Thu, Aug 16, 2007 - Page 9 News List

How Karl Rove created and damaged President George W. Bush

By Ron Fournier  /  AP , WASHINGTON

Karl Rove deserves as much credit for spoiling US President George W. Bush's presidency as he does for creating it -- which is to say he had a lot to do with both.

The strategist's political genius helped make Bush president.

His arrogance helped reduce Bush's stature as the end of his term nears.

"Rove is the model for all future presidential advisers -- disciplined, smart and personally tight with the commander in chief. With that power comes all of the negative baggage when policy and governing failures erupt out of control," Republican consultant Scott Reed said. "He has kept remarkably cool as the [party] spiraled out of control the last 10 months."

Reed was pointing to last November's elections that cost Republicans control of Congress and destroyed any chance that Rove would achieve his driving ambition -- create a governing Republican coalition that would outlast the Bush presidency.

That goal was on Rove's horizon in 2000, when he helped Bush overcome long odds to defeat a sitting vice president. Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote, but Bush won the state of Florida and the majority of the electoral votes when the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to end the state's recount.

In the first summer of the presidency, Rove's polling showed that Bush was adrift politically -- that is until the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks galvanized the nation. It was Rove's idea to use Sept. 11 to sharpen the differences between Republicans and Democrats on national security, a hard-knuckled strategy that helped Republican gain seats in the 2002 elections despite a history of election losses by a president's party.

Rove stuck to his script in the 2004 re-election campaign, using the latest technologies to target and communicate with Republican-leaning voters who might otherwise stay home on Election Day or consider backing Democrats.

Bush, a disciplined candidate with a clear vision for his presidency, defeated Senator John Kerry, a weak candidate with a fractious campaign.

In the days after the 2004 election, Rove laid claim to a durable Republican majority -- comparing the Bush-Kerry race to the elections of 1800, 1860, 1896 and 1932 when presidents leading during eras of great transition created new, lasting coalitions. Rove hoped to use Bush's policies on education, immigration, health care and Social Security to draw traditionally Democratic voters into the Republican fold.

Having already persuaded Congress to approve new education standards and expand the availability of health-savings accounts, Bush heeded Rove's advice and gambled second-term political capital on a plan to partially privatize the government's pension plan.

It was a hugely unpopular idea that Rove kept pushing despite objections from Republicans in Congress -- a fierce display of the with-us-or-against-us mentality that the White House habitually deployed against friends and foes alike.

The fight over the plan sapped Bush's political strength at a time when voters were growing sour on the Iraq war.

By now, Rove was both chief political strategist and deputy White House chief of staff in charge of both policy and politics, perhaps the most powerful White House aide ever.

"The problem for Karl was the art of campaigning required different talents than the art of governing," said Ken Duberstein, a Republican strategist who was former president Ronald Reagan's last chief of staff.

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