Mon 8 Oct, 2012 09:31 am
Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove's Secret Kingdom of Power
by Craig Unger
Release Date: September 4, 2012
The epic 2012 presidential contest between President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney represents the stunning comeback of GOP boss Karl Rove, the brilliant political operator whose scorched-earth partisanship infamously earned him the moniker “Bush’s Brain” and provoked some observers to label him as dangerous to American democracy. How, after leaving the Bush administration in disgrace, did Rove rise again, and what does it mean that he is back in power? This timely, meticulous account by New York Times bestselling investigative reporter Craig Unger provides the surprising and disturbing answers.
KARL ROVE, the man who masterminded the rise of George W. Bush from governor of Texas to the presidency, who advised Bush during two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who some claim helped seize the 2004 election for Bush, and who was at the center of the Bush administration’s two biggest scandals—the Valerie Plame Wilson affair and the U.S. attorneys scandal—is back.
Since exiting the Bush administration, Rove has quietly become the greatest Republican power broker in the country. His pulpit is much vaster than his role as a commentator on Fox News and his regular columns for the Wall Street Journal suggest. His real strength is his ability to mobilize immense sums through the SuperPAC American Crossroads and similar organizations, and channel that money on behalf of Republican candidates.
Knowing that Rove remains connected and powerful, Unger investigates Rove’s politically controversial activities of times past, shedding important new light on them, and shows their relevance to his activities today. He scrutinizes Rove’s roles in the Valerie Plame Wilson affair, the U.S. attorneys scandal, the strange events in Ohio on the night of the 2004 presidential election, and much more.
But now that Rove is back in control of GOP political strategy and funding, there are pressing new questions: How did Rove do an end around on the Republican National Committee and build his own more powerful organization? In what ways did he subtly and not so subtly influence the 2012 Republican primary process? What did he say (and do) regarding candidates Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum? How did he placate the Tea Party, which he privately despises, even as he cleverly marginalized its importance? How did he and Mitt Romney draw closer as the GOP convention neared? How will he further benefit from a Romney victory? And if Romney loses, why will Rove remain powerful? Unger has the answers.
As demonstrated in his previous books, Unger is adept at combining incisive reporting with the journalistic record to create a master narrative that sheds new light on a political subject. Detailed, fascinating, and entertaining, Boss Rove will interest not only readers who want to know more about the 2012 election but also those keen to understand the forces endangering American democracy. This up-to-the-minute journalistic report sheds crucial light on Rove’s vital behind-the-scenes role in this fall’s presidential election and in the future of American politics.
About the Author
Craig Unger is the author of the New York Times bestselling House of Bush, House of Saud. He appears frequently as an analyst on CNN, the ABC Radio Network, and other broadcast outlets. The former deputy editor of The New York Observer and editor-in-chief of Boston Magazine, he has written about George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush for The New Yorker, Esquire, and Vanity Fair. He lives in New York City.
The Man Who Swallowed the Republican Party
On Wednesday, April 21, 2010, about two dozen Republican power brokers gathered at Karl Rove’s five-bedroom Federal-style townhouse on Weaver Terrace in Northwest Washington, D.C., to strategize about the upcoming midterm elections in the fall.
Rove, fifty-nine, had hosted this kind of event many times before. Six years earlier, he held weekly breakfasts for high-level GOP operatives to plan for the 2004 fall elections. Back then, as senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, a bureaucratic title that belied his extraordinary power, Rove oversaw Bush’s reelection campaign. More important, he was attempting to implement a master plan to build a permanent majority through which Republicans would maintain a stranglehold on all three branches of government for the foreseeable future. The plan was not merely to win elections. It represented a far more grandiose vision: the forging of a historic realignment of the nation’s political landscape, the transformation of America into effectively a one-party state.
But now Rove was no longer in the White House. He had been one of the most powerful unelected officials in the United States, but, to many Republicans, his greatest achievement—engineering the presidency of George W. Bush—had become an ugly stain on the party’s reputation. “Karl Rove will be a name that’ll be used for a long, long time as an example of how not to do it, as opposed to an example of how to do it,” says GOP consultant Ed Rollins, who served as President Reagan’s political director.
