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Rove's Legacy: Midterm Blowback

Karl Rove's effort to construct a lasting GOP majority suffered a setback in last November's midterm elections. His emphasis on turning out the conservative base -- rather than playing to the middle -- was not enough to help Republicans maintain control of Congress, possibly forever tarnishing his "brainy" legacy.

Prior to the 2006 midterms, Rove and others believed that President Bush had sustainable, transformational appeal to younger people, Catholics, women, African Americans and, critically, the rapidly growing Latino population.

But the results showed any previous gains were tenuous. For example, while 44 percent of Latinos cast votes for GOP House candidates in 2004, last year just 30 percent did so. And while nearly half of 18 to 29 year-old voters cast ballots for Republican congressional candidates in 2000, only 38 percent voted GOP in 2006.

The last election also undermined Rove's intense focus on "base-driven" politics that left independents an afterthought in campaign strategy. In 2006, political independents broke heavily for Democratic congressional candidates, fueling the Democratic takeover of Congress. (For more on independents, see our in-depth polls conducted this summer with the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation and Harvard University.)

Here's how Republican congressional candidates fared among each of these groups (the percent voting for GOP House candidates in 2006, 2004 and 2000, according to national exit polls):

                 2006     2004     2000
Latinos           30%      44%      35%
Independents      39%      46%      50%
Age 18-29         38%      44%      48%
Catholics         44%      50%      48%
Women             43%      46%      45%
African Am.       10%      10%      11%

By Jon Cohen  |  August 13, 2007; 5:26 PM ET
Categories:  Polls  
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Rove never intended to create a "permanent" Republican majority, at least not in any conventional sense. His strategy was to build a permanent Republican base predicated on emotion (social conservatives) and economics (the moneyed class), adding to this base just enough of the rest of the electorate through hyping and spinning carefully identified and potent (although transient) issues. "Terrorism" (or "security") was one such issue that fell into his lap, and having fallen into his lap so easily, he made the mistake of over-hyping it.

His problem with making this strategy work for more than just a couple of elections cycles is that he began losing emotional energy from the social conservatives due to their inability to remain focused solely on social issues when they could, as individuals, no longer ignore the economic damage his policies were doing them. At the same time, the level of support from the moneyed class has begun to wane due in part to their discomfort with their "social issue" allies, and recognition by some in the bottom 90% of the moneyed class that they are ultimately relatively small fish whose economic interests are poorly and only temporarily served by Rovian macroeconomics.

Ultimately, those key "swing" voters belonging to neither the social or economic Republican base simply tired of, or wisened to, Rove's hyping of issues like gay marriage and terrorists-under-the-bed.

But you have to hand it to Rove: The fundamental Republican political philosophy is destined always to be a minority position due to its exclusionary nature. Only a Rove could successfully get the electorate to turn both the administration and congress over to the Republicans for any significant length of time. But then Rove understands what many people tend to forget: Fifty percent of the people are by definition of less than median intelligence, thus a significant number of the electorate can be manipulated to act against their own personal interests. His mistake was thinking that "below average" meant incapable of eventually understanding the truth.

Posted by: Austin, Texas | August 14, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

The republican party is an ethnonationalist party. Its core constituency is white rural protestants who consider themselves the "real" America. This ethnic identification is the principal division in american politics and culture.

Pretending otherwise only benefits politicians.

Posted by: Adam | August 26, 2007 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Rove's obsession with making GOP a permanent majority ruling party of America runs contrary to the very ideals of this country. We are a nation built on discussion and dissension. And rather than honoring those foundations Rove sought to feed off of the unfortunately growing anomaly of Americans who are either too lazy or too uninterested in politics to find out even the basics of the issues facing this nation. Rove, who made a fortune on mass mailing business which sells miracle hair-grow cremes and fat-b-gone pills, knew that these same methods could be used to sell a candidate (George) so long as he was 'packaged' right. Let's be brutally honest about George-the-candidate and Rove the master salesman:

He got he-men who spend the majority of their lives picking on the male cheerleaders types to vote for George the male cheerleader.

He got people who despise others who put on the southern accent to vote for the guy who puts on the texas accent - he got them to completely wipe their brains of the fact that george is from the northeast monied are of Greenwich.

He got people who would no sooner vote for a failed businessman than a welfare recipient to vote for someone who failed in each of the businesses his daddy's wealthy friends set him up in - actually filing for bankruptcy 3 times.

He got people who live for family values to vote for the reformed alcholic who partied his way through most of his life.

So now the real question is this - who's more wrong - Rove or those who fell for his hard-sell??

And worse again, who is Rove going to try and sell us next??

Posted by: Katy | August 29, 2007 8:15 PM | Report abuse

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