, surrogate organizations, and various third-party organizations" such at the SBVT. Rove's fellow campaigners, including Mark McKinnon, insist that Rove micromanages every detail of every campaign he runs, and thereby implicates Rove directly in what Moore and Slater call "the long history of undignified acts by surrogate groups and operatives that always seem to accompany Rove's campaigns. Are we to suppose that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth spontaneously arose to attack the characteristic strength of John Kerry, and that Rove had nothing to do with the development? Do we think that all the untruths spread in South Carolina in 2000, meant to portray John McCain as a mentally unstable, biracial adulterer, rose up from the grassroots without any guidance and became the stuff of push polls and busy citizens placing flyers on windshields in church parking lots? Of course not. If Karl Rove is a master of all, then he is master of both the artful political strategies and victory, and the ignominious slurs used against those who oppose him and his candidate." -- James Moore and Wayne Slater
"Karl Rove...saw in [George W.] Bush the raw materials to create a winning candidate. Rove, who was the first person hired by the elder Bush's presidential campaign, had been involved with the family's political endeavors for close to three decades. Intimately familiar with W's strengths and handicaps, Rove readied himself for the moment of convergence between his own ambition of running a winning presidential campaign and the political aspirations of the Bush family and its eldest son. When the battle was finally joined, Rove, more than his candidate, altered the American political process in a manner that will profoundly affect all fugure presidential elections." -- Moore and Slater
"[Bush] wouldn't have had the vision on his own. He wouldn't have had the game plan. He wouldn't have had the agenda. He didn't have...here's a guy now who's making decisions about what the United States needs to do and two years ago, or three years ago, he didn't have the remotest interest in this stuff. And now all of a sudden he's the point man of the world." -- political scientist Bruce Buchanan on Karl Rove's influence on George W. Bush, quoted by James Moore and Wayne Slater
"In an evolutionary chart of the political consultant, Rove represents a new species of advisor. He is the product of the permanent campaign, the co-president, whose relationship with Bush, and his faithful guidance, have put him at the heart of power in a manner unknown to previous political consultants and US electoral history....[Rove's] role, based on his record, appears to be the business of getting the candidate elected, helping to steer policy while in office, assisting the officeholder's re-election, and using the second term to tee up the ball for the party's chosen successor. These are tasks that used to be the province of the candidate, who ultimately became the officeholder. The advent of the permanent campaign, however, a product of two decades of bitter presidential races, provided Rove the opportunity to alter the consultant's profile. He has created the permanent consultant. This new political creature brings with it implications Americans have yet to measure."-- James Moore and Wayne Slater
Karl Rove's goal is the complete control of American government, not only by a single party but by the ideologically "correct" elements of that party. Rove's plan to permanently marginalize the Democrats is simple: destroy the political influence of the groups that traditionally support the Democrats. The nation's trial lawyers are one of Rove's biggest, and earliest, targets. (See other items throughout this site for more information.) Trial lawyers can't make big donations if they can't file and win big, lucrative cases in court. Restricting access to the judiciary system by legislative and executive fiat, restricting citizens' ability to sue business interests, all serve double interests -- corporate profits go up, thereby ensuring that big corporate donations to the GOP go up, and trial lawyers eventually stop pursuing so many liability cases. Some of Rove's most spectacular political successes have been against trial lawyers, under the misleading rubric of "tort reform."
"What's happening is that the Republicans are incredibly focused and serious because they want it all," says Linda Lipsen, president of the Association of Trial Lawyers (ATLA). "The Democrats are very comfortable with a balanced government. Checks and balances? The Republicans, they want complete dominion over every aspect of government. ...I think it's extremely scary, and actually, I would say that if the Democrats were doing it. I don't think it's healthy to have one party in control of government and every branch. I think it produces corruption."
The second of Rove's primary targets is America's labor unions. Though the number of unions has dropped precipitously over the last decades, labor continues to raise large amounts of money for Democrats, and has traditionally provided many of the volunteers and much of the legwork for Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts. Rove's goal is to so weaken the labor unions as to make them unable to viably oppose Republican policies and candidates. Bush has packed the National Labor Relations Board with corporate-friendly, labor-hating stooge who have implemented Rove's anti-labor policies, sharply restricting efforts to organize workers. Republicans have systematically passed legislation that favors corporate and business interests at the expense of workers; one AFL-CIO official calls it an "all-out attack on the working men and women of this country."
David Swanson, a former official of the AFL-CIO's International Labor Communication Association, says he "absolutely" believes Rove and his cohorts want to drive America's labor unions into extinction. "They take every step one would take if their goal was to obliterate the labor movement," he says. "And Karl Rove knows his politics and knows his groups and knows that being a labor union member is one of the most likely factors to make you a Democratic voter. The only major group of white males in this country that votes Democratic is union members. Latin[a] women, African-American men, white women, whatever. You're more likely to vote Democratic if you're a union member. And not only that, but union members are twice as likely to turn out to vote."
