The Texas Way
Karl Rove claims "If the President continues to make this outrageous charge- that his campaign had that Romney is guilty of felonious activity (and) committed a felony, that's a big mistake." Dana Milbank writes
We know the attack is working because Karl Rove says it isn’t. He called it a “big mistake” to suggest, as Obama aide Stephanie Cutter did, that Romney may have committed a felony in misleading the Securities and Exchange Commission. This, Turd Blossom told Fox News, is “gutter politics of the worst Chicago sort.”
Rove is well-qualified to weigh in on such matters, having presided over Bush’s 2004 campaign, during which opponent John Kerry was accused of lying about his war record — a rather more outrageous allegation than Cutter’s. Some of those who funded the attacks on Kerry are now bankrolling Rove’s assaults on Obama.
Whatever "Chicago politics" are (is?), Karl Rove knows how to do politics. In an interview with PBS' Frontline shortly after the selection of George W. Bush as president, "The Architect" author Wayne Slater summarized the way of Rove:
What they really show is the beginning of a long pattern of behavior by Karl Rove. In every campaign after that, what you see with Rove is the same kind of thing: You see some series of events that attack an opponent, really not simply on the merits of issues, but in some dirty trick way. This was an opening. This was the first salvo. This was the beginning of the Rove approach. "The mark of Rove" is what some people call it. When Rove gets involved in a campaign, the opponent is going to get smeared in a bad way, and most likely, Rove's candidate will win.
Painting a war hero as a near-traitor in 2004 was only one instance. In George W. Bush's successful effort to replace Ann Richards as governor of Texas
Karl Rove understood that and strategically, as part of his memos and his arrangements and his campaign strategy, tried to win support [for Bush] from East Texans on conservative values that they felt were important. At the same time that the campaign was very publicly involved in trying to woo these historically Democrat voters from traditionally conservative East Texas, there emerged a whisper campaign, a virulent and obviously orchestrated whisper campaign in East Texas. I would go from place to place in East Texas, I would go from business to business, and I can remember talking to people about the race, Ann Richards, George Bush, and invariably someone would say: "But what about the lesbians? What about the lesbians?"
It was a message that swept East Texas, a message that many people in that community, a largely Baptist community, felt that Ann Richards had embraced lesbians and homosexuals in a way that they did not accept; that she had appointed them to boards and commissions, as she had, in the governor's office; that she had, in fact, had them around on her campaign staff, and the intimation was that she herself, even though she was a divorced woman with four children, might be a lesbian. Very effective campaign.
Rove himself was extraordinarily careful, in all my conversations with him and in conversations with others in the media, to make sure that he was not directly tied to that orchestrated campaign. What we know is that the campaign was orchestrated and very, very effective. Everywhere you went people were talking about it. Phone calls were made. Bush supporters and Bush surrogates were talking about it in a very effective way. In no case could I ever find anyone who said, "Karl Rove told me to do this." But in every case, what I found was a duplication of the exact pattern of every Rove race: that Rove's opponent is attacked, often by a surrogate or anonymous group, whisper campaigns, direct mail pieces or other kinds of personal attacks, in a way that Rove can't be directly seen with his fingerprints, but that Rove's candidate benefits from. It's a pattern not just once or twice, but I've seen it throughout the last two decades. …
And few can- or at least should- forget the compassionate conservatism of the Bush-Rove campaign for the GOP presidential nomination four years earlier, in which
What happened was, you begin first to see the emergence of a so-called military group on the stairs of an event where Bush attended that [would] attack John McCain on the issue of Vietnam. In fact, what they did was suggest that John McCain was not good on the issues of prisoners of war, that he was not really the war hero that he seemed to be. It was sort of the beginning chink in the armor of John McCain among these very conservative, patriotic, Republican South Carolinians. The other message of this early surrogate group was that John McCain might be crazy, that the experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam might actually work against McCain because it had left him psychologically with a short fuse and maybe not the kind of person that we want to have in office.
It was followed up by … some surrogates sending virulent telephone calls against John McCain and his wife, leaving messages that suggested that John McCain's wife had a drug problem -- she had battled it [Editor's Note: a dependency on prescriptive drugs] and was fighting that -- and also that he and his wife had a black child, which was a dynamite message, especially among some racist voters in this conservative state. In fact, what McCain and his wife had was an adopted child from a Mother Theresa orphanage. But it didn't make any difference, because the surrogates were out there turning the screws on John McCain as a person whose personal life made him unacceptable as a candidate, at the same time that the candidate George Bush was attacking McCain on the perfectly appropriate policy issues that you would see in the campaign.
McCain believed that Bush was behind it. The model was exactly the same that you saw again and again and again in a campaign run by Karl Rove. And although Rove denied any involvement, the outcome was the same: surrogates and groups who supported Bush attacking the opponent in his personal life. Bush was successful and ultimately won that campaign. [But] the relationship between John McCain and George Bush was not very good for months, even years afterwards.
There are other examples of sleazy campaign tactics utilized by Karl Rove, once of Utah but a resident and operative in Texas for many years since he relocated. My personal favorite is one involving more speculation, wherein the tie to Rove is, admittedly, more questionable. In 1986, incumbent governor Mark White was leading Republican challenger Bill Clements in a rematch of the gubernatorial race won by the Democrat four years earlier. The Clements campaign then hired a security firm, Knight Diversified Services Inc., to perform an electronic sweep of the Austin offices of one Karl Rove, an aide to the challenger. On October 5, two of the company's private detectives found a bug hidden behind a needlepoint of a framed elephant, the symbol of the Gas and Oil Party.
In the resulting outcry, the campaign turned around and Rove's client, Bill Clements, turned White out of office.The FBI initially cleared the campaign operatives of both candidates and eventually focused attention on the two individuals who found the device. No charges ever ensued and speculation in the following years properly has focused on the individual in whose office the device was found, and whose employer's fortunes dramatically improved after the incident.
Rove knows that Cutter never contended "that Romney is guilty of felonious activity" or "committed a felony," rather that if he was "misrepresenting his position" in filings with the SEC he would have been committing a felony. But the history of the GOP's most accomplished operative history suggests he knows also that as a major campaign official, Cutter should not have raised the issue, at least as directly. It is simply not Rovian: gossip and innuendo are more effective because no one can charge definitively that a candidate, or his spokesman, was responsible. There are no fingerprints. It may not be how they do it in Chicago, but it's the way Karl Rove did it in Texas and the way he knows it should be done.