A valentine for Karl Rove

Never mind the polls. The New York Times says that Rove is running a "sophisticated" campaign for Bush's Social Security plan.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 28, 2005 6:04PM (EST)

So, it turns out that "Bush's Brain" is really smart.

That seems to be the main point of the fawning profile of Karl Rove in today's New York Times. The Times reports in on Rove's new role as deputy White House chief of staff, telling us that Rove is so knowledgeable about the details of policy decisions that he's sometimes the only person in the room who can understand complex presentations on the economics of Social Security.

In his new job, Rove is running what the Times calls "a sophisticated campaign on behalf of the president's Social Security proposals, employing all the components of the national political machine built to re-elect Mr. Bush" while simultaneously "overseeing policy meetings where the administration's senior officials analyze the competing Social Security proposals, bone up on arcane economic concepts and plot how to hit back at the substantive arguments made by people on the other side of the issue." The Times says that the president is "betting heavily on Mr. Rove's well-chronicled political skills to build public support, hold Republicans together and overcome intense Democratic opposition."

What the Times doesn't say: It's looking like a bad bet.

Although George Bush has made Social Security reform his No. 1 domestic priority this year, he has made so little progress on the issue that one Congress-watcher tells Bloomberg that getting legislation passed this year will be "no more difficult than flying to Pluto without a spaceship.'' The harder Bush sells his privatization plan, polls show, the less the public seems to like it.

In all the marveling over Rove's mastery over politics and policy, you might think the Times would take a moment to wonder whether Rove has finally fumbled in the Social Security debate. You'd be wrong. In the penultimate paragraph of the Times' piece, there's a single mention of "grumbling among some Republicans that Mr. Rove has mishandled the Social Security campaign," but it's made without elaboration and then followed instantly by an assurance that it's not so. "Mr. Rove's allies and fans say that he anticipated the difficulties of moving the Social Security debate forward and that he and Mr. Bush remain convinced that they will win in the end," the Times says. "'Anyone who thinks otherwise,' said Charlie Black, a veteran Republican strategist, 'they're underestimating Karl and they're underestimating the president.'"

You can't accuse the Times of that.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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