Many people were startled when the New York Times broke an eight part story a few days ago about a Karl Rove-led cover-up of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq — and then The Daily Beast followed up with a report entitled “Insiders Blame Rove for Covering Up Iraq’s Real WMD.”
The Beast even sub-titled their piece “There’s one man, some Republicans say, who kept the public from learning about the chemical shells littered around Iraq. He was Bush’s most important political adviser.” The revelation has many in the political class in a buzz.
And yet the decision to quash the story was archetypal of how Rove and George W. Bush devised the White House response to every major issue, and this eight year abdication of the bully pulpit still haunts the Republican Party — not to mention our soldiers and their families — and all conservatives today.
While the NY Times report is very thorough with regard to the idea of a military cover up, the Beast focuses mainly on a political messaging black out. According to the well-sourced Beast article:
starting in 2004, some members of the George W. Bush administration and Republican lawmakers began to find evidence of discarded chemical weapons in Iraq. But when the information was brought up with the White House, senior adviser Karl Rove told them to “let these sleeping dogs lie.” The issue of Iraq’s WMD remnants was suddenly thrust back into the fore this week, with a blockbuster New York Times report accusing the Bush administration of covering up American troops’ chemically induced wounds. To people familiar with the issue, both inside that administration and outside, the blame for the coverup falls on one particular set of shoulders: Rove’s.
Dave Wurmser, a Senior aide to Dick Cheney, succinctly told The Beast “it was all for nothing; Rove wanted the issue buried.”
Concerning that message burial, it is clear that the false narratives that hardened over those years — on WMDs, yellow cake uranium, Katrina, the economic meltdown, and even the 2000 election — paved the way for the Democrat rout in 2006 and for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. After all, even John McCain in ’08 and Mitt Romney to some extent in ’12 ran against Bush rather than against Obama. Some 53% of the country still blamed Bush for the economy in November of 2012 — almost exactly the percentage that voted Obama — and the “Bush lied people died” meme is still prevalent on liberal websites.
There was also an undeniable Katrina hangover surrounding Hurricane Sandy. The trajectory of the ’12 election undeniably changed when Chris Christie and Obama embraced on the tarmac. That hangover would not have existed were it not for how Bush and Rove handled the messaging concerning Katrina.
And it is these mounting political devastations, becoming more obvious every day, that has led millions to finally question Rove as a strategist. Leave it to Rove to orchestrate a moratorium that is not only immoral, but one that is so tone deaf that it destroys his president, the military’s reputation, and his party’s fortunes for at least three election cycles. This catastrophic political fall-out is but part of the story — although it confirms at last that Rove is well beyond his sell-by date, and brings into question whether he was ever a net positive force.
One person who remains convinced of Rove’s genius is National Review’s Kevin Williamson, who recently chided anti-Rove conservatives — including talk show hosts, saying there’s “a whole lot of hate for the last guy to manage a winning Republican Presidential Campaign” — failing to take into account the weakness of both Al Gore and John Kerry as candidates, as well as Rove’s part in Romney’s disastrous efforts via the Crossroads organization.
Williamson further taunts conservatives by stating, “(They) are not very good at distinguishing between tacticians, eggheads, and entertainers, and though Rove is mainly in the tactician camp, his Fox News gig… puts him in the public eye, an operative with one foot in the thinker-talker camp.” He insists that “Ronald Reagan himself could not have won the presidency as a Republican in 2008 with Christ Jesus as his running mate. The GOP was in bad odor, and not without some good reason.” Williamson misses the obvious: that Bush and Rove’s “new tone” messaging strategy is precisely what caused that bad odor in the first place.
Rush Limbaugh did not miss the unmissable, and spent most of last Friday’s show incredulously scorching Rove, insisting he’s “more convinced than ever that the paralysis of the Republican Party stems from those five years of never-ending defamation that the White House chose to ignore and not reply to. I don’t understand how in the world you stand mute when lies are being told about you for five years in a row. Lies that are destroying the military. Lies that are destroying a necessary military operation in the War on Terror. Lies that are destroying the institution and believability and the credibility of the office of the presidency. How you stand by and let that happen all on the belief that people will forget about it once the next news cycle hits?”
Connecting the dots, Limbaugh stated categorically, “This cost us the Senate and the House in 2006. It gave the Republican nominee, who had no chance anyway — even less of a chance in 2008. The Republican Party has still not recovered.”
As an aside, the very first words Rush uttered the day after Obama’s win in 2008 was “well friends, the new tone has come to roost.” Indeed it had, and still is.
Mark Levin was even angrier, saying on air that he was “sitting here in a slow boil, with a growing fury,” and added that “this continues to this day and one man, Karl Rove, stood between the truth and the people. What’s really unbelievable is this hurt the moral of the troops, this hurt the Republican Party, this hurt George Bush.” Livid, he continued: “the perverse thinking, that this would be politically harmful to the President and the Republicans, quite the contrary… just shows you what an incompetent boob this guy is.”
Rove as an over-rated incompetent, as far back as 2000, is in fact the theme of my 2013 Amazon Best Seller WTF? How Karl Rove and the Establishment Lost…Again. A case can be made that the WMD revelations validate the theory.
