washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Rove M.O.

The latest political news from Ohio is important and instructive. A federal judge in Columbus blocked Republican efforts to force county election boards to review tens of thousands of new voter registrations. Before the ink was dry on the judge’s order, the Ohio GOP’s top lawyer said the action meant the GOP would challenge such voters at the polls on November 2. “We wanted to have all these questions resolved this week,” said attorney Mark Weaver. “Now they won’t be resolved until Tuesday, when all of these people are trying to vote. It can’t help but create chaos, longer lines and frustration.”
In other words, the GOP is using the demise of one prong of its voter supression strategy to pre-justify the other. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly the way they planned it. Now they can can get their “volunteers” out to “create chaos, longer lines and frustration” in minority polling places and sadly say that an “activist judge” who didn’t care about voter fraud left them no choice. It’s going to get worse, too: mark my words, when Democrats, civil rights attorneys, and voters themselves get visibly angry about this gambit, the GOPers will start whining about “potential violence” at the polls, and even pretend their goons are being intimidated and harassed. If nothing else, it will give them an excuse to go to court to contest Ohio’s outcome if the state goes for Kerry.
Now I have no direct evidence that Karl Rove has planned and is executing this voter suppression strategy, though it’s interesting that every Republican hack and pundit in the universe started singing like a cicada about “voter fraud” about a week before the Ohio story got into the national news. But it sure as hell fits Rove’s M.O. like a glove.
The Florida debacle of 2000 illustrated two Rove tactics that are devilishly effective:
(1) Getting in front of media interpretation of a controversy in a way that reshapes public perceptions of the actual event, and sticking with the spin come hell or high water. In retrospect, the war for Florida was half-won the day after the election, when the Bush campaign (knowing Katherine Harris would give the spin official sanction as soon as she could) announced it had won the state, and then began a relentless and ultimately successful campaign to depict efforts to get a full and accurate count as an attempt to reverse the outcome.
(2) Deliberately pursuing outrageous tactics and then using the opposition’s outrage to establish a false moral equivalency. The Bushies used this one throughout the Florida 2000 chess-game. Every effort was made to polarize the recount process, and to constantly emphasize the Democratic affiliation of county canvassing boards and the Florida judiciary. This approach not only invested every Republican in the state and the country in one side of every empircal controversy, but also gradually convinced the nation at large that the saga was nothing more than a partisan food fight among pols, lawyers and judges, not an attempt to find out how the people of Florida actually voted. This perception was crucial to the GOP’s ultimate strategy of running out the clock and inviting the Supreme Court in to “save” the country from chaos.
Republicans are pursuing exactly these two tactics in planning an Election Day operation designed to mess with minority voters this year.
As Joshua Green shows in his important profile of Karl Rove in the current issue of Atlantic Monthly, Rove followed the same M.O. in close elections earlier in his career. And in addition to the two tactics outlined above, Rove’s clients have benefitted from something more fundamental: an absolute ruthlessness that often leaves his victims gasping in astonishment and the news media gaping in–literally–disbelief.
Here’s Green’s chilling and potentially prophetic conclusion about Rove’s ace card in manipulating the media and, through them, the public:
“If this year stays true to past form, the campaign will get nastier in the closing weeks, and without anyone’s quite registering it, Rove will be right back in his element. He seems to understand—indeed, to count on—the media’s unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove’s skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media’s unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.