Well, considering that I managed to beat almost everyone to the story (thank you, WSJ News Alerts!), before leaving for work, I suppose I don't have to go back and evaluate more of Karl Rove's events today.
But I will anyway. :)
As I thought about it this morning, the first thing that struck me as odd was timing - Paul Gigot interviews Rove... then manages to not tell the News department of his own paper until the paper's in print? Odd. The fact that Rove's resignation was out before anyone at the White House announced it? Odd. The fact that no one - and it does seem to be no one - knew Rove was leaving? Odd.
And I think there's only one explanation: this "family excuse" is going to be hogwash, and when the other shoe drops, this will get interesting. And that this was a preemptive strike to interrupt normal news cycles (which would have worked, I think, except now Brooke Astor is dead, meaning they can't guarantee extended coverage), which means, usually with this Administration that something else is going on. That is worrying.
If you have to ask - and really, why would you - of course, yes, I'm glad he's gone. It was clearly long overdue, and in any other (read: sane) Administration, one could have picked any number of failings to use as a flimsy pretext. But reinforcing their status as the "bad CEO" folks, Bush and Co wait until it's all over but the shouting to flee for the exits.
So why did Rove go... who can tell? Let's first acknowledge that the stated reason - to be home with wife and son, who's heading off to college - makes no sense. As even E.D. Hill (not remotely objective, even by Fox News standards) noted on Fox after the press conference, not many people go home to be close to their kids when they'll be coming home to an empty nest.
As much as there's probably something to the additional "Josh Bolten said anyone staying past Labor Day would have to commit to staying until the end of the term" such rules applying to Rove seems... far-fetched. If Rove was bound by Bolten's thinking that, in itself, suggests a much diminished portfolio as an advisor.
And that seems kind of the point to me: reading Gigot's piece this morning, I was struck by the bitterness, the blame-shifting, and the general sense that Rove, despite a fearsome rep, doesn't come across as any sort of political genius. His deepest insight is that Hillary Clinton can win the Democratic nomination and then lose in November 2008? Oh my goodness, wake the kids.... Haven't we all been saying that all along?
Rove talks about the failures of 2006 as if they happened in some other world where he was just a passive observer:
A big debate among Republicans these days is who bears more blame for 2006 -- Messrs. Bush and Rove, or the behavior of the GOP Congress. Mr. Rove has no doubt. "The sense of entitlement was there" among Republicans, he says, "and people smelled it." Yet even with a unified Democratic Party and the war, he argues, it was "a really close election." The GOP lost the Senate by its 3,562 vote margin of defeat in Montana, and in the House the combined margin in the 15 seats that cost control was 85,000 votes.
A prominent non-Beltway Republican recently gave me a different analysis, arguing that the White House made a disastrous decision to "nationalize" the election last autumn; this played into Democratic hands and cost numerous seats.
"I disagree," Mr. Rove replies. "The election was nationalized. It was always going to be about Iraq and the conduct of Republicans." He says Republican Chris Shays and Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman survived in Connecticut despite supporting the war, while Republicans who were linked to corruption or were complacent lost. His biggest error, Mr. Rove says, was in not working soon enough to replace Republicans tainted by scandal.
But of course, those "scandals" are a sequence of events in which Rove himself played no small part, a system of incentives to Congresspeople to tow the President's line in exchange for a free hand in budget matters, perks and pork handouts. If Rove is referring to Mark Foley, either he's saying that the Page scandal was indeed more widely known than anyone has admitted, because given that Foley dropped out once the news of his behavior came out, it's not clear how anyone could have acted sooner. From what he says here, you'd think too, that Rove only read about Jack Abramoff in the papers.
More than anything, I think, what Rove's leaving really shows is that the "Executive Privilege" stance of the White House has hit a wall. Unlikely to completely prevail in any court (though they could, clearly, do substantial damage in terms of Congressional power), Rove's leaving takes a powerful element of the dispute with Congress off the table; from here on out, we are talking about bringing in a "former official" to testify about past actions. For the White House to claim that this harms their ability to do day-to-day business seems, well, unlikely to fly as fully as it did with Rove still doing that day-to-day work. And Rive, let's face it, was their best test case: clearly the President's most trusted advisor, clearly involved in the kind of "purely Executive Branch" discussions that would seem to merit protection. That he left, in an atmosphere of pending investigations and questions that will not die, suggests that the people who wanted to "get" him in fact, succeeded.
Succeeded at what, really, is what we will see between now and I'd say October. Rove went a long way with Gigot to try and demystify himself - a mistake, I might add, if one wanted to have any chance of hanging onto a reputation as a go-to guy who delivered - but really, what mystery was left? The 2006 election - which, really, is his fault, no way around that - is what really killed that "Mark of Rove" sense of power that he carried for so long. As long as the election story covered his wins in 2000, 2002 and 2004, Rove could, really, claim to be bemused. But after last November, what we all figured out was that the Wizard behind the curtain was mostly a carnival barker with some flashy exploding pots and a mike with a booming voice attachment. The real man was smaller, less brilliant, less able than anyone imagined.
What Rove exploited, brilliantly, all through his career, was the sense that in America it's not whether you have a better argument the other guy; it's simply if you can make the other guy look bad, and arguments be damned. To this day, I have no idea what Rove actually believes in - if he's deeply committed to conservatism, there's virtually no way to explain Harriet Miers, the Immigration debacle, or even No Child Left Behind; if he cares only about winning, then why the foolish forays into Social Security "reform", Health Insurance (a proposal that's utterly DOA), and again, Immigration reform? And if it was a belief in the core social issues... then why Mark Foley, and such a poor response?
I don't blame Karl Rove for divisiveness; there's been a long simmering tension in American politics that needed, probably, to be aired out in an ugly way. But still, I blame Rove for having nothing, nothing at all to offer beyond that. All anyone ever asked of Bush - the man who defines "Lowered Expectations" - was that he believe in something and hold to it. After 9/11 almost everyone, even hardcore liberals, looked to this President to serve as a leader who could inspire. What we got instead was more of "we're right, you're not, and in fact, you people probably think terrorists are nice people." And Rove, so convinced that History will do what current reality can't or won't, misses that history in fact, is what has already happened: that if you had somehow lifted this country up, that's what we'd be talking about and celebrating, not your small, bitter, petty blame game and refusal, even now, to admit that working with others, finding compromises and bringing people together is what matters... Or even, simply, that mistakes were made. Go home Karl (and ponder that the one person still standing in the US Attorney scandal is... Alberto Gonzales). Stay there. Family, after all, is what matters most.