Karl Rove: King Hack

Many conservative Republicans don’t belong to the Karl Rove fan club for one simple reason: they believe winning elections is only the first step to victory. For them, governing success is the necessary second step.

Rove has proven his ability to defeat Al Gore by 500 votes in Florida and John Kerry by a 100,000 votes in Ohio. For that he deserves congratulations.

However, if the nation isn’t in better shape after the Bush terms are over those victories lose a lot of their luster. Rove has done a lousy job thus far helping his boss do the job he was elected to do: move public opinion for the purpose of enacting good policy.

President Bush’s poll numbers are at an all time low. The Administration is still figuring out how to explain the war. The push to reform Social Security has stalled. Tax reform has been relegated to a commission. And federal spending levels are a national joke.

Republicans all around the country need to realize that we’re in the business of marketing ideas—and we continue to do a very poor job. No better example exists than that of King Karl, who instead of concentrating on national issues, meddles in Illinois GOP politics.

According to the New York Times on November 11, 2005 several Republicans said,

…Mr. Rove drove the decision to recruit Judy Baar Topinka to run in the Illinois governor’s race in 2006…

Of course who knows if this report is even grounded in reality. Here in Illinois we get all kinds of double and triple hearsay through Rove’s old College Republican chum Bob Kjellander regarding what the “White House” is supposedly saying or wants. But let’s assume the story is true, and in any case Rove has allowed the characterization to stand.

Don’t get me wrong, most Illinois conservatives I know are happy to have her in the race. Voters here deserve a chance to once and for all reject Topinka’s old guard establishment wing of the party that gave us George Ryan (whose federal corruption trial is underway) and turned Illinois into a solidly blue state.

Remember the “Ownership Society,” Karl? That’s not Quantum Mechanics. It’s elementary math, fairness, and the pursuit of happiness. And a winning message just waiting to be properly sold.

Americans need to be able to control their own retirement accounts and health insurance. The country needs to end the public school monopoly and fund students with the voucher. Yet this White House still stumbles and bumbles when it has got all the evidence it needs to make the case.

No one in the world has access to the kind of resources that are available to the White House. It has the largest microphone and the biggest bully pulpit on the planet. Yet this gang is still figuring out how to communicate simple things like why the U.S. went to war.

The good news is that there are people who do know how to communicate. You won’t find them among the political consultant hack class that runs campaigns that produce no lasting good. They’re found among the private sector public relations, marketing, and advertising professionals. It’s time for our political leaders to enlist their expertise.

These professionals understand how to compete for the attention of the public and convey substance. And though they fail as often as they succeed, they keep evolving and trying new approaches because in the private sector you can’t just cover up failure with ever more tax dollars.

If Rove wants his legacy to be more than defeating two unattractive Democrat candidates for president and having been on the job while Republicans redistricted their way to majorities, he should pick up the phone and call people who have a track record of connecting with a busy population.

We read that Rove won’t be indicted in the Valerie Plame case so, “he’s not distracted anymore.” Maybe that means he’s able to pay attention to some good advice. Here’s some:

Stay out of Illinois politics, Karl, where your efforts to help out old friends and defend the corrupt pay-to-play political establishment are counter-productive. We don’t need to elect any more Republicans who won’t govern according to Republican principles.

Spend your time helping our fine President actually implement the strong conservative agenda on which he campaigned and was elected. And learn from some of the mistakes of the first five years in office. Success will be measured by what the public knows and when they know it.

We’re expecting good things here in Illinois: former Governor George Ryan will be convicted and Judy Baar Topinka will lose. Those of us who support policy reform and ethical leadership will rejoice.

We’ll rejoice even more when Rove hires some communications pros that will help move public opinion in the right direction.