Bush’s brain leaves the White House

Having built up a reputation as a ruthlessly effective political strategist who used hardball tactics on opponents, it may come as little surprise that Karl Rove is currently dodging a Congressional subpoena…

Karl Rove, the latest and most high-profile departure from the White House, has, for the past seven years, been the "unseen hand of American politics, the invisible mender of the Republican Party and the Rasputin of the White House, all rolled into one", says Leonard Doyle in The Independent. Rove claims he is resigning to spend time with his family; what he didn't say is that he is also hoping to avoid time with Congressional investigators, says The New York Times. Mr Rove seems to have been involved in the decision to fire nine top federal prosecutors, apparently either for bringing cases that hurt Republicans, or refusing to bring cases to punish Democrats. He is now defying a Congressional subpoena to testify. There is also "mounting evidence" that he has spent the last six and a half years "improperly and dangerously politicising the federal government".

No surprises there. Rove has always been a ruthlessly effective political strategist. As Todd Purdum says in Vanity Fair, it was Rove who made a "once implausible governor of Texas into the President of the United States". Dubbed Bush's brain' by headline writers, Rove masterminded election victories for Bush, from the bitterly contested 2000 campaign (after which Bush himself called him The Architect'), through the mid-terms in 2002 to his re-election campaign in 2004. It was only after the 2006 mid-terms, when the Republicans lost their grip on Congress, that his "aura of tactical infallibility began to fail", says the FT.

A master practitioner of the dirty art of wedge' politics, Rove was adept at dividing and conquering. He knew how to energise the Republicans' base of committed supporters by stroking their prejudices, playing on their fears and demonising their enemies, says the FT. He was equally celebrated in Republican circles for his use of hardball tactics on opponents. In his days in the College Republicans, he trained campaign workers to root though opponents' rubbish bins, says Michael Tomasky in The Guardian. Decades later, he was still at it, attacking the patriotism of those who opposed Bush's post-September 11th initiatives.

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"Honesty requires the acknowledgment that Rove was very good at what he did," says Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. The problem is, "what he did and how he did it were awful for the nation". Putting someone so focused on politics as bloodsport at the centre of the White House was always going to be a risk. The problem for Bush and the US was that Rove didn't just aim to win elections, says The Guardian. He is above all an ideologist and saw Bush as a man who would recast his nation in the conservative mould, creating a "lasting era of majority Republican dominance in American politics".

Rove encouraged Bush to pursue policies that would destroy unions, mobilise moralists and win over Hispanics and blacks to create a Republican majority, says Harold Meyerson in The Washington Post. His "terrible advice" included pushing Bush to dismantle social security and lie low in the after­math of Hurricane Katrina, says Tomasky. He also had a role to play in US failings in Iraq and leaves America in its worst shape for a while. But there's a "silver lining". "Rove may have played a part in bringing about a political realignment just not the one he had in mind." Indeed, says The Guardian. Bush has 18 months to go. If voters hold their nerve, Rove's legacy may not be the triumph of conservatism, "but its humbling".