Although we like to think ourselves rock-ribbed Republicans in the conservative tradition of Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Calvin Coolidge, we can’t quite work up the requisite red-hot hatred of Karl Rove.
Perhaps it’s just a habit ingrained during the George W. Bush years, when all the liberals tried to reconcile their contradictory beliefs that Bush was a drooling moron and his administration a brilliantly elaborate right-wing conspiracy by casting Rove as the evil genius behind it all, but the notion that Rove is now the evil genius thwarting an otherwise inevitable right-wing revolution seems implausible. The Bush years were by no means a conservative heyday, what with all that deficit spending and governmental growth and unfettered illegal immigration and the rest of its many heresies from the right-wing religion, but given that the alternatives were Al Gore and John Kerry we retain a begrudging gratitude for Rove’s political machinations. In the unhappy aftermath of the Bush administration Rove has earned the further enmity of the true believers by backing some “establishment” Republicans over the more true-blue “tea party” challengers in Republican primaries, which is indeed annoying, but we’re still willing to assume that he did so only for fear that the upstart would lose to a even more noxious Democrat. Such pragmatism is now offensive to the many of our ideological brethren, however, and the more rigid right-wing talk radio hosts and their avid fans would have Rove banished from the party.
Ordinarily we give little thought to Rove, who seems to be shrewdly sitting out the current election cycle, but his bi-partisan pariah status came to mind when reading another excellent column by Kevin Williamson in the National Review. Williamson is lately one of our favorite writers, and The National Review has been the definitive conservative publication since before we could read, so it was interesting to see them offer even a qualified defense of Rove. Even more interesting were the voluminous comments, which were almost unanimous in their outrage. The National Review’s long tenure is enough to confer it establishment status, no matter how resolute it remains in espousing conservative causes, but its readership apparently is in no mood to forgive any deviation from the rightward path.
Which is fine by us, but the vehemence of the commenters makes us worried about the Republicans’ chances of fending off the Democrats. Most of the dissenters seem to regard anything less than the conservative ideal as unacceptable, even when it’s the only option left on the ballot other than a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and would apparently prefer letting a Democrat win rather than voting for a impure Republican. Their theory seems to be that conservatives enjoy an overwhelming majority of even in San Francisco and Boston and Honolulu, and that far-left candidates prevail there only because the Republicans are too timid to offer up a sufficiently right-wing candidate, but we can’t shake a suspicion that a more squishy centrist sort of candidate might fare better in these jurisdictions and would at least be more preferable.
This tendency can be problematic even here in such a reliably Republican state as Kansas, where Sen. Pat Roberts finds himself in a hotly contested race against a Democrat posing as an independent because much of the Republican electorate is tempted to sit out the election in protest of Roberts’ occasional deviations from the conservative line. Roberts has an 86 percent lifetime rating by the American Conservative Union and scores much higher in the past six years of a Democratic administration, but that 14 percent of deviation might well hand the race to a far more liberal candidate if Kansas conservatives can’t bring themselves to vote for a less than perfect Republican over a far more imperfect challenger. The race might well determine which party controls the Senate and has drawn enough national attention that the right-wing talk radio hosts are covering it, with the more fervent among them touting Roberts in the most half-hearted way and with a constant admonition that the state should have nominated the scandal-tinged but more robust primary challenger, and at the risk of sounding like Rockefeller Republicans we’d like to see a more pragmatically enthusiastic endorsement.
It’s a hoary cliche that politics is the art of the possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Given the popular culture’s leftward tilt and the near-majority of Americans reliant on government largesse and lockstep uniformity of the Democratic party it is wishful thinking to believe that an electoral majority is just a matter of nominating the most conservative possible candidates, and for all our disagreements with Karl Rove we can’t blame him for seeking a least-worst middle ground. We’d prefer to enlist his formidable help in fending off the craziness of the Democrats, and then to deal with his kind.
– Bud Norman