Is there a bigger set of brass cojones in American punditry right now than those belonging to Karl Rove? While his Fox News colleague Geraldo Rivera is using his network platform to publicly drum up support for a possible Senate campaign (side note: shudder) Rove is busily finding new ways to burn through large sums of money – this time by going after Ashley Judd.
Persistent rumors have surfaced recently that Judd, a woman whose career highlights include humanitarian work in the Congo, campaigning for Barack Obama and making a movie with Dwayne Johnson, is mulling a run against Kentucky Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014. She reportedly met recently with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and has begun privately researching campaign strategy. Last month, she told reporters the people of Kentucky “need a fighter.”
Now Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC is at it again. Earlier this week it unleashed its new attack ad on Judd, who is still not officially running for anything. A satiric – to the extent that a Karl Rove project is capable of intentional satire and wit — version of what a Judd campaign ad might look like, the spot is full-on crazy. There are rose petals and an Obama with twinkling eyes. And of course, there is the glamorous Judd herself, “an Obama-following radical Hollywood liberal.” A spokesman for Crossroads this week said of the spot, which cost $10,000 to make and looks like it could have been whipped up on Vine for free, “We want to stick a pin in her balloon.”
Judd, meanwhile, responded to the ad this week by issuing a statement thanking “Senator McConnell, Karl Rove, and their negative allies for all the attention as she considers her future political plans, although a decision hasn’t been made yet.”
On Thursday evening, Rove expanded on his strategy. Speaking to Fox host and self-appointed spokesman for unborn babies Bill O’Reilly, Rove assured that he’s just getting warmed up. “This is just the opening story,” he said. “This is the opening ad. She’s not going to be able to wait until the screenwriters from California and producers make her look good and prepare the ads and give her lots of lines to memorize so that she can handle these things. We’re going to make her start saying where she’s coming from … She’s said a bunch of stuff that the people of Kentucky are not going to like, and we are going to lay it out in plenty of time for people to get a handle on it.” And, he added bluntly, “We are making fun of her.” Karl Rove: Nelson Muntz with a checkbook.
Whether Judd is qualified to represent the state of Kentucky – or even wants to – is a separate matter. And if Rove and his merry band of henchmen want to blow a few grand making fun of Ashley Judd – while not even mentioning that rom-com she made with Greg Kinnear – it’s their time and money. What’s interesting, however, is the pungent aroma of white-hot terror that all of Rove’s endeavors of late seem to emit. He’s not some cucumber-cool guy laughing off the notion of the lady whose TV show got canceled last year after just a few episodes having a viable political future. He’s, instead, just some mean old man brazenly admitting he’s making fun of someone for something she hasn’t even done. Even within the echo chamber of Fox News, he can’t help looking as small and silly and money squandering as ever. But we’ll give him this — all his huffing and puffing is a fascinating sideshow to watch. And while Judd may be the actress, it’s Rove, hands down, who’s the greater entertainer right now.
Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.