The Pasty Little Putz haz a big sad and a confooze. In “The Demographic Excuse” he sniffles that to make gains, the party will have to shift on economics, not just on immigration reform. Of course, not a word about unions or women… Every comment at the Times (while they were still being accepted) rakes him over the coals. In “Romney Is President” MoDo says we should listen closely and hear the death rattle of the white male patriarchy. The Moustache of Wisdom surprised me today. In “My President is Busy” he explains that Israelis should understand that the United States isn’t their grandfather’s America anymore. Ms. Collins ponders “Hillary’s Next Move” and says when she’s no longer secretary of state, Hillary has an intense desire to not do anything — for a year. Mr. Bruni takes a look at “The Oracle’s Debacle” and says Karl Rove’s awful election was a study in the limits of bluster and money. In future years students will earn PhD degrees in political science by studying this campaign… Here’s The Putz:
The Republican Party has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. It just failed to unseat a president presiding over one of the longest stretches of mass unemployment since the Great Depression. In a year when the Senate map offered them numerous opportunities, the Republicans managed to lose two seats instead.
In part, these failures can be attributed to the country’s changing demographics. Reliable Republican constituencies — whites, married couples and churchgoers — are shrinking as a share of the electorate. Democratic-leaning constituencies — minorities, recent immigrants, the unmarried and unchurched — are growing, and voting in larger numbers than in the past.
But Republicans are also losing because today’s economic landscape is very different than in the days of Ronald Reagan’s landslides. The problems that middle-class Americans faced in the late 1970s are not the problems of today. Health care now takes a bigger bite than income taxes out of many paychecks. Wage stagnation is a bigger threat to blue-collar workers than inflation. Middle-income parents worry more about the cost of college than the crime rate. Americans are more likely to fret about Washington’s coziness with big business than about big government alone.
Both shifts, demographic and economic, must be addressed if Republicans are to find a way back to the majority. But the temptation for the party’s elites will be to fasten on the demographic explanation, because playing identity politics seems far less painful than overhauling the Republican economic message.
This explains why many high-profile Republicans responded to last Tuesday’s defeat by embracing some form of amnesty for illegal immigrants. Fox News’s Sean Hannity, a reliable weather vane, publicly converted to the cause of comprehensive immigration reform last week. The Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer argued that if the Republican Party embraced amnesty and nominated Marco Rubio, it would win the Hispanic vote outright in 2016, solving its demographic problem in one swoop. Judging from the noises emanating from John Boehner and Eric Cantor, the party’s Congressional leadership agrees.
No doubt a more moderate tone on immigration would help Republicans. But the idea of amnesty as a Latino-winning electoral silver bullet is a fantasy.
First, Hispanics are not single-issue voters: they can be alienated by nativism, but they can’t just be won by the promise of green cards and open borders. (After Reagan signed an amnesty bill in 1986, the Republican share of the Hispanic vote fell in the next presidential election.) Latino voters are not, as conservative strategists often claim, “natural” Republican voters — notwithstanding their (moderate) social conservatism, they tend to lean leftward on economic issues, and to see government more as an ally than a foe. They can be wooed, gradually, if Republicans address their aspirations and anxieties, but they aren’t going to be claimed in one legislative pander.
At the same time, a Republican Party that moves too far leftward on immigration risks alienating its white working-class supporters, an easily disillusioned constituency whose support the party cannot take for granted. These voters already suspect that Republican elites don’t have their interests at heart: Mitt Romney lost last week because he underperformed among minority voters, but also because a large number of working-class whites apparently stayed home. If the party’s only post-2012 adjustment is to embrace amnesty, they aren’t likely to turn out in 2016 either.
What the party really needs, much more than a better identity-politics pitch, is an economic message that would appeal across demographic lines — reaching both downscale white voters turned off by Romney’s Bain Capital background and upwardly mobile Latino voters who don’t relate to the current G.O.P. fixation on upper-bracket tax cuts.
As the American Enterprise Institute’s Henry Olsen writes, it should be possible for Republicans to oppose an overweening and intrusive state while still recognizing that “government can give average people a hand up to achieve the American Dream.” It should be possible for the party to reform and streamline government while also addressing middle-class anxieties about wages, health care, education and more.
