Political History

Commentator: 
Tom Shipka
Audio: 
Transcript: 

If you would like to learn about a contemporary admirer of Machiavelli, take a look at a book by James Moore and Wayne Slater, two long-time observers of the American political landscape, entitled The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power. (1)

Moore and Slater inform us that Rove signed on to the Republican agenda while still a student and that he left college early to pursue his passion for politics. After a time as a leader of national Young Republicans, he became a political consultant in Texas where he established a direct-mail company and compiled a long list of generous donors to Republican candidates and causes. Although he worked for many candidates, he saw in George W. Bush, whose religion helped him defeat alcoholism, the ideal candidate for state and national office. Rove not only guided Bush to two terms as Governor of Texas and two as President of the United States but he resuscitated a dormant Republican Party in Texas and many other states. How Rove accomplished all this is the topic of Moore and Slater's book.

The authors argue convincingly that for Rove whether a tactic is legal or moral is peripheral to whether it works. Among his favorite tactics is attacking opponents through surrogates. Ann Richards in 1994, John McCain in 2000, and John Kerry in 2004, among others, were victims of this strategy. In Kerry's case, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which was bankrolled by three Texas Republican billionaires, including T. Boone Pickens, sowed seeds of doubt among many voters about Kerry.

The authors also credit Rove with exploiting religion in an unprecedented way. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that Rove is an agnostic, one who holds that we can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God and should therefore remain neutral on the issue. (2) To Rove religion is simply a political tool. He concluded early in his career, based on years of careful polling, that the more regularly a person attends church, the more likely that person is to vote Republican. He therefore used religion to energize religious conservatives to register, vote, volunteer, and contribute to Bush and other Republicans. He collaborated with Ralph Reed from the Christian Coalition and hundreds of other conservative religious leaders across the nation. He convinced them that George W. Bush shares their values and that, if elected, he will appoint judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade and he will propose a Constitutional Amendment outlawing gay marriage.

There are fascinating paradoxes in Rove's use of the religious right's antipathy to homosexuality in campaigns. One is that many Republican homosexuals, both those who had come out and those who had not, acquiesced in this strategy as necessary to win and to advance the overall Republican agenda. Among them was Ken Mehlman, chairman of the national Republican Party. (3) Another is that Rove had homosexuality in his own family. Rove's stepfather, whom he loved and respected, eventually came out of the closet. This may have been a factor in the later suicide of Rove's mother.

You'll find dozens more surprises in The Architect. Whether you consider Rove a hero or a villain, the book is worth reading because Rove is without peer as a political consultant in America today. And, at the age of fifty-nine, he is likely to ply his trade for many more years.


 

  1. Crown Publishers, New York, 2006.
  2. See page 19 and page 22, among others.
  3. See pages 63-65 and the following.

© 2009 Tom Shipka