Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rove's imprint is deep; but is it lasting?

WASHINGTON--In nearly a decade as the guiding political strategist for George W. Bush and the Republican Party, Karl Rove was often hailed as a genius. He masterminded Bush's rise to national prominence, directed his two winning presidential campaigns and wrote a campaign playbook for GOP success in Congress and statehouses across the country.

Some Republican strategists, including Rove himself, even dreamed that the system Rove created would make the party invincible, able to dominate American politics for decades.

Now, as Rove prepares to leave the White House at the end of the month, the party that bears his imprint faces a difficult question: Can "Rovism" survive Rove? Will Rove's unique combination of innovative campaign techniques and polarizing hardball tactics translate into long-term success for his party? Or has it seen its best days?

One thing seems clear: History will rank Rove as one of the most powerful political advisors of modern times. With his influence stretching beyond campaign strategy to policy decisions and the inner workings of the most prosaic of federal agencies, Rove ranks with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Harry Hopkins and President McKinley's Mark Hanna.

But looking to the 2008 elections and beyond, even some Republicans say that though some of Rove's techniques have revolutionized politics and changed the way both parties organize their campaigns, other parts of Rovism contained the seeds of its eventual destruction.

Rove's relentlessly polarizing tactics and his over-the-top use of government power for political purposes, critics say, were bound to wear out their welcome with a fundamentally pragmatic and moderate electorate.

"Karl will always be known as a brilliant political operative who has a great tactical sense," said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster, "but tactics only get you so far. Did they change politics forever? No."

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