The good news is that such an agenda already exists, at least in embryonic form. Thanks to four years of intellectual ferment, Republicans seeking policy renewal have a host of thinkers and ideas to draw from: Luigi Zingales and Jim Pethokoukis on crony capitalism, Ramesh Ponnuru and Robert Stein on tax policy, Frederick Hess on education reform, James Capretta on alternatives to Obamacare, and many more.
The bad news is that unlike a pander on immigration, a new economic agenda probably wouldn’t be favorably received by the party’s big donors, who tend to be quite happy with the Republican Party’s current positioning.
But after spending billions of those donors’ dollars with nothing to show for it, perhaps Republicans should seek a different path: one in which they raise a little less money but win a few more votes.
Putzy, sweetie, what y’all are going to wind up doing is doubling down on the delusion. You know you will. Y’all will probably run Rand Paul in 2016. (I’ve GOT to remember to buy popcorn stock.) Now here’s MoDo:
It makes sense that Mitt Romney and his advisers are still gobsmacked by the fact that they’re not commandeering the West Wing.
(Though, as “The Daily Show” correspondent John Oliver jested, the White House might have been one of the smaller houses Romney ever lived in.)
Team Romney has every reason to be shellshocked. Its candidate, after all, resoundingly won the election of the country he was wooing.
Mitt Romney is the president of white male America.
Maybe the group can retreat to a man cave in a Whiter House, with mahogany paneling, brown leather Chesterfields, a moose head over the fireplace, an elevator for the presidential limo, and one of those men’s club signs on the phone that reads: “Telephone Tips: ‘Just Left,’ 25 cents; ‘On His Way,’ 50 cents; ‘Not here,’ $1; ‘Who?’ $5.”
In its delusional death spiral, the white male patriarchy was so hard core, so redolent of country clubs and Cadillacs, it made little effort not to alienate women. The election had the largest gender gap in the history of the Gallup poll, with Obama winning the vote of single women by 36 percentage points.
As W.’s former aide Karen Hughes put it in Politico on Friday, “If another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue.”
Some Republicans conceded they were “a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ world” (although “Mad Men” seems too louche for a candidate who doesn’t drink or smoke and who apparently dated only one woman). They also acknowledged that Romney’s strategists ran a 20th-century campaign against David Plouffe’s 21st-century one.
But the truth is, Romney was an unpalatable candidate. And shocking as it may seem, his strategists weren’t blowing smoke when they said they were going to win; they were just clueless.
Until now, Republicans and Fox News have excelled at conjuring alternate realities. But this time, they made the mistake of believing their fake world actually existed. As Fox’s Megyn Kelly said to Karl Rove on election night, when he argued against calling Ohio for Obama: “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?”
Romney and Tea Party loonies dismissed half the country as chattel and moochers who did not belong in their “traditional” America. But the more they insulted the president with birther cracks, the more they tried to force chastity belts on women, and the more they made Hispanics, blacks and gays feel like the help, the more these groups burned to prove that, knitted together, they could give the dead-enders of white male domination the boot.
The election about the economy also sounded the death knell for the Republican culture wars.
Romney was still running in an illusory country where husbands told wives how to vote, and the wives who worked had better get home in time to cook dinner. But in the real country, many wives were urging husbands not to vote for a Brylcreemed boss out of a ’50s boardroom whose party was helping to revive a 50-year-old debate over contraception.
Just like the Bushes before him, Romney tried to portray himself as more American than his Democratic opponent. But America’s gallimaufry wasn’t knuckling under to the gentry this time.
If 2008 was about exalting the One, 2012 was about the disenchanted Democratic base deciding: “We are the Ones we’ve been waiting for.”
Last time, Obama lifted up the base with his message of hope and change; this time the base lifted up Obama, with the hope he will change. He has not led the Obama army to leverage power, so now the army is leading Obama.
When the first African-American president was elected, his supporters expected dramatic changes. But Obama feared that he was such a huge change for the country to digest, it was better if other things remained status quo. Michelle played Laura Petrie, and the president was dawdling on promises. Having Joe Biden blurt out his support for gay marriage forced Obama’s hand.
The president’s record-high rate of deporting illegal immigrants infuriated Latinos. Now, on issues from loosening immigration laws to taxing the rich to gay rights to climate change to legalizing pot, the country has leapt ahead, pulling the sometimes listless and ruminating president by the hand, urging him to hurry up.
More women voted than men. Five women were newly elected to the Senate, and the number of women in the House will increase by at least three. New Hampshire will be the first state to send an all-female delegation to Congress. Live Pink or Dye.
