Karl Rove courts convention chaos: "Bush's brain" is laying the groundwork for an establishment coup — and it's going to get ugly

Kary Rove says "a fresh face" should be GOP nominee and might be only chance to beat Hillary Clinton

Published April 1, 2016 5:45PM (EDT)

Karl Rove (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)
Karl Rove (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

Have you heard about the Republican Party's presidential primary this year? It's not going very well.

Flamboyant professional vulgarian, billionaire, and walking manifestation of toxic masculinity Donald Trump seems poised to enter the party's convention this year with a plurality of delegates. And, barring some Herculean effort of collective action and untrammeled disdain for the will of the Republican electorate, the only way he won't get the nod is if it goes to the nearly-as-bad Sen. Ted Cruz.

If you're the kind of Republican who cares more about winning elections than "conservative principles" — and, at this point, who knows what that means — it's enough to drive you to drink.

Democrats have already won the last two presidential elections; in modern American politics, it's supposed to be near-impossible for them to win a third. What's more, the Dems are going to nominate either Hillary Clinton, who you see as eminently beatable, or Sen. Bernie Sanders, who — well, he's a 74-year-old Jewish socialist who, when he speaks, often sounds like he's doing a broad parody of how people talk in New York.


Your party should have this thing in the bag, in other words. But instead some of your brightest lights are beginning to suspect that the 2016 election is already lost. They're looking ahead to 2020. That's more than four years from now, though! What the hell is an "establishment" Republican supposed to do in the meantime? Twiddle her thumbs?

Maybe that's enough if being a Republican isn't your job. But if you're a guy like Karl Rove, sitting on your hands for the next four-plus years isn't an option. The party apparatus has spent the last 10 years becoming increasingly less smitten with you as it is (2014 helped, but the bad taste of 2012 lingers). If you're not careful, laying low for a few years could turn into de facto retirement.

Now's not the time to dawdle; it's the time to move.

So how do you save your party — and yourself — from this seemingly inescapable trap? The answer, apparently, is to go on the Republican Party apparatchik Hugh Hewitt's radio show, and to float an extremely vague scenario in which the GOP convention ends with "a fresh face" at the top of the ticket. The explanation for this move? You want to drive the party base into a lather of rebellious outrage, I guess?

I mean, it's hard to imagine a quote that would better confirm their suspicions than this:

If we have somebody who we think has, has been battle-tested, and has strong conservative principles and the ability to articulate them, and they are nominated at this convention, there will be a lot of acrimony from the people who were seeking the nomination. But if it's somebody who has, you know, has those convictions that they can express in a compelling way, we could come out of the convention in relatively strong position ... And a fresh face might be the thing that could give us a chance to turn this election and win in November against Hillary.

Let's set aside whether, on his own terms, Rove is correct (he is not). The more amusing — and telling — part of the quote is when he says that a post-convention coup burst of "acrimony" would come "from the people who were seeking the nomination."

That's true, of course. But that's not the GOP's problem. The GOP's problem is Cruz and Trump's supporters. They make up about two-thirds of the primary electorate. (And it may go deeper, still: according to a Bloomberg poll, 63 percent of all Republicans think denying Trump the nomination would be wrong.) Rove can pretend they'll just be a faction of sore winners, but they're much more than that.

They're his party. At least for the time being. If the convention is as much of a knock-down drag-out as some are expecting, it may result in either Rove, or the voters he wants to override, searching for a new political home.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Bloomberg Donald Trump Elections 2016 Gop 2016 Gop Civil War Hugh Hewitt Karl Rove Tea Party Ted Cruz