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Sucker Punch Squad: Compelling 'College Republicans' Script Portrays Rove as Brilliant, Sometimes Ruthless Pragmatist


Editor’s note: Script reviews of upcoming projects have been around for as long as there’s been an Internet. Therefore it’s no secret that a film can evolve into something quite different from its screenplay. Please keep in mind that this article represents a look at a particular script and not the final product.

From 2000 to 2008, George W. Bush was the “dumbest president ever,” a man who whom the left first derided as having attained places of power simply because of his father’s name, and whom they later criticized for having succeeded only because of Karl Rove’s political strategies. As a matter of fact, the pin-the-blame-on-Rove game continued even after Bush left the White House (it continues to this day in some circles).


No wonder the possible release of Wes Jones’ “College Republicans” as a feature film seems like an attractive option to students of postmodern politics.

This film chronicles Rove’s attempts to secure the chairmanship of the College Republican National Committee in 1973. Along the way, it attempts to communicate Rove’s ideas, personality, and methodology to viewers.

From what I’ve seen of the script, the aspects of Rove’s life highlighted in the film will not provide the left with as much red meat as they probably want. In other words, while the film casts a bad light on Rove in more than one instance, its enduring focus on Rove’s pragmatism actually seems to justify his misdeeds by showing that he stuck to his guns instead of abandoning ship when the going got tough.

For different reasons, the Religious Right will likely not enjoy the focus on Rove’s pragmatism either. My guess is that if (or when) this film hits theaters, large swaths of evangelicals will see Rove as a man who will do or say anything to promote himself or get his candidate elected.

This point comes through clearly as Jones’ script chronicles the early days of Rove and Lee Atwater’s relationship: a relationship “College Republicans” depicts as one based on pulling out all stops to undercut opposition to Rove’s chairmanship and elevate him to a position of national notoriety that would open the door to running a successful presidential campaign (as he did with George W. Bush).

Throughout the script, Rove and Atwater handle opposition to Rove by any means necessary. This entails Atwater operating from a Sun Tzu point of view (“The Art of War“) and Rove from a Machiavellian one (“The Prince“). As I read the script, I couldn’t help but think that Rove’s approach dominated based on Machiavelli’s views of “taking power.” For as Machiavelli clearly held that people who rose up against the prince ought to be put down in such a way as to show that the prince’s power ought not be challenged, so too Jones’ depiction of Rove is one of a man willing to deal ruthlessly with his opposition.

Jones brings this out in depicting Rove and Atwater attacking the character and intelligence of Rove’s opponents as he sought the chairmanship. From floating rumors about the sexuality of his opponents in the South, at a time when Southerners were decidedly anti-homosexual, to using rules of order and other technicalities to undercut (and replace) the delegates who wouldn’t support Rove’s chairmanship, Jones’ presents Rove as man who both outsmarted and outmaneuvered those who opposed him.

Machiavelli would be proud.


The late Lee Atwater

Yet, while the left may not think Rove is depicted as evil enough and the Religious Right that he is depicted as a man lacking a moral compass, “College Republicans” should be a hit with those who see that politics are ultimately about power. In other words, those who see politics as a vehicle to implementing one’s agenda, or the agenda of one’s party, will probably be more than happy to overlook the means Rove used (fictional or not) to attain power in exchange for knowing that such attainment opened the door to implementation.

“College Republicans” held my attention from start to finish. On the one hand, it presented Rove’s successful rise to the Chairmanship of the College Republican National Committee in a way that did not place Rove on a pedestal: it opened with him in dire need of a man like Atwater and ended with the realization that Rove’s hard sought position in the College Republicans made him but the veritable gopher of the Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), among other things.

But the film also demonstrates the genius behind being such a gopher at a time when the Republican National Committee Chairman was a gentleman named George H. W. Bush, and one of Rove’s occasional duties included carrying the Bush family car keys from Chairman Bush to his son, George W. Bush, who waited outside the office of the RNC on one of DC’s bustling sidewalks.

While Jones’ gives us Rove as the right man, in the right place, at the right time, he also gives us Rove as the man who knew where he had to be in order to be in the right place. For this reason, “College Republicans” ought to be a dream-come-true for political junkies the world over.


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