Meanwhile, as Bill Maher said, “all the Republican men who talked about lady parts during the campaign, they all lost.”
The voters anointed a lesbian senator, and three new gay congressmen will make a total of five in January. Plus, three states voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, told The Washington Post’s Ned Martel that gays, whose donations helped offset the Republican “super PACs,” wanted to see an openly gay cabinet secretary and an openly gay ambassador to a G-20 nation.
Bill O’Reilly said Obama’s voters wanted “stuff.” He was right. They want Barry to stop bogarting the change.
Next up we’ve got The Moustache of Wisdom:
Israeli friends have been asking me whether a re-elected President Obama will take revenge on Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu for the way he and Sheldon Adelson, his foolhardy financier, openly backed Mitt Romney. My answer to Israelis is this: You should be so lucky.
You should be so lucky that the president feels he has the time, energy and political capital to spend wrestling with Bibi to forge a peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I don’t see it anytime soon. Obama has his marching orders from the American people: Focus on Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, not on Bethlehem, Palestine, and focus on getting us out of quagmires (Afghanistan) not into them (Syria). No, my Israeli friends, it’s much worse than you think: You’re home alone.
Of course, no one here will tell you that. To the contrary, there will surely be a new secretary of state visiting you next year with the umpteenth road map for “confidence-building measures” between Israelis and Palestinians. He or she may even tell you that “this is the year of decision.” Be careful. We’ve been there before. If you Google “Year of decision in the Middle East,” you’ll get more than 100,000,000 links.
Is this good for Israel? No. It is unhealthy. The combination of America’s internal focus, the post-Arab awakening turmoil and the exhaustion of Palestinians means Israel can stay in the West Bank indefinitely at a very low short-term cost but at a very high long-term cost of losing its identity as a Jewish democracy. If Israelis want to escape that fate, it is very important that they understand that we’re not your grandfather’s America anymore.
To begin with, the rising political force in America is not the one with which Bibi has aligned Israel. As the Israeli columnist Ari Shavit noted in the newspaper Haaretz last week: “In the past, both the Zionist movement and the Jewish state were careful to be identified with the progressive forces in the world. … But in recent decades more and more Israelis took to leaning on the reactionary forces in American society. It was convenient to lean on them. The evangelists didn’t ask difficult questions about the settlements, the Tea Party people didn’t say a word about excluding women and minorities or about Jewish settlers’ attacks and acts of vandalism against Palestinians and peace activists. The Republican Party’s white, religious, conservative wing was not agitated when the Israeli Supreme Court was attacked and the rule of law in Israel was trampled.” Israel, Shavit added, assumed that “under the patronage of a radical, rightist America we can conduct a radical, rightist policy without paying the price.” No more. Netanyahu can still get a standing ovation from the Israel lobby, but not at U.C.L.A.
At the same time, U.S. policy makers have learned that the Middle East only puts a smile on our faces when it starts with them: with Israelis and Arabs. Camp David started with them. Oslo started with them. The Arab Spring started with them. When they have ownership over peace or democracy movements, those initiatives can be self-sustaining. We can amplify what they start, but we can’t create it. We can provide the mediation and even the catering, but it’s got to start with them.
We’ve learned something else from our interventions in Afghanistan and Libya: We willed the ends, but we did not will the means — that is, doing all that it would take to transform those societies. That is why we’re quitting Afghanistan, staying out of Syria and relying on sanctions, as long as possible, to dissuade Iran from building a nuclear bomb. These countries are too hard to fix but too dangerous to ignore. We’ll still try to help, but we’ll expect regional powers, and the locals, to assume more responsibility.
Finally, we really have work to do at home. Soon Americans will be asked to pay more taxes for less government. It’s coming. It will not make us isolationists, but it will change our mood and make us much pickier about where we’ll get involved. That means only a radical change by Palestinians or Israelis will get us to fully re-engage.
The other day, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority declared: “Palestine for me is the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital. This is Palestine. I am a refugee. I live in Ramallah. The West Bank and Gaza is Palestine. Everything else is Israel.”
This was a big signal, but Bibi scorned it. The Israeli novelist David Grossman wrote an open letter to Netanyahu in Haaretz, taking him to task: “This is a bit embarrassing, but I will remind you, Mr. Netanyahu, that you were elected to lead Israel precisely in order to discern these rare hints of opportunity, in order to transform them into a possible lever to extricate your country from the impasse in which it has been stuck for decades.”
