Rove & Bush: Catching The Big One genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

I’ve noticed a strange confluence of events that has piqued my inherently cynical curiosity. Given my fascination with Karl Rove as a political strategist, some of what I’m seeing makes me increasingly suspicious. I have come to believe that Rove’s singular objective is to assemble a majority voting block that will insure Republican dominance. Reaching 51% is the driving force, regardless of how it is achieved. Unfortunately, his methods seem to value victory over principle which I believe is beginning to expose divisions within the Republican Party (it may also bring his undoing). Intuitively, one might expect these strained alliances to force a rethinking that returns the party to a strategy weighted towards basic principles. When it comes to Rove, I never trust my intuition; therefore I don’t believe that this is the case.

The Washington Post has an extensive article on the apparent dissatisfaction of conservative Christians with the GOP. The reported rumblings seem to indicate that conservative Christians are considering delivering a message by not turning out to vote in the midterm elections even if the consequence may be losing the Republican controlled house. Again, I'm not convinced. Read the full article here.

From the Washington Post:

"There is a growing feeling among conservatives that the only way to cure the problem is for Republicans to lose the Congressional elections this fall," said Richard Viguerie, a conservative direct-mail pioneer.

Mr. Viguerie also cited dissatisfaction with government spending, the war in Iraq and the immigration-policy debate, which Mr. Bush is scheduled to address in a televised speech on Monday night.

"I can't tell you how much anger there is at the Republican leadership," Mr. Viguerie said. "I have never seen anything like it."

Christian conservative leaders have often threatened in the months before an election to withhold their support for Republicans in an effort to press for their legislative goals.

Dr. Dobson, whose daily radio broadcast has millions of listeners, has already signaled his willingness to criticize Republican leaders. In a recent interview with Fox News on the eve of a visit to the White House, he accused Republicans of "just ignoring those that put them in office."

According to people who were at the meetings or were briefed on them, Dr. Dobson has made the same point more politely in a series of private conversations over the last two weeks in meetings with several top Republicans, including Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser; Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader; Representative J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the House speaker; and Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the majority leader.

Republicans say they are taking steps to revive their support among Christian conservatives. On Thursday night, Mr. Rove made the case for the party at a private meeting of the Council for National Policy, participants said.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and another frequent participant in the Council for National Policy, argued that Christian conservatives were hurting their own cause.

"If the Republicans do poorly in 2006," Mr. Norquist said, "the establishment will explain that it was because Bush was too conservative, specifically on social and cultural issues."

Dr. Dobson declined to comment. His spokesman, Paul Hetrick, said that Dr. Dobson was "on a fact-finding trip to see where Republicans are regarding the issues that concern values voters most, especially the Marriage Protection Act," and that it was too soon to tell the results.

In reading the article, a few things caught my attention. One is the statement that “Christian conservative leaders have often threatened in the months before an election to withhold their support for Republicans" in order to push the legislation they desire. In other words, this is nothing new so calculating the actual degree of the riff isn’t possible given this history of posturing.

Secondly, Dobson’s recent meetings with Rove, Frist, Hastert, and Boehner in the last two weeks strikes me as being more about strategy than about dissention. Keep in mind that during the Supreme Court appointments, Dobson was personally consulted by Rove. I’m convinced that all of the Republican constituencies realize that the larger, more influential goal of the party is to determine the make up of the Supreme Court. Each group’s objectives stand to gain from any future Bush appointments. The long term horizon is far more critical than any immediate constituency victories…so long as the party keeps all of the voting blocks.

Third, the statement by Norquist, a diehard Republican supporter, seems to me to be more about signaling to fiscal conservatives that they have influence within the party than about a rejection of cultural issues. He goes on to explain, “If the Republicans do poorly in 2006, the establishment will explain that it was because Bush was too conservative…on social and cultural issues." Note the use of the word “establishment". It’s the remark one would expect from someone on the inside of a strategy; not someone who has been left out.

Before going much further, please keep in mind that the basis of my theory is that Rove is never actually at odds with Republican insiders. His strategy requires the appearance of conflicting interests but it is strictly a tool to be used to manipulate the various voting blocks that comprise the necessary majority coalition. The following excerpt is particularly interesting.

From the Washington Post:

Republican officials, who were granted anonymity to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the situation, acknowledged the difficult political climate but said they planned to rally conservatives by underscoring the contrast with Democrats and emphasizing the recent confirmations of two conservatives to the Supreme Court.

Note the statement, “Republican officials, who were granted anonymity…because of the sensitivity of the situation, acknowledged the difficult political climate but said they planned to rally conservatives by underscoring the contrast with Democrats…" I’m convinced the officials were acting at Rove’s behest in delivering the “sensitive" information while at the same time planting the intended framing for the midterm election; one that has to focus on the Democrats in order to retain all of the voting groups without having to capitulate to any particular position that might alienate another of the constituent groups. Those on the inside, which includes the likes of Dobson and Norquist, know that the prize is the retention of power. Karl Rove is their mutually trusted facilitator.

From Gallup: (full article here)

Many have speculated that the administration's policies on immigration and federal spending have angered conservatives, but conservative Republican support for Bush has held steady in the past two months, though it is down from where it was in previous years. At the same time, the percentage of moderate and liberal Republicans who approve of Bush's job performance has dropped 20 percentage points, from 65% to 45%.

In looking at this recent polling data, I was drawn to the declining numbers for liberal and moderate Republicans. It is the largest loss among the Republican constituency and one that I’m sure is troubling to Karl Rove. The loss has to be seen as threatening to undo the established majority coalition.