In the Daily Beast report, Senator Rick Santorum told Eli Lake he and his staff began receiving photographs of discarded sarin and mustard-gas shells from U.S. soldiers in 2004. Santorum even went public with some of this information in a press conference with Pete Hoekstra, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, disclosing a Pentagon report that found 500 chemical-weapons shells had been found in Iraq.
Lake observes that “one might think a politically vulnerable Bush White House would’ve seized on Santorum’s discovery.” Santorum thought so too, but said at least in 2005 and 2006, the Bush White House wasn’t interested. “We don’t want to look back,” Santorum recalled Rove as saying (though Santorum stressed to Lake that he was not quoting verbatim — that he was paraphrasing in context). “I will say that the gist of the comments from the president’s senior people was ‘We don’t want to look back, we want to look forward. I had discussions over a period of a year or two. Why aren’t we mentioning this? Why aren’t we doing anything on this?”
Santorum doesn’t use the phrase cover-up, but he’s clear that Rove was orchestrating a political kibosh of the exculpatory information.
Hoekstra was more direct, telling Breitbart, “Here Rick (Santorum) and I are trying to help the administration, and the harshest critics we have are from the administration. There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a cover up, because the vast majority of the information available now are issues we were asking about. It was surreal.”
This attitude was corroborated by Wurmser, who told Lake “in 2005-6, Karl Rove and his team blocked public disclosure of these (findings) and said ‘Let these sleeping dogs lie; we have lost that fight so better not to remind anyone of it.'” Of course, the Democrats and the liberal media reminded people every day, sending Bush’s approval ratings, the Republican brand, the name of conservatism, and even the military’s public perception into the tank. As Limbaugh said of the sleeping dogs strategy, “It’s one thing to lose when you put your best forward and the other guys beat it, (but) we didn’t even get in the ring on this!”
Levin agreed, adding, “We lost the argument they said… when many of you out there were still arguing. I behind this microphone was still arguing in support of these efforts, and it turns out we were right. And it turns out the president was right.”
Of course the president was right on the issues of WMDs — at least with respect to the disposition of Sadaam’s program from the 1980s and 90s — yet he and Rove were dreadfully wrong politically and ethically on the messaging black out.
“There’s two big stories here” reiterated Hoekstra, “the political decision for sure, but also a massive cover up by the military.” He added, “They (the administration) have every right to make a political calculation – what they have no right to do, what they have absolutely no right to do, is withhold the facts from the rest of us. From Congress, the media, or the American public.” Hoekstra is in the midst of writing an editorial on the military cover up angle.
On the political issue, he recalls that many Republicans “wanted to get to the truth. Denny (House Speaker Hastert) wanted to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. A lot of us did, but the White House wasn’t interested.There were people (in the White House) who were actively engaged to make sure the information never even got to Congress, so those who wanted the debate couldn’t have the debate.”
To be fair, there were two lines of military reasoning given by the administration as well. One was that the WMDs they found were old and no longer any more potent than what the “average household has under the kitchen sink.” Another was that they didn’t want the Sunnis to get their hands on them.
“Well which is it?” asked an openly furious Levin, effectively debunking this reasoning. “This is where the dissembling starts. The ass covering. This is unbelievable. This is unacceptable.”
Letting the chips fall where they may as Hastert and many others wanted would have not only been the right thing to do, it would have undeniably changed the political landscape, and the chips would have fallen in Bush’s direction. As it was, the Democrats rode the theme “Bush lied, people died” through the election cycles of 2006 and 08. One would think that disproving the lie a worthwhile PR endeavor. Then again, ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’ on issue after issue after issue was standard operating procedure for the Bush White House and Rove all the way back to 2000. That may be the salient point in all of this.
Rove and Bush always had some notion of falling on the sword in a noble manner, not realizing that every time they did, those swords pierced all Republicans and everyone who supported them, and even drug conservatism in general through the mud. It is mystifying. And Rove was at the center of this strategy.
“They had a philosophy in the White House: Never respond to criticism,” noted Limbaugh. “Never defend yourself against any criticism no matter what happens because that’ll just prolong the story. Rove has even admitted now that one of the big mistakes he made strategically… letting some of these allegations day to day, whatever they were, not just about the Iraq war, but let ’em all go by and not comment on it.”
Clearly exasperated, Rush added all of this was “so damn unnecessary. All because a political calculation was made to not revisit something that had already been determined… I swear, I do not understand this. How can you be a member of the Bush administration and know every day the lies that are being told… the absolute crumbling of the integrity of the institution of the presidency that was undergoing, and not even stand up and defend it. I don’t understand it.”
As Rush indicated, this happened every time the liberals attacked the Bush White House, which was constantly and on almost every issue. The Bush Rove plan was to let the news cycle take care of any problematic issue. Narratives don’t die natural deaths however. You have to kill them, and Rove never wants to kill a narrative or correct the record.
The dog Rove wants to allow to sleep never does actually sleep, not with a liberal media establishment and low information forums. But the dog does lie, and has been biting the country in the hind quarters since 2006. Perhaps this astonishing lesson in moral and political failure will finally wake up donors and decision makers for the Republican Party to the fact that Rove and his little issue by issue tactics are not the way to win elections in a country yearning for big ideas and solutions. It is time for conservatives to do for the truth what the liberal media and the Democrats do for the lie, which is to repeat it over and over again.