It may be poetic justice that the so-called architect of President Bush's electoral success, Karl Rove, is now a big player in his failed presidency. It was Bush himself who gave Rove the added responsibility for policy matters in the second term. It hasn't gone well.
Back in 1999, Rove was already operating to bring the governor of Texas and himself to the White House. With the Bush name, the former president's Rolodex, and the family outreach for money, Rove could make his move.
He convinced a number of large state governors that Bush was the real deal, and they came to Austin to get the word. George Pataki of New York, John Engler of Michigan, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin were among them. My hunch is that all of them were thinking they might get on the GOP ticket and then run on their own when Bush left office.
Of course, Dick Cheney, the man who headed the veep search, wound up with the job. In effect, he picked himself.
Bush's victory in 2000 will always be controversial. Many still think that sleight of hand in Florida did the trick and the Supreme Court went along. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore but won the electoral vote.
Almost from the time of his inauguration, the "compassionate conservative" from Texas acted like he had a strong mandate. With a GOP Congress at his beckoning, Bush and allies in Congress figured they could trample opponents. With few exceptions, they were wrong.
In the 2004 election, aided by Democrat John Kerry's mistakes, Bush won another narrow victory. Rove acted like it was a landslide from the start.
With his new prominence for policy matters, Rove had a master plan. In an excellent piece by Joshua Green in the latest Atlantic, the author points out the collapse of that plan. Rove's first call for action was to privatize or at least partially privatize the Social Security system. It flopped, as did immigration reform and changing Medicare to include private accounts, other Rove ideas.
Amid all this, the war in Iraq grew more unpopular by the day as a backdrop to the domestic problems. Bush's popularity numbers went south and have remained in the mid- or low 30s for months.
Rove's negative campaign tactics have gone on for years, and his arrogance in the White House has left him and his boss with little to show for nearly seven years in power.
His political instincts during campaign seasons may indeed be clever and produce victories, but he knows very little about policy and how to get things done in selling that program to the Congress or to voters.
When the president returns to Crawford in January 2009, few will miss the departure that same day by Karl Rove