So my best advice to Israelis is: Focus on your own election — on Jan. 22 — not ours. I find it very sad that in a country with so much human talent, the Israeli center and left still can’t agree on a national figure who could run against Netanyahu and his thuggish partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — a man whose commitment to democracy is closer to Vladimir Putin’s than Thomas Jefferson’s. Don’t count on America to ride to the rescue. It has to start with you.
My president is busy.
Damn, Tommy, I didn’t think you had it in you. Way to go! Next up is Ms. Collins:
Somewhere Over South America
“Maybe I’ll get a decorating show,” said Hillary Clinton.
It was a few weeks before the election. Clinton was flying back from an overnight trip to Peru, talking — without any great enthusiasm — about the topic that would begin to obsess the American political world as soon as the presidential ballots had been counted: Will Hillary run in 2016?
It’s more than two months until this inauguration. But the speculation is already roaring. On Friday, Politico reported that Public Policy Polling had a new survey showing that if the Iowa caucuses were held today — there’s a terrifying thought — Clinton would get 58 percent of the vote. Joe Biden limped in with 17 percent.
Every day, people approach Hillary Clinton and tell her she has an obligation to run and give America its first woman president. “Yes, they do!” she laughs, with the trademark H.C. chortle. Being asked to run for president is a kind of side career all by itself.
Clinton gives many variations on the theme of don’t-think-so. (“Oh, I’ve ruled it out, but you know me. Everybody keeps asking me. So I keep ruling it out and being asked.”) Also a thousand different forms of beats-me. (“I have no idea what I’m going to do next.”) What she does not do is offer the kind of Shermanesque if-nominated-I-will-not-run language that would end the conversation.
Instead, she veers off into a discussion of all the things she’ll do when she’s no longer secretary of state, and there’s time. That led to a mention of her favorite television shows, which are all about house buying and home improvement.
Her top pick is “Love It or List It,” in which a couple who are unhappy with their current residence gets to look at new houses while a decorator rehabs their old place. The plot arc is always the same, and in a way, it’s sort of Clintonesque. The redecorators find termites or a leaky furnace; the house search goes awry. Everybody’s upset! But after a lot of hard work and the final commercial, there’s a happy ending.
“I find it very calming,” she said.
Clinton sounded relaxed and cheerful in the way of people who are in a good mood despite a severe lack of sleep. She was sitting in the little room that serves as her private space on the secretary of state’s plane. It’s a modest accommodation for the nation’s Traveler in Chief — barely big enough for a table and a small sofa/daybed. You’d think somebody who puts in her kind of hours would get a little plusher ride. During her day in Peru she had given several speeches and multiple TV interviews, toured a textile factory, taken part in a conference on women’s empowerment and spent an evening with President Ollanta Humala and his wife, Nadine Heredia.
“It was a long dinner, but it really was a good conversation,” said Clinton earnestly, describing the president, his wife and the other officials she’d talked with, including the Peruvian minister of development and social inclusion, who she termed “very savvy.” Clinton is from the personal relationship school of foreign policy. Her approach to day-to-day diplomacy is not unlike the way she found her footing as a candidate for the United States Senate. Remember the listening tours? Lots and lots of listening tours.
“So, last night at dinner we sat down and had drinks — there were only like 8 or 10 of us — and we just talked,” she said, recounting the evening. “When somebody comes along like him who has good values, really does care about what he’s talking about, there’s no substitute for just time spent one on one in small groups.”
If Hillary Clinton ran for president again, she would probably be the best-prepared candidate in American history: one who’s lived in the White House, served in the United States Senate, a woman who knows virtually every head of state in the world and also has a strong opinion about the merits of the Peruvian minister of development and social inclusion.
Joe Biden might arguably come close. But we’re not going to talk about Joe Biden until we figure out what Hillary’s going to do.
Would all that background mean she’d be a great president? Who knows? Americans are always trying to figure out what qualities they should look for in a candidate, and we still have no idea. Republicans were sure this was the time for a successful businessman-turned-governor, but then maybe not. Going into the Oval Office, the elder George Bush was much better prepared than Barack Obama, but we re-elected the one with the shorter résumé.
And would people like a President Hillary Clinton as much as they liked the woman who lost the nomination, who won us over with her remarkable ability to bounce back from disaster?
