So, Why is this man laughing?
Karl Rove just may hold the key to George Bush's re-election bid
Mostly, though, Rove's raison d'être these days is to quietly build the best grass-roots organization ever. His goal is to name a Bush coordinator in 29,000 crucial precincts in 17 key target states, and the campaign is 95 percent of the way there right now. Similarly, Rove says the campaign has now recruited 980,000 of the 1 million pro-Bush volunteers it hoped to have signed up by Election Day.
Yet Rove's influence is not purely political; he also has a hefty policy portfolio. White House Chief of Staff Andy Card says Rove "doesn't play very much in foreign policy" but has a pivotal role on domestic affairs, pushing a conservative agenda that includes cutting taxes, encouraging charities to do more social work, opposing abortion, and reforming education by promoting accountability for teachers and schools.
The question asked increasingly in Washington is whether, by encouraging Bush's already strong conservative convictions, Rove exerts too much influence. Argues John Podesta, a Democratic activist and former White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton: "He may go down as making the worst political move in history by taking the post-9/11 period and trying to lurch the country to the right not just on war with Iraq but on energy, on economics." If Rove and Bush had tried to unite conservatives and liberals on a common agenda after 9/11, Podesta says, "it would have produced Republican dominance . . . for a generation."
Not everyone in the president's camp has been happy with Rove's rightward march, either. Family friends tell U.S. News that Laura and Barbara Bush think Rove has pushed the campaign too far to the right on some issues, such as favoring a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. The first lady and the former first lady believe the country is more centrist than that, and they fear Rove is making the president look divisive. Rove recognizes that he must pay some attention to the centrists, and he has arranged for moderates such as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to have prominent roles at the Republican National Convention this week. He also wants the convention to play up the theme that Bush is not only a strong leader but a compassionate one as well.
On political matters, Rove has no peer in Bush's world. He sees the president at least once a day when both are in Washington, and Bush peppers him with phone calls. It was Rove who persuaded Bush that 2004 would be a "base election" year, with the country evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. The main goal, under this theory, is to identify as many core Republicans as possible and motivate them to vote. "In the end, the president believes this has become a conservative country," says a senior GOP strategist. "That's Karl's view." At Rove's behest, Bush has been cultivating Christian conservatives for his entire term of office. Rove believes this strategy can generate 4 million more votes for Bush than four years ago.