A prime suspect in the two biggest political scandals of the decade, the Valerie Plame Wilson affair and the U.S. attorneys scandal, Rove had left the White House in 2007 under a cloud of suspicion, barely escaping indictment. His longtime patron had left the White House with the lowest approval rating in the history of the presidency: 22 percent. And in 2008 the Democrats vaporized Rove’s dreams by winning the ultimate political trifecta: the House, the Senate, and the White House. Finally, on the right, there was the insurgent Tea Party, to which he personified the free-spending Bush era and the Republican Party’s establishment past, not its future.
Rove’s personal life and finances had also fared poorly. His 2009 divorce from Darby, his wife of twenty-four years, meant the loss of more than half of his assets. And there were enormous legal bills resulting from the scandals. “I had to worry about retirement,” he told New York magazine. “I had to worry about getting back to Texas.”
But Rove was not without resources. Thanks to his columns in Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal, and a lucrative contract with Fox News, he had straightened out his personal finances and, in just two years, created a lofty bully pulpit from which to bestow upon the public the Rovian narrative about American politics.
During his seven years in the White House, Rove had been able to dispense the perks that are so vital to building political capital with the powers that be. “Having control of the White House is very heady stuff,” says Roger Stone, a GOP operative who has known Rove for forty years. “Inviting them to the White House mess, state dinners, and so on. He has a big Rolodex of Texas millionaires.”
Another arrow in Rove’s quiver came courtesy of Michael Steele, then the hapless chairman of the Republican National Committee. An unfailing source of fodder for late-night comics, Steele had just outdone himself when the RNC squandered nearly $2,000 at a lesbians-in-bondage-themed strip club in Hollywood—precisely the kind of thing the party of family values and evangelicalism didn’t need when its coffers were bare. Whether he was discussing abortion, Afghanistan, or even asserting, preposterously, that the Republican Party needed “a hip-hop makeover,” Steele had been so out of step with the party that conservative donors were desperately seeking an alternative.
Finally, Rove had one other enormously powerful ally. It could be fairly said that no other political strategist in history was so deeply indebted to the U.S. Supreme Court. In December 2010, in Bush v. Gore, one of the most notorious decisions in its history, by a 5–4 vote, the Court effectively resolved the 2000 United States presidential election in favor of Rove’s most famous client, George W. Bush. Then, on January 21, 2010, three months before his luncheon, the Supreme Court once again provided the answer to Karl Rove’s prayers, this time, in the form of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, another landmark decision, ruling that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting spending for political purposes by corporations and unions. This last decision was also made by a 5–4 majority, and this time, two of the justices voting with the majority, Samuel Alito and John Roberts, in part owed their lifetime appointments to Rove and to support from political action committees (PACs) such as Progress for America, which was tied to Rove. The first decision legitimized Rove’s power during the two administrations of George W. Bush. The second allowed Rove to reestablish his power and resurrected his efforts to create a permanent Republican majority.
The implications of the Citizens United decision were staggering. In the 2008 election cycle, organizations of all types—whether they were for-profit corporations, nonprofit organizations, or unions—had been prohibited from airing broadcast, cable, or satellite communications that mentioned a candidate within sixty days of a general election or thirty days of a primary. To be sure, there were many ways for wealthy individuals or corporations to funnel money to political action committees. But the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as the McCain-Feingold Act, specifically prohibited corporations from engaging in “electioneering communications” intended to influence the outcome of an election. As a case in point, Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit group known for its right-wing documentaries, produced Hillary: The Movie, a film critical of then senator Hillary Clinton, but had been prevented by the courts from promoting it on television or airing it during the 2008 election season. The organization appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court—and won.
The gist of the decision could be boiled down to two words: anything goes. Corporations were people now, too, ruled the court. And just as John Q. Public could say anything he liked about politics, thanks to an extraordinarily broad interpretation of the meaning of “freedom of speech,” come election time, so, too, could Wall Street, big oil, pharmaceutical companies, the tobacco industry, and billionaire cranks flood the airwaves with millions of dollars’ worth of political commercials.
To Democrats, the ruling was devastating. In his January 27, 2010, State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama asserted that “the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.”
“The money spent in the airtime purchase by deep-pocketed interests will dwarf the voice of average Americans . . .” predicted Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It’s probably one of the three or four decisions in the history of the Supreme Court that most undermines democracy.”