The only real area of growth for unions is among government workers. Hence the draconian restrictions in the Homeland Security bill that restricts the organizational capabilities of the federal government's public-employee unions. Authors James Moore and Wayne Slater write, "Using such a policy strategically is a considerably more effective method of diminishing Democratic opposition than is a purely political confrontation. It is, in fact, what Rove has always done best: he defeats his enemies before they are conscious of even being in a fight."
The public education system is another sector targeted by Rove, though less because of the campaign cash educators provide Democrats than to debilitate government prorgrams that are seen as Democratic successes. The "No Child Left Behind" act, though disastrous for public education, has been used by Republicans to portray their purity as education advocates. Meanwhile, they also support school vouchers, an idea pushed by Rove to appeal to the party's conservative base but widely seen as a public education calamity. Conservative Christians love the idea of vouchers, which will help steer millions of tax dollars into private, Christian schools and into homeschooling.
Privatizing Social Security is another Rove priority, and again one that works on numerous levels. Social Security is the product of a Democratic administration and a mainstay of Democratic ideology. To give workers the option of investing their government contributions in the private sector would give Wall Street brokers and investment managers access to untold millions of new dollars. Enriching these financiers, who are primarily Republican, will increase their GOP campaign contributions. Rove also hopes to expand the investor class, which is traditionally Republican.
In May 2003, Rove told interviewer Nicholas Lehmann, "I don't think you ever kill a political party. Political parties kill themselves, or are killed, not by the other political party, but by their failure to adapt to new circumstances. But do you weaken a political party, either by turning what they see as assets into liabilities, and/or taking issues they consider to be theirs, and raiding them? Absolutely." -- James Moore and Wayne Slater
Rove was one of the first in what became the campaign to elect George W. Bush to the White House to recognize and use the voters of the religious right. In 1997, Rove approached Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed with a deal that would make them the closest of political colleagues. "Ralph was very, very close to Rove," recalls then-director of the Coalition, Marshall Wittman. "Ralph asked me in 1997 if I wanted to work on the  Bush campaign. Rove was operating everything. Rove parked Ralph at Enron. Ralph told me before the  New Hampshire primary that he would do what it took to eliminate [GOP senator] John McCain as an opponent if he posed a challenge to Bush. He would do whatever it took, that means below the radar, paint his face. Ralph has a dual personality, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, charming in public and then ruthless and vicious."
Rove engineered a $380,000 contract for Reed at Enron, the heart of the oil-centered corporate engine driving the Bush campaign, through longtime Bush family friend Kenneth Lay. Reed helped Enron spread its message on Capitol Hill, and build grassroots support for energy deregulation. Reed sent a memo to Enron's executives touting his success at mobilizing "the faith community" on behalf of issues such as deregulation and slashing corporate taxes. The arrangement through Enron kept Reed's lobbying firm, Century Strategies, out of Bush's campaign records until 1999, and then only showed up in small increments that shielded Reed's role in the campaign.
Reed understood that conservative Christians were largely moral absolutists -- either you were with them or you were their mortal enemy. No middle ground. Every issue, every area of judgment, came down to the simplest of divisions between the secularists and the faithful, bad vs. good, skeptics vs. true believers. This mindset worked perfectly for Rove, who himself is a confessed agnostic with no real religious faith, but can and does manipulate Christian conservatives as part of his scorched-earth political strategizing.
But Reed understood that the actual divide that could be so effectively exploited was not just between the faithful and the "godless," but within denominations and church hierarchies. The idea of Protestants vs. Catholics, Baptists vs. humanists, was superficial, Reed believed. The more fundamental divide, as exploited by Reed, Rove, and their operatives, was within religious America. Richard Land, a Christian scholar who began working in the Rove political machine in the 1980s, explains, "It depends on which side of this sort of great divide in American life you're on. Whether you're in the traditional side or whether you're on the post-modernist side," he says. "That's how you explain that I, a Southern Baptist, have more in common with Pope John Paul II than I do with Jimmy Carter or Al Gore or Bill Clinton. Because it's less important whether we're Roman Catholics or Baptists as it is which side of that divide we're on. Do we believe in absolutes? Do we believe in a traditional values system where some things are always right and some things are always wrong?"
For his part, Rove knew that a key to success was to give the ardent fundamentalists a leader who they could feel is inspired by God and who would base his actions and beliefs on traditionally moral, Christian conservative principles. Authors James Moore and Wayne Slater write, "This was a new politics of division, and Ralph Reed and Karl Rove understood the political instruments needed to identify different types of believers." Rove and Reed use the latest computerized methodologies -- microtargeting, detailed voter identification, sophisticated get-out-the-vote programs -- to mobilize the evangelical voter. "The true believers were poised to cross battle lines pitting conservative Protestants, traditional Catholics, and orthodox Jews against moderate Protestants, Catholics, and Jews," the authors write. "My team, your team. The same ferocious certitude that was to eventually darken the president's claim that the nations of the world were either 'with us or with the terrorists.'"
