The fixers and sharpies in the Republican party are praising Rove for his role in the 2000 and 2004 elections, and his various underlings are all over the Republican landscape but no one, it seems, wants to have him join their campaign. Was Rove a great political strategist, the architect of a "new Republican majority" as he liked to think of himself (comparing his activities with the Mark Hanna, the Cleveland Industrialist who used the
tactics associated with large corporations in the 1890s to build a Republican machine that lasted for decades), or merely a dirty politician continuing the tradition of such figures as Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy's "Brain," Murray Chotiner and other henchmen of Richard Nixon from 1946 to 1974, Lee Atwater, who led the attacks on Michael Dukakis for Bush's Dad in 1988, of which "Willie Horton" commercial is the best known and
most despicable example?
I would say the latter. Firs,t Rove didn't understand history, even the history of his own party. Mark Hanna, his hero, was a conservative Republican and national party boss. But William McKinley, Hanna's protege whom his machine put in the White House in 1896, was an experienced Republican politician committed to high tariffs and the Gold Standard (which meant high interest for creditors) not some dope talking about "compassionate conservatism" and pandering to religious fundamentalists. Hanna did "innovate" in U.S. politics in that he used money to build a modern political propaganda machine as had never been done before, hiring thousands of paid campaign workers to both "sell McKinley" to the electorate, and portray his opponent, William Jennings Bryan, as the epitome of all that was bad to the various sections of the electorate. McKinley was assassinated in 1901 and Hanna himself died in 1903. Ironically, the politician whom Hanna hated most, Theodore Roosevelt, who combined domestic progressive politics with an aggressive imperialist foreign policy, did much more to solidify that Republican majority by appealing to workers and middle class progressives. If anything, there was a more active progressive wing to the Republican party until 1912 (when Republican progressives and their allies nominated Roosevelt as a third party candidate and then saw their party, built around him, collapse as he left it and rejoined the Republicans, now under conservative leadership with the coming of WWI, which turned out to be a political disaster for the Wilsonian Democrats).
Today there is no progressive wing of the Republican party, large or otherwise. The Republicans are associated with the export of capital abroad, not the protection of jobs at home, which was, however phony it
might have been, the argument that the Hanna-McKinley machine made to workers when they talked of the high wages and high employment that high tariffs and a pro business investment policy U.S. industry, would
create. The Republicans are associated with the disastrous Iraq War, not the easy Spanish-American War, which however it was opposed by anti-imperialists (and very rightly so, especially the brutal occupation of
the Philippines and suppression of the Filipino national uprising which cost by most estimates a few hundred thousand lives) was "a splendid little war" as McKinley's Secretary of State called it, at least for U.S. imperialists, in that it covered up the economic crisis of the period, weakened domestic populist and progressive forces, and associated economic expansion with militarism. If someone with a contemporary version of Theodore Roosevelt's "Square Deal" program, criticisms of the corporate elite and active environmental policy showed up at the 2008 Republican convention and tried to get the nomination, he would probably be arrested as am "enemy combat tent and shipped off to Guantanamo, which is, one should remember, a legacy of the Spanish-American War, which had as much to do with the "liberation" of Cuba from Spanish colonialism as the Iraq war had to do with liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein.
So Karl Rove in reality was an architect of political disaster for the American people in the short run and nothing else. The Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994 and held it for the next six years, thanks in large part to the accommodation's and conservative policies of Bill Clinton. Rove had absolutely nothing to do with that. Rove didn't "win" the presidency for Bush in 2000 because Bush didn't win the presidency. Al Gore won the election in reality and the election was then stolen by Republican operatives in Florida who blocked a fair recount of the votes and then had there position sustained by a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court. Only the Hayes-Tilden election of 1876 rivals the Bush-Gore election of 2000 among major party candidates for its injustice and corruption.
Rove's strengthened appeal to the religious right and a much more focused campaign of disenfranchising through "voter challenges" likely anti-Bush voters, primarily African Americans, may very well have helped
Bush to win the 2004 election (although even here there is a serious case to be made that electoral fraud in Ohio, where the election was decided, gave Bush the presidency) but that is hardly strategy, but political pandering and dirty tricks of the kind which have been outlawed in many countries and should be in the U.S.
What was it Abraham Lincoln said (and he wouldn't be welcome at any Republican convention today if he stood for a contemporary version of the principles he represented in 1860) you can fool some of the people
all of the time, all of the people, some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Karl Rove used classic "Big Lie" propaganda and dirty tricks politics in the service of George W. Bush. In 2006, both the disastrous effects of the Bush policies and a growing revulsion at those tactics and the contempt that they show for the people defeated the Republicans. In 2008, if Lincoln was right, and political democracy has any meaning, the Republicans should suffer a very well deserved and sweeping defeat as Rove and Bush literally end up together again on the junk heap of history