Karl Rove, the President's 'Boy Genius'
The news that Karl Rove will not be prosecuted in the CIA leak investigation ends months of speculation surrounding the man known as the "architect" or "boy genius" for his successful management of President Bush's campaigns.
Rove has gone from advising candidates as a nuts-and-bolts tactician to designing a presidential grand strategy for conservatism in the 21st century. Even as he helped George W. Bush secure a second term, Rove was talking about a long-term era of majority status for the GOP to rival the one that began with President William McKinley's election in 1896.
Born in Denver on Christmas Day 1950, Karl Rove was the third of five children. The family moved often during his childhood -- from Colorado to Nevada before settling in Salt Lake City. Rove's affinity for the Republican Party began in childhood, when at age 9 he became a vocal supporter of Richard Nixon. In high school, Rove was a skilled debater and was elected president of the Student Council. He was also active in the re-election campaign of Utah's Republican Sen. Wallace Bennett in 1968.
Rove's college years helped launch his political career. He started at the University of Utah in political science, eventually moving on to the University of Maryland, George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin without ever earning a degree. Rove's first year at college was also difficult on a personal level. His mother was divorced from the man Rove had known as his father, and Rove learned his actual father was someone else -- a man he would not meet for another 20-some years.
It was during Rove's time at the University of Utah that he became involved with the College Republicans, leading to a paid position as executive director of the College Republican National Committee. In 1973, Rove ran for chairman of the College Republicans with the help of Lee Atwater, a South Carolinian who would later work for Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) and President Ronald Reagan, and manage George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign in 1988.
Beginning of Ties to the Bushes
The 1973 campaign for College Republicans chair was a heated one that split the group. With Rove and his opponent both claiming victory, the issue was submitted to George H.W. Bush, then chairman of the Republican National Committee. Bush chose Rove as the winner, beginning a relationship that was to continue for more than 30 years. The elder Bush became a mentor to Rove as their respective jobs often had them working together.
In 1976, Rove moved to Virginia as finance director for that state's Republican Party. Through a successful direct-mail campaign, Rove brought in more than $400,000 to help revive a party that had been stagnant. A year later, Rove relocated to Texas to help raise money for the presidential exploration committee of George H.W. Bush, who was then preparing his first bid for the office in 1980. Along the way, he helped Bill Clements to victory in the gubernatorial race of 1978, the first successful Republican bid for governor in Texas in more than a century. During this period, Rove married a Houston socialite named Valerie Wainwright. The couple divorced in 1979.
Now familiar with the political landscape of Texas, in 1981 Rove founded a direct-mail firm called Rove and Company that he used to help the GOP grow in Texas. Clements was defeated for re-election in 1982 but came back to reclaim the office in 1986, once again with Rove's help. Along the way, Rove also assisted in electing the first Republican chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. These successes helped Rove and Company's customer base, which eventually became involved in hundreds of races. It's estimated that Rove and his firm won 80 percent of the races they worked on at all levels. In 1986, Rove married the former Darby Hickson. The couple have one son, Andrew Madison Rove, whose middle name honors James Madison, Rove's intellectual hero.
Rove stayed close to the Bush family during his years in Texas. And after George H. W. Bush's third presidential campaign (his unsuccessful re-election effort in 1992), Rove moved on to helping the former president's eldest son, George W. Bush. The son had lost a bid for Congress in 1978 and worked in his father's White House; he was interested in taking on Democratic Gov. Ann Richards in 1994. The race initially appeared a long shot, but Rove helped George W. Bush hone a campaign persona and message that wore well and proved successful in a strong Republican year nationwide.
Crafting a Presidential Vision
With his new Bush client installed in the governor's mansion, Rove began looking at a larger challenge on the national stage. A dedicated history buff, Rove had a special interest in the presidency of William McKinley, and especially the role of his political adviser, Mark Hanna. Rove saw a connection between the McKinley-Hanna era of the 1890s and his own era exactly 100 years later. Both came at the transition point between centuries, with increased trade and immigration, as well as advances in science and communications. In both eras, the national political agenda included questions of progressive taxation and of cooperation between government and big business.
As Gov. Bush nailed down his re-election in 1998, Rove devoted his energy to crafting a presidential vision. He sold his firm, Rove and Company, to became Bush's full-time chief strategist. Together, they proved to be a fundraising powerhouse, raising record amounts on the way to the 2000 primaries. Bush stood by Rove even after a near-disaster in the New Hampshire primary, which Bush lost by more than 20 percentage points to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Not long after, the Bush team won resoundingly in South Carolina and never looked back. Strapped for cash and at odds with the party's social conservatives, McCain could not keep pace in the later primaries.