In the immediate aftermath of the ruling, thousands of articles were written about Citizens United as a truly historic development in the American electoral process, but one voice was conspicuous by its absence. Karl Rove did not mention the subject in his Wall Street Journal columns. Karl Rove did not mention it during his appearances on Fox News. In fact, not a word from Karl Rove on the subject was to be found in any medium. This, despite the fact that he was indisputably a leading expert on the subject, that three out of the five conservative justices voting in the majority—Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, and Sam Alito—had been given lifetime appointments by his patrons, George H.W. and George W. Bush, and, most important, despite the fact that he would become arguably the single greatest beneficiary of the ruling.
Karl Rove was the dog that didn’t bark.
Rove, of course, was not the only one who would be able to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling. On the Democratic side of the aisle, unions and wealthy liberals such as George Soros would benefit. And there were other Republicans, notably David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers backing the Tea Party, and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a Newt Gingrich man, who often were at odds with Rove.
But with his keen eye for strategy and his ties to disaffected millionaires in the GOP establishment, Rove was the first to seize the initiative. He immediately met with Ed Gillespie, the former RNC chair who had served in the Bush administration with Rove. The two men were a potent duo. “Ed’s got the better rap and Karl’s got the better Rolodex,” a Republican lobbyist told the National Journal.
Within two weeks of the Supreme Court decision, American Crossroads, Rove and Gillespie’s new 527 advocacy group, had its website up. There was no mention whatsoever of Rove. His exact relationship to the group was informal and was described in Politico as providing “a laying on of hand...
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
September 5, 2012
By Loyd E. Eskildson
Karl Rove has been a key figure in Republican politics for over a decade, and before that a rapidly rising star. Today he is a regular editorial writer for the WSJ and a frequent guest on Fox News. However, its his behind the scenes activities that have brought both notoriety and high demand for his involvement - most recently as head of a large SuperPAC utilizing nearly $1 billion from donors provided anonymity along with his skilled utilization of their donations. Prior to that he was Bush II's closest political advisor, leaving in 2007 after barely escaping indictment for the Valerie Plame affair, as well as most everyone's best guess as the mind behind the U.S. attorneys scandal. (Rove and 80+ other White House staffer had their emails hosted by an RNC account using non-government servers - some 22 million emails were deleted, evading public access that normally would have been afforded.)
Bush I provided Rove with an early lesson in 1973 - Rove had run for the position of Chairman of the Young Republicans, the outcome was unclear, and its resolution had been appealed to Bush I, then RNC Chairman. Someone then leaked information that Rove's seminars for Republicans consisted of teaching dirty tricks - Bush I assumed Rove's opponent did this, awarded the position to Rove, penned a very angry letter to Rove's opponent, and made Rove his special assistant.
Rove quickly apprenticed himself to Lee Atwater, considered the then master of 'dirty tricks' such as 'push polls,' fliers that misdirected opposition voters, etc.
Early in his career, Rove focused primarily on Texas judicial elections. At the time, the Texas Supreme Court was held 9-0 by Democrats - businessmen didn't care because Democrats were largely conservative. Rove created a new issue (tort reform), used it to obtain large business donations, and reversed the court's composition to 0-9, favoring Republicans. Donations went to Rove's group (not the Texas Republican Party), and ads were funded by phony grass roots groups.
The year 1986 found Rove working for Clements' gubernatorial campaign. An electronic sweep found a bug in Rove's office - accusations were directed at Clements' opponent, but many believe Rove himself planted the bug - supported by the fact that it would have been almost useless because it used a very short-lived battery.
"Boss Rove" continues, tracing the most recent allegations against Rove, especially while helping Bush II's campaigns. Unger contends that Rove now controls the Republican party.
After the Supreme Court's 'Citizen's United' ruling that allowed unlimited campaign donations, Rove partnered with former RNC Chairman/Bush II advisor Ed Gillespie to form American Crossroads, a SuperPac for large anonymous donors such as Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers. Gillespie subsequently resigned to become a Romney advisor after it became clear Romney would be the nominee. American Crossroads was already targeted at key Senate and House races, as well as supporting legislation to prevent hyped fears of voter fraud. Donors were further motivated by the chance to replace at least one liberal leaving the Supreme Court during the next four years. Unger casts the current campaign as 'Romney's last takeover' with Rove et al putting up $1+ billion for the opportunity to oversee expenditures approximating $4 trillion/year.