. . . And what his res­ig­na­tion sig­nals for 2008

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - DONNA BRAZILE

As I sat by my win­dow and star­ing out at the won­der­ful Wash­ing­ton, D.C., land­scape, my of­fice an­nounced a phone call from Air Force One.

Hmm. Been a while since some­one called me from Air Force One or Two. But I knew it could be only one per­son: Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove. De­spite our many po­lit­i­cal and pol­icy dif­fer­ences, I have got­ten to know and re­spect Mr. Rove’s po­lit­i­cal skills. And I have the scars to prove it.

My first thought on hear­ing of the Rove res­ig­na­tion was that this is too good to be true. Mr. Rove is ac­tu­ally leav­ing a town where he’s on ev­ery­body’s A-list? No way. Mr. Rove pack­ing his bags be­fore Jan­uary 2009? I didn’t be­lieve it, so Mr. Rove put the pres­i­dent on the phone.

Pres­i­dent Bush, al­ways cor­dial and down to earth, told me it was time for Mr. Rove to go and make some real money. Mr. Bush said Mr. Rove de­served to earn a good liv­ing and to take his wife, Darby, out once in awhile. I told the pres­i­dent Mr. Rove would also be able to af­ford to take me out for some­thing bet­ter than the White House mess. Laughs aside, I am afraid this is not a good sign for Democrats. Mr. Rove’s de­par­ture should be a wake-up call.

It’s too early to be pop­ping cham­pagne or mea­sur­ing drapes over in the West Wing. My gut tells me the de­par­ture of the so­called “ar­chi­tect” of Mr. Bush’s po­lit­i­cal vic­to­ries should serve as a warn­ing sign to Democrats to be care­ful what you wish for.

At the Bush-Cheney White House, Mr. Rove was inside the sys­tem. He was con­strained (the­o­ret­i­cally) by the rules and stric­tures gov­ern­ing mem­bers of the ex­ec­u­tive branch. Cer­tainly, Mr. Rove found, cre­ated and ex­ploited many loop­holes to get around the re­stric­tions. Ex­actly how many e-mails did he send (and delete) from his Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee e-mail ad­dress to avoid the con­gres­sional scru­tiny such com­mu­ni­ca­tions would have re­ceived if they were sent from a White House ad­dress? We may never know.

Mr. Rove man­aged and over­saw a huge piece of real es­tate in the West Wing — from the po­lit­i­cal shop to the pol­icy wheel. Ul­ti­mately, he had a hand in shap­ing the Bush pres­i­dency. With low ap­proval rat­ings, di­vi­sions in the ranks and a Repub­li­can brand out of sync with its base, Mr. Rove has plenty to do in re­tire­ment. He is a mas­ter strate­gist who knows how to work the sys­tem. He al­ways has, and he will con­tinue to do so from out­side it. Mes­sage to Democrats: Mr. Rove is more dan­ger­ous in the shad­ows than he ever was in the spot­light.

“Di­vide and con­quer” is an an­cient strat­egy, but in the last decade, Mr. Rove has taken it to new heights, or, more ac­cu­rately, depths. His win-at-all-costs men­tal­ity has de­liv­ered many victo- ries, but not with­out cost. While Mr. Rove so­lid­i­fied the gains made by Repub­li­cans in the 1990s and helped the GOP main­tain its elec­toral edge through all but the last midterm elec­tion, he failed in his ul­ti­mate goal of se­cur­ing a per­ma­nent ma­jor­ity. But that doesn’t mean he’ll stop try­ing. I don’t be­lieve Mr. Rove will sim­ply walk away and go back to hunt­ing quail. I know him, and I’m sure part of his fo­cus is to help re­shape the Bush pres­i­dency and se­cure a legacy for his good friend and en­abler.

His ge­nius, al­beit largely ne­far­i­ous, could take the GOP’s right wing, sin­gle-is­sue base only so far be­fore the in­evitable back­lash against his di­vi­sive tac­tics caught up with him. The coun­try is now sick and tired of be­ing di­vided. The vot­ers yearn for a leader Mr. Rove once promised — some­one to re­store our faith in gov­ern­ment, to, as Abra­ham Lin­coln once said, “bind up the na­tion’s wounds” and bring us back to­gether.

Mr. Rove’s res­ig­na­tion is not a re­tire­ment. It’s just an­other op­por­tu­nity for him to cre­ate that last­ing Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity he en­vi­sioned years ago and to spend his wak­ing days do­ing what he so en­joys — beat­ing Democrats in the al­leys and gut- ters. Just ask Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton, Mr. Rove’s tar­get when he called in to speak to Rush Lim­baugh. He couldn’t help it. Mr. Rove just had to take one last shot be­fore rid­ing out of town. More to come, Team Clin­ton.

Stay tuned, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and any­one else who de­cides to get in Mr. Bush’s way as his pres­i­dency comes to an end. It will take lead­er­ship, the kind we have not wit­nessed thus far in this Congress, for Democrats to forge com­pro­mises and drive the coun­try for­ward in­stead of mir­ing it in mud­sling­ing and wedge is­sues. De­spite all the pres­i­dent’s protests and veto threats, the Amer­i­can pub­lic will find real lead­er­ship a wel­come respite and may re­ward the new ma­jor­ity next year at the polls.

Mr. Rove proved you can win elec­tions with ru­mors, fear, di­vi­sion and ma­nip­u­la­tion. But you can’t win hearts that way. Peo­ple wise up. Un­for­tu­nately, some­times it takes decades. Mr. Rove may be out, but he’s not down, and he will not sim­ply go away. Democrats must throw the cham­pagne back in the fridge and re­turn to the draw­ing board, be­cause there’s a storm brew­ing, and we’d bet­ter be pre­pared. What­ever’s brew­ing is some­thing to fear.

Donna Brazile is a po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor on CNN, ABC and Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio and the for­mer cam­paign man­ager for Al Gore.

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