Rove and the Seductions of Civilian Life

And if that connection were to re-emerge—in, say, a subsequent lawsuit from the White House seeking to shut down any future testimony from a civilian Karl Rove before Congress—then there would be still more political damage for the White House. “Bush, then, instead of seeming like he was fighting the world like a colossus, would be reduced to going to court to ask for an order to stop Rove’s testimony.”

G.O.P. mainstays in Washington are quite confident that such procedural showdowns are unlikely to make any sort of significant dent in a résumé like Mr. Rove’s. His post-White House career will be but “a permutation of the continued power that he’ll hold,” says Juleanna Glover, former 2000 campaign press secretary to Vice President Dick Cheney and policy adviser to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who now works in that former boss’s lobbying shop, Ashcroft Group. “I think he’s now much more freed to do the big-think kind of strategizing. And his departure certainly doesn’t mean there’s not a certain range of campaign who’d be very interested in bringing him on—if for no other reason than that having Karl Rove is very appealing for a certain kind of Republican donor.”

But wouldn’t any of the present contenders for the 2008 nomination—who have so far been reticent indeed in advertising connections to the Bush White House—be taking on a considerable risk in handing the keys off to Mr. Rove, the strategist who all but invented George Bush, politically speaking? “The risk involved in the presidential is that you have people who haven’t done it before,” Glover argues, “even if they have on occasion been possessed of flawed judgment—which I’m not by any means conceding is the case with Karl. Having that type of sheer mileage is invaluable, specifically in times of crisis.”

But one again is struck by how many of the crises now besieging the G.O.P. bear Karl Rove’s thumbprint—and not just in the White House. A recent Pew Research Center study shows that, despite all the pundit cant about a “divided America,” 50 percent of respondents are identifying, or leaning, Democratic, with just 35 percent aligning with the G.O.P. What’s more, the electorate is indicating a growing exasperation with the “values issues” that served as the wedge of first resort in the grand theory of the Rove-engineered G.O.P. majority—especially among younger voters, who are increasingly gay-tolerant, war-weary and suspicious of government-backed religious initiatives.

Meanwhile, in last week’s Republican Iowa straw poll, the runaway victor was Mitt Romney—the first-tier candidate who has most aggressively (if maladroitly) tailored his message to the religious right. The next three top vote-getters were Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, and Tom Tancredo—who among their other distinctions earned early renown in this campaign for refusing to endorse the theory of evolution when Chris Matthews put the question to the G.O.P. field in its maiden debate. In other words, if Mr. Rove does resurrect his consulting career, he’s going to have to figure out a way to effectively re-create much of the political damage he has choreographed in his 14 years of service to George W. Bush.