Sunday, August 21, 2011

Did Karl create a monster?

".....There is a good measure of defensiveness in the Bush crowd's dismissal of Perry. It is though they are staring into a cracked mirror and seeing the flaws of their favorite son, George W. Bush.

Who's the bigger monster?
"The first irony is that the man Rove made president -- George W. Bush -- was accused of a similar reliance on simple sound bite thinking. Though Bush was better read and more thoughtful than outsiders gave him credit for -- and his grades at Yale were much better than Perry's at Texas A&M -- Bush was famously and fatally incurious about the fine points of policymaking.
Bush also was accused of relying on cornpone Texas-isms, though he sometimes expressed them imperfectly given his education at Andover, Yale and Harvard. Perry is pure Paint Creek.

And they saw Bush as a man willing to do bipartisan deals with Democrats -- unlike Perry. In fact, however, the Bush record of bipartisanship, in Austin and in Washington, was not as robust as advertised.

But the biggest irony is that Rove, a brilliant strategist and tactician, built the modern GOP that Perry inherited. Rove did it in three ways.

One, by perfecting and relying on direct-mail campaigning. Rove, whose roots were in organizing for College Republicans, established a direct-mail company in Texas in the early 1980s, and quickly set about making that his route to power -- and his method for getting candidates elected.

Direct mail puts a premium on the pungently and aggressively-worded message aimed at discrete audiences -- in Rove's case, the bedrock of conservatives in the state of Texas. It was and remains too expensive to reach them all through television advertising. Now email is a preferred method; direct mail was the email of the day.

The result was a kind of politics that appeals directly and vehemently to a motivated base. It was something that Bush could do moderately well; it is something that Perry was born to do.

Rove also built the party by attacking trial lawyers and turning elections of judges into spirited, punch-and-counterpunch campaigns. It's only a short step from attacking the legal and judicial establishment to a more populist attack on the bona fides of government itself.
What wars will this man start?

And Rove helped ensure that Texas congressional districts were redrawn in a way that made partisan victories for both sides a sure thing -- thus putting a premium on GOP candidates who spoke to the base, as Perry does arguably better than Bush ever could.

At first, Rove and company viewed Perry as little more than an overly ambitious annoyance. The Bush team was not pleased when Perry won the lieutenant governorship in 1998 after the death of Bush's friend, Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.

Some other early Perry mentors (and former Rove clients) still support him, among them former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. But it isn't clear how enthusiastic Gramm will ultimately be, since he has said that his dream candidate in 2012 wasn't Perry, but rather Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin."

And yet Perry has some things Bush never had: a truly modest upbringing in Texas; lots of flight time as a real pilot in the Air Force (compared with Bush's meager National Guard service) and an ability to charm voters on TV and on the stump in an almost alarmingly intimate way.

The whole story seems to prove one point above all: that the GOP has moved so far to the right and is so angry at Washington and at public life, that Karl Rove is a soothing force.

And the story begs a question: when will George W. Bush have something to say?

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