I always wondered how she regards the arc of her own life. Controversial first lady to betrayed first lady to beloved first lady. Clumsy carpetbagging Senate candidate to New York treasure. Failed presidential candidate to international icon. The theme, it seemed to me, was that you play the cards you’re dealt.
Clinton stared for a few seconds. “I choose my cards,” she said firmly. “I choose them. I play them to the best of my ability. Move on to the next hand.”
So the question is, what hand does she choose next?
As everyone knows, Clinton’s remaining time in the cabinet is limited. She long ago told President Obama that she wanted to leave after his first term was up. “Obviously, if he wants to get somebody confirmed I’d be sensitive to that. But it’s not going to be much longer.”
Then she is going to chill. While there are many topics on which Hillary Clinton speaks with great passion, at this moment there are very few about which she is as intense as her desire to not do anything.
“I am so looking forward to next year,” she said. “I just want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun. And relax. It sounds so ordinary, but I haven’t done it for 20 years. I would like to see whether I can get untired. I work out and stuff, but I don’t do it enough and I don’t do it hard enough because I can’t expend that much energy on it.”
Notice that we are less than a minute into her paean to not doing anything, and already she is planning her workouts.
It seems reasonable to assume that right now, Clinton’s lack of interest in a presidential race is genuine. Despite her legendary ability to fall asleep at will — even on that airplane daybed — she is really, really tired. And at 65, she has no way of knowing how fully her body will rebound when she stops punishing it.
If Clinton follows through on her plan to not decide anything for a year, it would put the 2016 presidential speculation on ice, at least on the Democratic side. And that would be a signal service to the American public, which needs an election break. No way should we be forced to think about who we want to see in the debates 47 months down the line.
Although we will still have to spend a long time listening to uninterrupted discussions about Jeb Bush versus Paul Ryan.
In Lima, Clinton addressed a conference called “Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion” wearing a black pantsuit and bright shirt. It brought back memories. One of her unheralded contributions to the cause of American women in politics was to wear exactly that same outfit every day during her first campaign for Senate. After a while, nobody talked about her clothes anymore, and I envisioned a glorious future in which women running for office could just toss on their black pantsuit in the morning and head for the door. But when Clinton ran for president, she went for variety. I always thought it was a shame, but she said she’d just gotten bored.
At the conference, she told the audience that she had just read a — yes! — home decorating magazine, which included a 20-page feature on textiles from the Andes, a classic example of big business springing from women’s crafts. For a long time, Clinton said, when she talked about giving women opportunity, “I could see some eyes glazing over.” But now, she continued, people are beginning to see that empowering women leads to economic development. That you don’t espouse women’s rights because it’s a virtuous thing to do but because it leads to economic growth.
If she really does drop out of politics and move on, this will probably be Clinton’s future. Championing the cause of women, continuing her mega-listening tours around the globe, having serious conversations about issues of great import and minimal glamour. At State, she’s dug deep into the bureaucracy, trying to ensure that American diplomacy will be promoting women’s empowerment many secretaries down the line. “We’ve created some positions,” Clinton said, making a list. “We have embedded it in the quadrennial diplomacy and development review process…”
That’s the thing about Hillary Clinton. Most famous woman in the world, but still a sucker for the quadrennial diplomacy and development review process.
And now last but not least here’s Mr. Bruni:
Before election night 2000, when he was riding high as “Bush’s brain,” Karl Rove made Olympian pronouncements about a dawning realignment of the electorate and an enduring age of Republican dominance, masterminded by — who else? — Karl Rove.
On election night 2012, when he was brought low by Mitt Romney’s defeat and the party’s miserable showing in Senate races, he went into denial. It was something to see, something that really will endure, that half-hour or so on Fox News, when he insisted on an alternate reality to the one described by NBC and CBS and even his own Fox colleagues, who were calling the election, correctly, for President Obama. Rove would have none of it, and no wonder. It didn’t just contradict the statements he’d been making for months as a gabby media pundit. It undercut the pose he’d been striking for more than a decade as a lofty political prophet.
In his pout and his pique there were lessons. One is that money, which the political groups that he directs spent oodles and oodles of, doesn’t trump message or spackle over the cracks in a candidate or candidacy. Another is that reality won’t be denied, whether the issue is climate change, which a ludicrous percentage of Republicans at least pretend not to accept, or the country’s diversity, which a self-defeating percentage of them simply ignore.
