Karl Rove, master of media spin for the bulk of George W. Bush’s political life, demonstrated his skill at controlling the White House’s message on Monday in leaking the news of his resignation via the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, rather than the front page of any national newspaper or magazine.
News broke in Monday’s edition in an opinion piece featuring an interview with Rove that was bylined by Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot, said to be a longtime acquaintance of Rove’s. The Journal’s editorial pages are famously conservative, and the piece headlined “The Mark of Rove” was in large part flattering to the highly influential adviser who has been nicknamed “Bush’s brain.”
“It helped him define the coverage (of his resignation) for the day,” said David Chalian, ABC News political director. “He didn’t want the Democrats or the press to define his departure.”
Rove’s exit was seen as having been spurred by a rare but significant lapse in reading the public’s mood on the Iraq war and his counseling that the president and GOP leaders should stick with a stay-the-course message during last year’s election cycle, which returned Congress to Democratic control.
Others say Rove’s involvement in the Valerie Plame-CIA-outing made him an ongoing liability, and his more recent refusal to testify in the Justice Dept.’s controversial U.S. Attorneys firings finally made him radioactive. Rove denied that scandal fatigue had influenced his decision to bow out in a gaggle with reporters on Air Force One later in the day.
But others aren’t so sure Rove’s departure will have any impact on Bush’s approval ratings.
“Rove and Bush are so intertwined that Rove’s resignation won’t have any impact on Bush’s popularity. Bush will rise or fall based on Iraq, not based on whether Karl Rove is working from D.C. or Texas,” said top GOP pollster Frank Luntz.
Rove was an enigmatic figure to many in the media because of his tendency to shun the spotlight. But he took center stage on Monday with the president at a Rose Garden press conference confirming his departure. Rove appeared to choke up as he cited his role as a “witness to history” during the past six and a half years.
“Keeping the spotlight on Bush allowed for the perpetuation of the myth of Karl Rove,” Chalian said. “Part of how he created that was to make sure the spotlight was always trained on President Bush and not on him.”
In his Air Force One gaggle, Rove made it clear he does not intend to have a “formal role” in the campaigns of any of the GOP’s ’08 hopefuls. He will follow the tried and true path of many a White House operative by penning a book about his years with the president (“I need to make some money,” he said flatly), and he hinted that he might even tell some tales of his storied media maneuvers.
“The President has encouraged me to write a book. “What’s the subject?” Rove rhetorically teased the reporters. “It’s going to be about the most important and interesting thing that the American people want to know, which is my relationship with you.”