The fall campaign began with a surge by Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee. But Rove had an answer. In the three debates, in which Gore had been expected to excel, the Rove-coached Bush proved more personable and often more in tune with ordinary voters' sentiments. Gore appeared to shift his strategy and even his personal presentation from one debate to the next. Again, the Rove inspiration was for Bush to play up his plain-spoken steadiness. On Election Day, the contest was excruciatingly close. (Rove would later speculate that an eleventh-hour news story about an old drunken-driving citation of Bush's had cost the candidate the confidence of many religious conservatives who failed to vote.)
Gore won the popular vote nationwide, but the decisive Electoral College tally was in doubt. In several states, the margin of victory was a few thousand votes or, in the case of New Mexico and Florida, a few hundred. Rove led the effort from Bush headquarters to persuade various news media that Bush had won. His arguments were persuasive. Beginning with FOX News, one cable TV outlet after another declared Bush the winner based on a call that Bush had won Florida. Gore and his campaign were expected to concede. When they refused, Rove immediately initiated a strategy of portraying them as sore losers -- even though the actual tally and outcome in several states remained in doubt.
In the end, only Florida mattered because it had enough electoral votes to make either Bush or Gore the winner. A legal and political struggle over the Florida vote count began and raged for five weeks before local election boards, in courtrooms and in the media, until the U.S. Supreme Court brought it to a close. Rove maintained his strategy of stressing the initial count by Bush-friendly officials in Florida, led by Katherine Harris, the Florida secretary of state who was also a leader in the Bush campaign in Florida. The count by Florida state officials, certified by Harris as a 537-vote win for Bush, was allowed to stand and to tip the Electoral College. Gore conceded on Dec. 13 and George W. Bush became president elect.
Throughout the five weeks of uncertainty, Rove had ridden herd on the maelstrom, contesting every inch of legal and political ground. Now that the electoral battle had ended, he was not about to return to Texas and his previous career. It was clear the new president would need him in the White House, to continue as his confidante and strategist.
Adviser in Chief
Once Bush was in office, Rove turned from his usual focus on campaigning to immerse himself in the president's policies. He kept close tabs on the agendas of the cabinet agencies, and worked with a network of analysts around the United States to keep up with political opinion about the president's performance in various regions of the country. In the early months, Rove's careful attention to congressional dynamics helped drive achievements for the new president on education (passage of the No Child Left Behind Act) and tax policy (passing the biggest tax cuts in 20 years).
There was one setback in the late spring of 2001, when Vermont Republican Jim Jeffords' defection reduced the number of Republicans to 49 in the Senate and enabled the Democrats to organize as the chamber's majority for the remainder of the 107th Congress. Jeffords complained of being ignored in negotiations over No Child Left Behind, and it seemed Rove's attention to detail had failed him -- and his boss. But that event was quickly overshadowed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Throughout 2001 and 2002, Rove was looking toward the 2002 midterm elections for Congress and the 2004 election. In an effort to bring out less-committed voters and energize the GOP base, he formed the "72-Hour Task Force," a grassroots, get-out-the-vote strategy focused on a huge push in the last three days before Election Day. Rove's plan and priorities worked to perfection in the 2002 elections, with the Republicans reclaiming their majority in the Senate and solidifying their power in Congress.
In 2004, the late-push strategy worked again, bringing back the level of participation by religious conservatives that Rove had anticipated in 2000 (when he estimated the shortfall of evangelicals and other religious voters at 4 million below his projections). The 2004 campaign was fueled by fundraising that beggared even the record-setting performance of the first Bush campaign in 2000. In Bush's acceptance speech after defeating Democratic Sen. John Kerry, he singled out Rove as 'the architect' of his re-election.
Tumultuous Second Term
But Bush's second term has proved tumultuous for Rove. His name had been mentioned as far back as 2003 in connection with the case of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer whose name was leaked to the media after her husband wrote a New York Times opinion piece that was embarrassing to the Bush administration. Matt Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, testified before a grand jury that Rove alluded to the covert nature of Plame's position in a conversation but never mentioned her by name.
Rove told the grand jury he had never talked about Plame with a reporter, then amended his testimony to say he had forgotten the conversation with Cooper. Federal prosecutors have decided not to charge Rove with any crimes in the investigation. An aide to Vice President Cheney, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was later indicted for lying to that grand jury about his own role in the Plame matter, and his case is pending.
In April 2006, as part of a restructuring of top White House staff, Rove gave up some of the day-to-day duties he had assumed at the beginning of the second term as deputy chief of staff. But Rove has kept his grip on the political and policy strategizing that has been his forte and his province since he first guided George W. Bush into the Oval Office.
Rove has also remained upbeat about the 2006 midterm elections and about long-term Republican prospects for electoral success, despite the steady decline in his boss' public approval ratings that began in the summer of 2005. In a May appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, Rove attributed approval ratings hovering in the low 30-percent range (in most major national polls) to a "sour mood" induced by the sight of casualties in Iraq replayed nightly on TV. In 2005, Rove said that the 2004 Bush re-election was his last presidential campaign. A week later he backtracked, saying that was a stupid statement to make.
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