That brings me to two other curious situations. I find it inexplicable that, at the very same point in time when Rove and other Republican insiders are meeting to presumably reassure Christian conservatives, Laura Bush is stating, “I don’t think it (marriage) should be used as a campaign tool, obviously." Additionally, Bill Frist is stating, “Right now marriage is under attack in this country…and we’ve seen activist judges overturning state by state law, where state legislatures have passed laws defining marriage…and that is why we need an amendment to come to the floor of the United States Senate. On the surface this appears to be a party in disarray. Counter intuitively, I believe it is a party in the midst of an organized and full scale campaign.

There is another item to consider. John McCain’s recent courting of Christian conservatives seems to be a shift away from his maverick status as a moderate Republican typically seen as incapable of gaining the Republican nomination for President. As I view this contradictory behavior, I immediately suspect that his actions, when coupled with that of the First Lady and Bill Frist are measured and calculated actions to assuage the various constituencies while also positioning the Republican Party to retain power in light of shifting voter opinions and priorities.

The remarks of Laura Bush, by far the most popular Republican, are intended to assure those moderate and liberal Republicans, whose support is waning, that this administration remains compassionate and thoughtful and hasn’t succumbed to the right wing ideologues.

The message from Bill Frist, whose presidential aspirations have to be in doubt, is intended to assure Christian conservatives that all possible legislative action is being employed to protect marriage. Rove and those in charge of the midterm strategy know full well the amendment doesn't have a chance of passage. However, it must be attempted to demonstrate the commitments made by the President to the far right. Bush can say he supports the amendment knowing full well it will remain an abstraction.

The fact that many observers view this presidency to be a string of contradictions further supports my conjecture. One needs look no further than some of the programs that this administration has promoted. The Medicare prescription drug program is seen to be one of the largest expansions of entitlements in decades…but it courts the elderly voter. The tax reductions and the waiver of the capital gains tax, while argued to have stimulated the economy, have been extended while budget deficits and spending continue to swell…but they court other constituencies. There are other examples including controversial issues like Social Security and immigration reform. Collectively, the efforts and objectives of this administration don't make ideological sense...except when looking at assembling a majority voting block.

I believe Rove’s approach is anything but conventional. Many strategists gauge what a candidate needs to give each constituency in order to maintain their support. I’m convinced that Karl Rove calculates the tolerance thresholds of each constituency to determine the amount of disappointment each group can withstand and still remain a part of the patchwork coalition. To provide an analogy, I would equate it with the principle of ascertaining the least common denominator. It is a bare minimum equation. At the same time, he evaluates the amount of vitriol that may need to be directed at the opposition in order to augment the disappointment delivered across the board. This is done to keep the coalition voters engaged and motivated so they will turn out to protect the establishment's chosen vision for America.

Recently, President Bush indicated that the best moment of his presidency was catching a large fish from his manmade lake. It was subsequently pointed out that the weight of that fish would have significantly exceeded the prior record catch for that particular fish. As with many of the statements made by this President and his administration, an attempt was subsequently made to modify the information. Nonetheless, as with catching fish, Karl Rove and this President have routinely been able to extract enough voters from the muddied waters of a well crafted constituency to win the ultimate prize…the retention of power.

If Democrats are to win, they will first need to figure out what lurks below the surface. If they can do that, they will finally have a chance to catch the big one.

Daniel DiRito | May 16, 2006 | 8:02 AM
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1 On May 17, 2006 at 5:28 AM, Jan wrote —

This is a very informative bunch of info, and I tend to agree with all of it.
I would like to concur that I believe the "Rove Watch" plays right into their hands. We really need to converse energy, as they are indefatiguable. Pro-active, not just re-active.

Anyway, I'm really writing to ask if you know that Rove once bugged his own office to win an election (similar to the Bush debate book that showed up at Gore's office)?
Also, one of his cohorts in the adventure was Bob Novak.
Interesting, as Tony Snow would say.

Anyway, thanks for some great info.

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3 On May 23, 2006 at 9:16 PM, Archie wrote —

Excellent observations, and while I bet you're more right then wrong, I hope you're wrong.

This targeted messaging at least depends on a lack of coupling between groups; eg the message Laura gives the moderates must not bleed over to the fanatics, vice versa for the McCain kiss to the Xtian nuts. How do they manage this?

It seems to me that the groups are self filtering, willfully ignoring the contradictory messages and believing only the message that lends them hope. My conversations with conservatives indicate a strong predisposition to factual filtering. Ugh.

Kind of tough for Democrats to use these techniques, given their audience.

4 On May 23, 2006 at 9:40 PM, Daniel wrote —


Thanks so much for you comments and observations. You raise some good questions.

Regarding the "bleed over", recall that in my theory, the other piece of the Rove equation is to foment anger at the Democrats...making them the larger focus of objection. In other words, they have to be convinced that the Dems offer these constituency groups no hope...while at the same time they at least get some hope from the Republicans (as you mention)...even though it may only be one snippet of multiple conflicting messages.

I don't think the Dems can employ the same techniques...not that the Dem voters wouldn't still vote Democratic...but they would be much more vocal and intolerant of those messages which they found objectionable.

The strategy I think the Dems may be able to use is to peel off some of the Republican voters from some of the constituencies or by targeting a particular constituency. Obviously, this would have to be directed at moderates and independents. These voters have to be convinced that the Dems are a better choice...which means the Dems need to do a better job of having and delivering a clear and consistent message.

Archie, I hope to hear more of your thoughts.


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