Seasoned audiences of presidential scandal know that there’s only one certainty ahead: the timing of a Karl Rove resignation. As always in this genre, the knight takes the fall at exactly that moment when it’s essential to protect the king.
–Frank Rich, via the New York Times, July 17th, 2005
Karl Rove, in a move Sir Lancelot would be proud of, has announced that he will “leave the building” August 31st.
Does this mean Mr. Bush’s recent “colonoscopy” was merely a cover story for a procedure more closely resembling the removal of a hand from a puppet?
Don’t bet on it.
Consider it instead an evolutionary step in Rove’s career-and a chance to shut off some of the controversy created by his use of Republican National Committee email accounts.
Here’s what I mean:
Mr. Bush and Rove have been essentially “joined at the hip” since Texas days, but that’s now over, because of term limits.
Mr. Bush has reached the end of his political career (unless Laura decides to run), but Rove has no reason to retire-after all, why give up the power he worked so hard to get?
So where is Rove to go? He either has to “hitch his wagon” to a new Presidential contender, take over the Republican Congressional political command, or become an independent voice, much as Gingrich is today.
Despite today’s announcements that Rove would like to help get Congressional candidates elected, my suspicion is that he wants another Presidential candidate.
After all, who wants the irritation of trying to control the Republican National Congressional (RNCC) or Senatorial (RNSC) Committees? Those jobs have too much of a “frogs in a wheelbarrow” aspect to them-and why would a “unitary executive” guy take up with legislators?
And then there’s the money. Why would the current “commanders” of the RNCC or RNSC let Rove take over the distribution all those PAC donations? Those donations today are one of the major levers the Party uses to enforce discipline, and giving control to Rove would severely upset the Congressional apple cart.
On the other hand, a Presidential candidate-especially in this year’s Republican field-is much more easily drawn into the Rovian orbit. The message management and coordination issues are simpler as well-and the infighting is more readily controlled than in a Congressional environment. Not to mention the advantages of having to massage only one ego, rather than 535.
A reasonable person can imagine that Rove will be raising and spending most of the money for such a candidate; and by extension, directing that candidate’s message and image. This would seem much more attractive for a manager than the Congressional environment we just examined, and my guess is Rove feels the same way. Rove’s likely calculus reveals an additional advantage: the President’s political coordinator would be a likely head of the RNC, if Rove chose to accept the gig.
To me the real question is: has Rove selected his new pony-and has that pony yet made it to the starting gate?
It would be possible to lay out any number of scenarios, but here’s a quick five:
Rove rescues McCain.
Rove and the RNC have anointed Romney.
Giuliani has made an offer that has caught Rove’s interest.
Rove is the “missing link” that Thompson has been waiting for.
Gingrich thinks Rove can get him “over the hump”.
I’ll leave all this to the community to evaluate, so that we might take a minute to discuss Rove and his Blackberry.
Although Mr. Bush reports he never uses a computer and does not send emails, Rove Blackberries like crazy. An unknown number of those messages were related to White House business, and some were of a political nature. It is now known that many of those communications were made through an account operated by the Republican National Committee, and as we mentioned above there is considerable controversy as to the applicability of the Presidential Records Act and the Hatch Act over the contents of those accounts.
But much of that controversy disappears if Rove is no longer a White House employee. The legal issues remain, of course, but going forward the damage can be minimized, especially if the RNC servers have “accidentally” or “as a routine maintenance procedure” had the account records removed (“we’re shocked, shocked to discover the servers with those records had a catastrophic failure…we’re so disappointed we can’t prove Rove’s innocence”…). If this occurs, you can expect any investigation will be stonewalled beyond November 2008, with the hope no conclusion is issued in time to hurt the RNC, the Candidate, or Rove.
My impression is that this process is already underway.
Rove can’t be afraid of criminal sanctions, after the Scooter Libby “pardon”, suggesting, stealing from Shakespeare: “the stonewall’s the thing”.
Finally, a quick word about that “joined at the hip” thing: there’s no reason why Rove has to end his relationship with Mr. Bush’s Administration-all he has to do is place a “consigliere” in the White House to pass the messages back and forth, and the connection stays in place. And Mr. Bush still doesn’t have to use email.
I do expect an effort to create a new extension of “Executive Privilege” applicable to “non-employee advisors” of the Executive Branch.
All that being said, it’s time to get to the summary:
I suspect Rove feels he can simultaneously run a campaign and an Administration, and my guess is he’ll be trying to do just that-much to Cheney’s disappointment.
I further suspect a lot of today’s news is also based on a desire to contain the controversy over Rove’s emails-both their contents and actual existence-and that can be easily stonewalled from outside the White House.
And finally, I suspect that Rove will continue to be Mr. Bush’s close and trusted advisor-and that his freedom to act will be enhanced based on his new status.