I have been thinking about this for a while and this article about the ‘re-emergence’ of Karl Rove highlights the need for a strategy to make his influence an issue in the upcoming elections. It is a bit ironic that the man who has been so artful in creating liberal bogeymen (e.g. Michael Moore, Kos, Howard Dean, homosexuals), should become one himself. Yet, Rove is the perfect target for such a project.
Judging from appearances alone, Rove is inherently unlikable. With his flesh colored hair, puffy face and unctuous demeanor, it is almost as if he came out of central casting for the role of George Babbit. To put it simply, the man looks like a weasel. Second, his public persona is another weakness, in media depictions; he comes off as both arrogant and unrepentant. These qualities do not play well with the average American voter, especially for someone who looks the way Karl Rove does. Lastly, his behavior regarding the Plame affair makes for easy pickings, Democrats can frame his involvement (without getting into the minutiae regarding the case) rather simply. He played politics with national security.
Specifically, how might this work? From personal experience, I have seen how the targeting of Mr. Rove can make a politician squirm. Shortly after Rove’s involvement in the Plamegate became known, I wrote to my congressman (Rob Simmons) and asked if he was willing to condemn the actions of Karl Rove. Rep. Simmons had a very difficult time responding to this issue. He neither supported nor criticized Rove’s actions; he essentially just hemmed and hawed about the state of American politics. Within this election, Democrats should focus on this very same issue. Whenever their Republican counterpart refuses to denounce Karl Rove, Democrats should harp on the fact that their opponent puts politics before the safety of the American people.
One potential criticism of such a plan is that Karl Rove is not that well known by the American public. In a recent poll by USA Today/Gallup, nearly 40% of those polled had no opinion of him, while the vast majority of Democrats had an unfavorable opinion and a majority of Republicans had a positive view. Yet, this is precisely why we should make him an issue. There is a great opportunity for Democrats to attach a negative ‘prime’ to Karl Rove in the minds of independent voters. By us controlling and framing the debate regarding Rove, we can then connect him to Republican candidates.
The benefits of such a strategy are potentially enormous. The first is that Democrats can go on the offensive regarding the importance of national security. We can present ourselves as the party that refuses to play politics, while Republicans are all too happy to ignore security problems in the hopes of winning an election. Secondly, it puts Republican candidates in an uncomfortable position. Either they can remain silent on the matter, which highlights the problem with Rove’s power; or, they can criticize. If they come out and criticize Karl Rove, it focuses negative attention on the White House and Republicans in general. Moreover, because President Bush will never get rid of Rove, it will make the Republicans look ineffective in controlling the White House. Lastly, it may very well get Rove off his game. The White House and Republican Party looked completely overmatched over the course of this last year, and I don’t think there is any coincidence that this was the result of the Fitzgerald investigation. With Rove determined to save his own ass, the Republicans experienced political failure after political failure. I do not believe he will do too well when he realizes that he is the albatross around the Republican’s neck.