Republicans need Karl Rove now more than ever.
Despite conservative talkers urging Karl Rove to exit stage left, Republicans desperately need Rove. Not Rove the political prognosticator who predicted Mitt Romney would win comfortably, but Rove the strategist who put together the winning campaigns of 2000 and 2004.
The Republican campaigns of 2008 and 2012 were abysmal. Yes, they had some obstacles to overcome, but their efforts failed to follow even the most basic fundamentals of campaigning.
While Democrats detest Rove because of his “dirty” attacks, it is worth taking a second look at his strategy. Rove succeeded in the 2000 and 2004 campaigns by defining his opponents on his terms – not exactly the easiest thing to do in an unfriendly media environment – and by directly attacking their perceived strengths.
Al Gore prided himself on his intellect so the Bush campaign developed a narrative that Gore was stiff, awkward, and condescending. These themes were reinforced by Gore himself because they were rooted in some truth. As a result, Gore the intellectual became Gore the stuffy professor. This line of attacked ultimately provided Bush with a significant likeability edge on Election Day.
In 2004, the Bush campaign defined John Kerry as a flip-flopping elitist. The campaign ad “Windsurfing” captured both themes perfectly. Later in the campaign, when Kerry tried to tout his Vietnam experience, the campaign was ready to fight back with controversial information that undermined Kerry’s military service. They used the narrative that Kerry was inconsistent on issues repeatedly and managed to bring everything back to that point. Each attack reinforced the primary theme that Kerry was wobbly on his positions.
Four years later, then Senator Obama’s chosen narrative was that he was a Washington D.C. outsider who would bring needed change to government. John McCain and Hillary Clinton reinforced Obama’s narrative by claiming that he hadn’t been in Washington long enough to be President. Obama’s claim to be a pristine outsider should not have gone unchallenged.