Karl Rove’s never-particularly brilliant career as a manipulator of the political processes of the nation will end as it began: mired in scandal and failure.
As a brash 26-year-old former chairman of the College Republicans — who had been the subject of a Watergate-era Washington Post expose headlined, “Republican Party Probes Official as Teacher of [Dirty] Tricks” — Rove was the first aide hired to plot the campaign of George Herbert Walker Bush for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. Father Bush lost that race, but not before Rove was fired from the campaign for leaking information to the press. Fifteen years later, when he finally found a placed on another national campaign, the elder Bush’s supposedly simple quest for reelection as president in 1992, Rove was again fired for leaking to the press — in this case, talking columnist Robert Novak into writing a negative piece about Bush campaign fund-raising chief Robert Mosbacher Jr., a Rove rival. Internal disputes prompted by Rove and others in the campaign were among the reasons cited for the ultimate defeat of that Bush by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.
Rove did not give up on the Bushes, however, and the first family of American political self-service did not give up on Rove.
Less than a year after the defeat of one president named Bush, Rove was planning a gubernatorial campaign that he presumed would eventually lead to the White House for another, more morally malleable Bush. The formal relationship between George Walker Bush and Rove would continue, despite far more serious legal and ethical scandals than any witnessed during the father’s campaigns, until Monday, when the political czar of the Bush-Cheney interregnum declared, “I am grateful to have been a witness to history.”
With that lame line, Rove announced his resignation at the end of the month.
This exit from presidential politics did not take the form of a firing. But for all the efforts of an effusively complimentary President Bush and a suddenly religious Rove — who, despite his reputation as a nonbeliever, mentioned God repeatedly during a Rose Garden announcement that was swimming in the smarm of convenient concern for faith and family — it was far more embarrassing than the lawless leaker’s previous departures from the national stage.
Rove was intimately involved in the campaign to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson for revealing that the administration had manipulated and misused intelligence in order to make a case for attacking Iraq in 2003. Rove’s old leak partner, Novak, confirmed that the Bush aide had discussed with him the fact that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a Central Intelligence Agency employee. The outing of Plame as a covert operative, as part of an administration scheme to undermine Wilson’s credibility, became the subject of an extended federal inquiry that would eventually lead to the conviction of Rove’s crony, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for perjury and obstruction of justice. Echoing what has become accepted wisdom in official Washington, one of the jurors who convicted Libby expressed her sense that the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney had been used as a scapegoat in an elaborate scheme to prevent the leak-prone Rove from finally being brought to justice.