Karl Rove has a lot of explaining to do.
The hundreds of millions of dollars he raised from some of America’s richest people resulted in nothing more than an unprecedented amount of Election Day schadenfreude on the left, as his own Fox News colleagues had to convince him live on national television that he’d lost, badly.
Now, he has the unenviable job of reassuring his donor base so they’ll remain his donor base. His column in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal lays out his plans, learned from the failures of 2012 and his plan to emulate Howard Dean’s once-controversial strategy to create a Democratic majority.
“Republicans should also emulate the Democratic ‘50-state’ strategy,” he wrote, “by strengthening the ground game everywhere, not just in swing states.”
He goes on to say Republicans need to reframe their messages to appeal to the middle class and respond to attacks more effectively. “In a world of Twitter, YouTube and cable TV, the cliché that ‘if you’re responding, you’re losing’ is dead,” he wrote, in a tone similar to Democrats after 2004’s “swiftboating” of war hero John Kerry by Rove’s allies.
Rove also says Republicans need to do more to win Hispanics, millennials and women voters. Though the only way he presents as a means to do this is to not have Senate candidates like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, who make dumb comments about rape.
His one very practical suggestion is to hold conventions earlier since neither major party candidate will likely take public financing ever again. It was in the early summer, after Romney had won the nomination but hadn’t qualified to use his general election funds, that the Obama campaign unleashed a campaign to define him based on his record at Bain Capital.
In this one column, Rove reserved much of his usual bile for President Obama, whom he has lambasted since day one in the Wall Street Journal and on Fox News, while running his massive outside money campaign to restore Republicans to power. Ironically, though, Rove has in the past accused the president of running a “permanent campaign.”
At that time, ThinkProgress’ Zaid Jalani noted:
Former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan wrote in his 2008 book What Happened that “Karl Rove did not create the excesses of the permanent campaign. Rather, the excesses of the permanent campaign created Karl Rove.”
Now that Rove’s own permanent campaign against the president has failed and he ‘s seeking to change the Republican Party’s ground game to more closely resemble what Dean built for 2008 and what the Tea Party replicated in 2010, the poetic justice is rich for The Nation’s Ari Berman, author of Herding Donkeys — which tells the story of the grassroots resurgence that brought Democrats back into power after the lows of the 2004 election.
“It’s highly ironic that Karl Rove and Republicans are attacking Barack Obama for running a ‘permanent campaign’ while Rove is praising Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, which Dean launched because he believed Democrats needed a year-round, full-time political operation like Republicans had during the Bush years,” Berman told The National Memo. “But it is refreshing to hear Rove praise Dean’s 50-state strategy, which both Democrats and Republicans now belatedly realize was instrumental in helping Democrats become a majority party again.”
The question is if it’s even possible for the Republican Party to reform itself into a majority party, for two reasons.
First, the president’s 2012 campaign wasn’t just a step up from its 2008 operation, it was a quantum leap into a digital machine that marketers will be studying and emulating for years. The key aspect in the operation was the use of “listening,” which turns a grassroots operation into an analytics machine that optimizes data and hones messaging.
The second reason the GOP will have trouble renewing itself is summed up by a new memo (link to PDF) from The Democratic Strategist that states that the GOP no longer operates like a traditional political party. It references Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein’s influential Washington Post piece “Let’s just say it, the Republicans are the problem” on the GOP’s intentional gridlock and The Atlantic’s James Fallows’ description of a “long-term coup” that began with Bush v. Gore and continues in abuses of the filibuster, Citizens United and the GOP’s War on Voting.
The memo goes on to document the way the GOP’s extremism has become mainstream in the party, enveloping the politicians and the conservative institutions that support them. The real danger, they explain, is that there is no moderate voice emerging asking the party to look back to the center. Instead, purity pledges dominate the right-wing discourse along with the mentality that politics is warfare.
In this light, Mourdock and Akin aren’t so much exceptions or bad apples. They’re perfect examples of Republican intransigence.
Where does the idea that politics is an endless war come from?
More than any one person, it comes from Karl Rove—the man who made the run-up to the disastrous Iraq War into the defining issue of the 2002 midterms, the man who completely politicized the executive branch down to US attorneys, the man who proved that even Fox News has standards, as he tried to hijack their call of the 2012 election.
Karl Rove assured his Wall Street Journal readers that his big loss on November 6 is not “weakening the commitment of conservative Super PAC benefactors.”
Our Joe Conason wondered if there is a Republican Bill Clinton who could urge to moderate the GOP. Some posit that we’ll know that person has arrived when she or he says “Rush Limbaugh does not speak for me.”
But that would still leave Karl Rove running a political machine funded by a tiny group of benefactors that fuel an extremism that is more interested in delegitimizing its opponents than governing.
That strategy worked in 2010 when the economy was at a nadir, but even Karl Rove even seems to be wondering if it will ever work again.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File