For all of you out there waiting for George W. Bush to fire Karl Rove: Don't hold your breath.
Yes, Rove is the perfect target for the Democrats. Yes, the Democrats would like nothing better than to sully the reputation of the man who has been kicking their butts for years. And yes, there are questions about exactly what Rove told Matthew Cooper and possibly other reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame. But for many reasons, Bush cannot dump Rove.
Reason No. 1: Firing Rove would be perceived as an admission by George W. that things are amiss in his administration. The hallmark of Bush's presidency has been its ability -- when faced with adversity or controversy about a war, a policy or an individual -- to simply ignore the matter and stick to its talking points.
Look at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: A man whose many miscues should long ago have consigned him to retirement is now halfway through his fifth year in the top job at the Pentagon. Need another example of the Bush White House's method of turning failures into press events? Then recall that it was just seven months ago that Bush bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on three characters who had leading roles in the Iraq debacle: Gen. Tommy Franks, George Tenet and Paul Bremer.
Franks directed the invasion of Iraq and resisted the advice of his commanders, including Gen. Eric Shinseki of the Army, who told congressional leaders that America's invasion force of 100,000 troops was far too small. In February 2003, Shinseki told Congress that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would be needed to keep the peace in postwar Iraq. That didn't happen. Instead, Shinseki was forced into retirement. Franks got a medal. And a book contract.
Another medal winner was former CIA director Tenet, who, in early 2003, assured the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and must therefore be removed. Of course, no such weapons were ever found. But Tenet got a medal and a fat book contract, too. Finally, Bush strapped a medal on Bremer, the former lieutenant to Henry Kissinger who became America's chief administrator in Iraq. Bremer left Iraq an even bigger mess than it was when he arrived. Nevertheless, Bush honored all three men, saying that they had "played pivotal roles in great events" and that their "efforts have made our country more secure."
Reason No. 2: Firing Rove would mean being disloyal to the man who has done more to advance the Bushes' agenda than any other single person. As has been reported many times, loyalty is the Bush family's holy grail. Once you're in the circle, you're in for life. Rove has been a central player in the Bushes' political dynasty for more than three decades. In the Bush ledger, Rove is nearly on a par with the family's consigliere, James A. Baker III, as one of the family's most trusted advisors. They aren't going to dump him now.
Indeed, the Bush-Rove histories are so completely intertwined that it's impossible to separate them. In 1973, when Rove was in a messy dispute as to who would be the chairman of the College Republicans, it was George H.W. Bush, then chairman of the Republican National Committee, who intervened and declared Rove the winner. From his office in the basement of the RNC's headquarters in Washington, Rove began making himself indispensable. It was Rove who introduced the late Lee Atwater to the elder Bush. Atwater went on to become renowned both for his hardball politics and for being one of Bush I's closest political advisors.
In 1977, when the elder Bush decided to run for president, Rove moved to Houston to manage his political action committee, the Fund for Limited Government. Although Bush didn't win the nomination, he did become the vice president under Ronald Reagan. And Rove began changing Texas, which was totally dominated by Democrats, into a state dominated by the GOP. Starting with Bill Clements, who in 1978 became the first Republican governor in Texas in more than a century, Rove became the key operative for a fleet of Texas politicos, including former Sen. Phil Gramm, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, and the current governor, Rick Perry. In 1988, Rove advised Tom Phillips, who became the first Republican ever elected to the Texas Supreme Court. (Within a decade, the GOP would hold all nine seats.) Every one of those Republicans was to become an ally of George W. Bush's.
It was Rove who stage-managed the younger Bush's very first campaign stops for governor in November 1993. It was Rove -- who by that time had already helped run GOP races in 31 states -- who coached the still-unsteady Bush on how to recognize reporters by name, how to give answers in solid sound bites, and how to position himself against Ann Richards, the popular incumbent governor.
Once Bush moved into the governor's mansion in Austin, it was Rove who began prepping George W. for the White House, inviting key GOP politicos from around the country to stop by the mansion for coffee and get-to-know-you sessions. It was Rove, the direct-mail genius, who kept Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns flush with cash. By May 1999, Bush's presidential campaign had already raised $13 million -- without holding a single fundraiser. That early money effectively scared off other GOP challengers and made Bush the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination.
Reason No. 3: Bush needs Rove for the upcoming fights, including the midterm elections, the certain battle over his Supreme Court nominees, and the ongoing battles on Capitol Hill. In short, the entire Republican National Committee is a reflection of Karl Rove. Over the past decade, Rove has remade the RNC into an organization where virtually all of the top players owe their allegiance to him.
"What looms as a possibility is that Bush may be forced to move Rove out of the White House to keep access to the brain without the body being nearby," says Jim Moore, the coauthor of the definitive Rove biography "Bush's Brain," published in 2003. "There's no way for Bush to have any legacy without Karl around to push tort reform and judicial issues. Without Rove, Bush's legislative agenda goes nowhere. They can't blow him up. It would be complete surrender. It would be like throwing down their guns and walking into the stockade."
Reason No. 4: The conservatives are behind Rove. Wednesday's editorial in the Wall Street Journal about Rove lays out the GOP's defense plan: 1) Call Joe Wilson a liar. 2) Repeat. 3) Repeat again. 4) Point out that the e-mail from Rove to Matthew Cooper can be parsed many different ways. 5) Insist that Rove was doing journalists like Cooper a favor by warning them to be careful when discussing Wilson and Niger. 6) Insist that no laws were broken.
Reason No. 5: The Democrats aren't strong enough to keep this issue alive. Look, the Democrats in the House and the Senate can't even force hearings on the Downing Street memos -- the documents that appear to show that the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq in the summer of 2002. The memos also show that the United States began bombing Iraq not in 2003, but in 2002, before Bush got authorization from Congress. Those memos were the blueprint for a war that has become a quagmire, a war that has cost taxpayers $200 billion and led to the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and nearly 2,000 American soldiers. Why do the Democrats now think that they are strong enough to get rid of the man who sets the agenda for the RNC, Congress and the Bush White House?
Reason No. 6: Rove has been through all of this dirty-tricks stuff before. He has been made the bad guy by the Democrats through several investigations, and he has always come out stronger than he was before the kerfuffle started. For instance, in October 1986, Rove was working for Republican Clements in his race against then Gov. Mark White. A few days before the two candidates were to debate, Rove discovered a listening device that had been planted behind a needlepoint hanging of an elephant on his wall. The FBI investigated. Accusations and counteraccusations were made. But the common wisdom held that Rove had planted the bug himself. No charges were ever brought, and the matter slowly dissipated.
A few years later, Rove was implicated in a federal investigation into three men who worked for Jim Hightower, the Democratic Texas agriculture commissioner. Rove allegedly directed an FBI agent who investigated Hightower's fundraising efforts. The agent also launched noisy investigations into other top Texas Democrats. Eventually, three of Hightower's employees were convicted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and misapplication of funds. All three served time in federal prison. Again, despite the finger-pointing, Rove thrived.
Despite all these reasons for keeping Rove in the White House, there is a big wild card in all of this: special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has virtually unlimited power to go after anybody and everybody involved in the Plame game. Fitzgerald's grand jury is getting testimony from Cooper. And it has Cooper's notes. It may also be getting information from the execrable detonator of this entire affair: columnist Robert Novak.
If Rove gets indicted by Fitzgerald, then all bets are off. But short of that, get used to Rove. He's going to be around for a good long while.