Karl Rove's math

In the final years, more failures than successes.

Published August 13, 2007 2:19PM (EDT)

It's easy to count Karl Rove's successes: The election of George W. Bush, the reelection of George W. Bush and the tax cuts, deregulating of industry, preemptive war and Supreme Court appointments that came with the above. But while the last couple of years have been marked by one notable Rove victory -- he wasn't prosecuted in the Valerie Plame case -- the man the president called "The Architect" has had a rough ride since voters handed Bush a second term in 2004.

It wasn't supposed to be that way.

As Bush began his second term, he promoted Rove from "senior advisor" to "deputy chief of staff," a move that, the Washington Post explained at the time, merely confirmed that Rove "was really behind virtually everything." In his new but not-so-new role, the Post's Peter Baker wrote, Rove would reign over "an expansive portfolio cutting across virtually the entire policy spectrum" as the president "retooled his staff to focus on his ambitious second-term agenda of restructuring Social Security, rewriting the tax code and spreading democracy around the world."

A month later, the New York Times' Richard Stevenson piled it on: "As Mr. Bush pushes doggedly ahead with his battle to add investment accounts to Social Security, he is betting heavily on Mr. Rove's well-chronicled political skills to build public support, hold Republicans together and overcome intense Democratic opposition ... Mr. Rove is assuming a more expansive role, bringing the same intensity to the big issues in Mr. Bush's second-term agenda that he brought to the president's re-election campaign."

When we took Stevenson to task for writing such a "valentine" to Rove, a fellow Timesman wrote to tell us we'd been wrong to do so: "Until now, I had not seen the [Social Security] campaign laid at Rove's feet. Maybe there have been pieces, but none with this prominence. So if the [Social Security] push fails, as it seems is happening, then this piece is an important piece of the picture about Rove, his influence, his successes and his failures."

Prophetic? It was. Despite Rove's "well-chronicled political skills," Bush's campaign to "reform" Social Security went exactly nowhere. As for the other big-ticket items in Bush's "ambitious second-term agenda"? Last time we checked, the tax code hasn't been rewritten since 2004, and all that talk of spreading democracy around the world has pretty much run aground in Iraq. In between, Bush tried -- with a lot of help from Rove -- to reform the nation's immigration laws. That didn't work either.

And then there's the small matter of 2006. Just days before the midterm congressional elections, Rove scoffed when NPR's Robert Siegel told him that the polls weren't looking so good for the Republicans. Rove said he saw more polls than Siegel ever could, and that the polls he was seeing would "add up to a Republican Senate and a Republican House." Rove sneered: "You may end up with a different math, but you're entitled to your math. I'm entitled to 'the' math."

Rove's math was wrong, but he never was. Asked by the Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot to name his "biggest error" over the years, Rove said it was not working fast enough to oust Republican members of Congress who had been tainted by scandal. Translation: They lost the election for us, not me.

Update: A reader reminds us of one more not-so-successful second-term Rove role: For a while there, Rove was said to be in charge of the Hurricane Katrina reconstruction effort.

By Tim Grieve

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

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