Why is Karl Rove trying to help Bernie Sanders win the Democratic nomination?
Four years after Karl Rove wasted over $300 million from establishment GOP donors in his unsuccessful attempt to use his Super PAC American Crossroads to elect Mitt Romney president, he’s started running ads in the Democratic primary race against Hillary Clinton in Iowa. Why?
Back in 2012, Rove raised all that money to run anti-Obama and pro-Romney ads. This year Crossroads is probably finding it hard to make an argument for investing in its efforts, because donors are still smarting from 2012’s failed campaign, and they are feeling fleeced again after giving to Jeb Bush’s lackluster 2016 presidential campaign and Super PAC.
In a year when advertising dollars have done little to move voters, that won’t stop Rove from trying. So how is a GOP establishment Super PAC manager supposed to survive in 2016? He just has to be more creative in his dog-and-pony show to donors. “It looks like the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t for sale, but look over here. Here’s the Manhattan Bridge. Let’s see if we can buy this one!” In other words, pivot away from helping establishment GOP candidates, and run ads in the Democratic primary.
Now, Rove is likely making the case to the big GOP donors, who are a little Super PAC shy, that he’s the only one who can stop Hillary from being elected president. More specifically, they have to stop her in the Democratic primary because the leading GOP candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, can’t beat her in the general election. The old socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, is an easier opponent for Trump or Cruz in November. So don’t waste your money with Bush, Rubio, Kasich, Christie. Send it to Crossroads. That's the best investment. Rove will beat Clinton in the primary, so we will have a chance of winning in the general. That’s the pitch from Rove, and it’s just got to be the motivation behind the anti-Clinton ads.
Rove’s ad buy in Iowa will likely do little to move voters away from Clinton there, but it does put down his marker down. It’s a bet that will reap millions for Crossroads if Clinton loses the caucus. If she does, then the ad is something that he can point to in taking credit for her loss. He’ll burn up the phone lines raising tens of millions to run ads in New Hampshire and other early states.
Karl Rove knows that the only thing GOP establishment donors hate more than the thought of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz being the Republican nominee is Hillary Clinton as president. It’s a fear that burns hotter and more intense for them than almost anything, and it’s a fear that will motivate checkbooks from Wall Street, to Palm Beach, to Dallas and beyond.
Whatever the outcome, Bernie Sanders as president, Donald Trump as president, or Hillary Clinton as president, Karl Rove is the winner in this big-money Super PAC strategy.