War is over, which kicks off a new kind of combat: the race for the White House. Given President Bush's current popular success, frustrated Democrats are having to alter their attack strategy with an end around: Instead of only assailing the president, they are also openly lambasting his senior White House adviser, Karl Rove.
In our latest running survey of 1,000 adults, nearly 50 percent of Americans said they would vote for Bush if the election were held today. Unlike other surveys, which pit the president against "a Democratic nominee," this poll allows likely voters the opportunity to select among all of the current candidates. So about 50 percent for Bush, versus only 32 percent for all challengers combined, shows the Democrats need some major gaffes on the part of the president if they are to have a leg to stand on in the fall of 2004.
Such missteps appear unlikely, and Rove is a big reason why. To understand his political heft, let's consider both his most recent critics and his latest strategy. C-SPAN recently featured the co-authors of a new book about Rove, called "Boy Genius." From Austin, Texas, the writers painted a smug and unflattering portrait of the man who steered Bush to victory in 2000. And the show's moderator was hardly moderating. He suggested that Bush has kept only one campaign promise -- to take the country to war!
The show was bordering on the humorous until panelists noted in an authoritative manner that no other president had allowed their chief political strategist or campaign manager to serve an official role in the White House. Not Mike Deaver for Ronald Reagan, or James Carville for Bill Clinton. To support their contention, the panelists even called upon the venerable Liz Carpenter to somehow validate the point. Carpenter blazed an early trail for women in politics when she served as a top aide in the Lyndon Johnson administration.
Who are these people kidding? Have they forgotten that Hamilton Jordan was Jimmy Carter's chief political strategist and then his White House chief of staff? That Jody Powell was a key figure on the campaign before becoming Carter's press secretary? Or that John Kennedy's campaign manager was his brother, Robert Kennedy, who then vaulted to attorney general (and most trusted presidential adviser) during Camelot?