Rove and Reed organized what became known as the "Texas missionaries," a group of Texas evangelical leaders led by luminaries such as the Reverend John Hagee, a preacher with a national television audience. Hagee and his colleagues began telephoning religious activists in key primary states such as New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina as early as 1997 to rally them behind Bush in 2000. The "missionaries" appeared regularly on Christian radio shows, and before long two of the most powerful national movement spokesmen, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, sent word to their faithful that they were backing Bush. The early and meticulous organizing cut the legs out from under other religious Republican candidates such as Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer, who themselves hoped for heavy support from the Christian right, but lacked the machinery and the vision of Rove to make it happen for them. Moore and Slater call it "an astonishingly effective first strike that went completely unnoticed outside the fraternal confines of the Christian right."
Publicly, Bush embraced the religious conservatives, but privately, he was uncomfortable with some of what Moore and Slater call "the more garish TV preachers with their powder-pink sets and theatrically mawkish appeals for money." The writers observe that "[a]t heart, Bush was a country-club Republican, the son and grandson of a family that knew its way around the walnut-paneled corridors of Wall Street. But the Christians were his base. And so Rove, the agnostic, who saw religion as a political tool, built a God machine, guided by the sword of righteousness and George W. Bush. The born-again Methodist Bush understood the value in using Rove and Reed's invention to build his political power."
Bush's private thoughts on his political allies might well be summed up in one unguarded comment he made to a Texas reporter during the 2000 campaign, when he called the conservative churchgoers "wackos." As it turned out, too many of the "wackos" stayed home and did not vote in 2000 -- according to Rove's arithmetic, nearly 3 million of them -- forcing Bush to win in the Supreme Court what he could not win at the ballot box. Rove determined that for 2004, he would have to electrify the religious base with what Moore and Slater call "a sharper, harder, more direct message to invigorate the faithful. Maybe throw a little sex and fear into the mixture. Bush needed to win re-election, and Karl Rove did not care who had to suffer on the road to victory. Victims were a part of the process." -- James Moore and Wayne Slater
Ironically, considering Rove's long and profitable attempts to energize homophobia among Republican social and religious conservatives (including the successful attempt to inflame GOP voters with anti-gay sentiment in November 2004), Rove's own adoptive father, Louis Rove, was a homosexual. As revealed by reporters James Moore and Wayne Slater in their 2007 book The Architect, Louis Rove was a geologist, an enormously overweight man who left his wife, Reba, and adoptive son Karl over Christmas in 1969 to move from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. He later moved in with his best friend, Joseph Koons, an openly gay man. Koons says that he and Louis Rove were never romantically involved, but that the elder Rove had moved to Southern California to meet older gay men in the affluent Palm Springs community. "Louie didn't hide the fact that he was gay," Koons recalls. "But he didn't play it up, either. ...I was never the effeminate type, and neither was Louie. We didn't play it up that way, either. But he was gay. And so am I." The elder Rove's heavy smoking and incessant drinking took its toll on his health. As his health worsened, Karl Rove was a frequent, and welcome, visitor in the elder Rove's home. "I don't recall that there was any great tension over [Louis's homosexuality]," Koons recalls. Koons says he doesn't understand why Karl Rove pretends that his parents' divorce was over anything besides Louis Rove's homosexuality. "It's just absurd when he says, 'I had no idea what the problems were with my parents and their marriage.' He knew damned good and well what was going on. His father had decided to come out of the closet." Reba Rove committed suicide in 1981, another instance that the younger Rove claims puzzles him, though it is likely her suicide was prompted in part by her emotional inability to handle her husband's departure and subsequent revelation of being gay.
When Louis Rove died on July 14, 2004, Karl, who was busy orchestrating the GOP's attacks on gays, was the executor of his estate. Rove saw to it that no death notice or obituary were ever published in the local newspapers. His father is not buried in either of the two local cemeteries; there was no funeral. Only the immediate family knows how the elder Rove's remains were handled. Rove later said of his father, "He lived life exactly the way he wanted to live it." But it seems strange that Rove, who Koons says always honored and loved his father, would honor his father's memory by attacking gays as deviant and predatory. -- James Moore and Wayne Slater
"The problem with Karl is that it's always about the next election; it's always about power; it's always about getting the money from the big boys so you can control the process. It's not about principle; it's not about issues -- issues are used to gain and keep political power, not to advance the interests of this country." -- former Texas Republican chairman Tom Pauken, quoted by James Moore and Wayne Slater