And yet another is that prophets are people too, blinded by their own self-interest, swayed by their own self-promotion, neither omniscient nor omnipotent. In a political culture that treats its consultants as demigods, this is too often forgotten, by the consultants themselves most of all, and Rove just gave all of us a mesmerizing reminder of that. The oracle suffered a debacle.
He’d begun 2012 as a designated kingmaker, thanks to the successful candidacies he championed in 2010 and the tens of millions of dollars that were pouring into his “super PAC,” American Crossroads, and its affiliate, Crossroads GPS, and that were ready to gush out.
And gush they did. Rove’s groups lavished some $300 million on Republican races, including the presidential campaign, into which they plunked an estimated $127 million on ads in support of Romney. They plunked more than $11 million into the Senate race in Virginia, which Republicans lost, and anywhere from $1 million to $7 million into another nine Senate campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In only one of those races, in Nevada, did the Republican candidate prevail.
This was not lost on Rove’s fellow conservatives. In a statement after the election, the right-wing advocate Richard Viguerie said that in any sane world, Rove “would never be hired to run or consult on a national campaign again.”
Donald Trump, his Twitter finger itchy and his words ever measured, tweeted: “Congrats to @KarlRove on blowing $400 million this cycle. Every race @CrossroadsGPS ran ads in, the Republicans lost. What a waste of money.”
This cycle illustrated both the limits and the perfidy of money. The sums spent by Crossroads and other groups on negative ads against Sherrod Brown in Ohio, an eminently beatable Democrat running for re-election to the Senate, didn’t infuse his challenger, Josh Mandel, 35, with the maturity and eloquence he badly needed. Brown coasted to victory.
And megadonors and super PACs arguably did Romney more harm than good. It was money from Sheldon Adelson, Newt Gingrich’s backer, that financed some of the most vicious attacks on Romney’s Bain Capital career and laid the groundwork for Democrats’ successful caricature of him as a callous plutocrat. And by keeping Romney’s primary challengers in the game, Adelson and his ilk forced Romney ever further to the right, which would haunt him plenty in the general election.
If Rove had a firm grip on how all of this was playing out, he didn’t fully cop to it. But then he’s a maestro of the overconfident, in-your-face show. He humbly titled his 2010 memoir “Courage and Consequence” and, on his Web site, lets it be known that the tour for it took him to “110 cities in 90 days.”
I still can’t get over a telephone interview he gave Joe Hagan for an article in New York magazine last year. Fresh off his second divorce, he’s zooming down a Texas road in a car with his younger girlfriend, “a lobbyist rumored to have been Rove’s mistress before his divorce,” Hagan writes. Hagan can hear her “squeals of laughter,” along with Rove’s gloating to her: “Goddangit, baby, we’re making good time!”
“It was totally cavalier,” Hagan told me last week, when I asked him if the timing of the call was accidental and her presence grudgingly revealed. No and no. “I was struck by how arrogant and freewheeling he was in that moment,” Hagan said.
Of course arrogance, or at least self-assurance, is a consultant’s stock in trade. That’s what we buy when we buy advice: not just the content of it but the authority, even the grandiloquence, with which it’s delivered. We exchange the anxiety of autonomy for the comfort of following orders. And Rove gives great orders, rife with arcane historical references and reams of data.
He’s smart and has on many occasions shown a keen understanding of Republicans’ vulnerabilities. The compassion in George W. Bush’s conservatism — the oratorical emphasis on education, the moderate stance on immigration — was a Rove-blessed attempt to keep the party from seeming as harsh as it does now. Rove has warned repeatedly that it mustn’t estrange Latino voters. And he was among the first and loudest Republican leaders to lament the damage that Christine O’Donnell, Sarah Palin and Todd Akin were doing to the party’s brand.
But he either didn’t or couldn’t keep them away in the first place, and as the 2012 campaign progressed, he seemed to get lost in the exaggerated, delusional spin of it all. This culminated in his attempt on election night to refute the Ohio returns and the projection of an Obama victory, prompting the Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly to ask him if his contrary calculations were just “math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better.”
Two days later, back on Fox News, Rove was still spinning, still in denial. He claimed that Obama won by “suppressing the vote,” but by voter suppression he meant negative ads about Bain. The same kind, mind you, that Adelson once helped circulate.
Rove’s awful election night proved that you can’t buy momentum or create it simply by decreeing it, and that there’s a boundary to what bluster accomplishes. The road he zoomed down in 2012 was toward a potentially diminished place in his party, and Goddangit, baby, he was making good time indeed.