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Rove Email Leaks: Ideological War Opens in GOP

An info dump sent after GOP candidate nominated.

By 2.12.13

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Karl Rove was not happy.

The conservative base of the Republican Party is not happy.

The Ford/Bush-Reagan battle of ideology decades past suddenly renews.

What’s going on with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell?

And yes, to wax Carvillian, it is the ideology, stupid. In fact, it is an ideological war.

First, Mr. Rove and a leaked email.

The date: September 14, 2010.

The place: Sean Hannity’s television show.

The occasion: The Delaware U.S. Senate primary, won that night by conservative activist Christine O’Donnell. Won by a more than respectable 6 points, 53%-47%.

The news reached Karl Rove while appearing on Sean Hannity’s Fox News TV show, as seen here.

Said Rove of O’Donnell, who had just defeated Establishment Republican Congressman Mike Castle by a healthy 6 points in the state’s primary:

ROVE: It does conservatives little good to support candidates who, at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for. And we'll see how she can answer these questions. She sure as heck didn't answer them thus far in the campaign, and now in the general election, she will be asked about them.

HANNITY: I interviewed her, and I felt her explanations were far more plausible than what was played up.

ROVE: Did you ask her about the people who were following her home to her headquarters, and how she's checked each night in the bushes? Did you ask her -- I mean, there are just a lot of nutty things she's been saying that just simply don't add up.

Hannity then observed, "It sounds like you don't support her."

Responded Rove, emphasis in bold my own: 

"I'm for the Republican, but I gotta tell you, we were looking at eight to nine seats in the Senate; we're now looking at seven to eight in my opinion. This is not a race we're going to be able to win."

By 9:35 the next morning, September 15, Rove was on the receiving end of the following outraged email from a Republican viewer:

I was stunned by your pathetic comments on Hannity last night. I always tune in to Hannity, Fox & Friends and O'Reilly to hear what you have to say, but that was outrageous. I've NEVER heard you speak that way and be so animated about Obama himself. I don't care if you like the woman or support her personally. You could have just said "I'm not sure she can win, but we'll see. She was chosen by the voters overwhelmingly to be the Republican nominee. You and others like you always say to support the Republican regardless of whether we agree with them or not. I see now that's only when they are one of the ruling class like yourself. I've lost all respect for you after that because you've shown a genuine lack of character. I think if you watch your appearance in the light of day you'll see what I mean. So long.

The viewer was not only stunned by Rove’s on-air remarks to Hannity (which were quickly headlined by the liberal media as here with CBS), she was even more flabbergasted when she got this reply directly from Rove at his email address on September 16, two days after his Hannity appearance and one day after her email had been sent to him:

Wrote Rove:

If we attack President Obama for putting people who can't pay their taxes into his Administration, how can we defend a Republican candidate who doesn't pay some of her taxes, her college bills, or her mortgage; has had no visible means of support; and sued a reputable conservative organization claiming she was the victim of sex discrimination? She didn't win the lawsuit: her employer said she was fired for trying to run her own pr consulting firm out of their offices while on their clock. We conservatives want conservative candidates, but we do our cause little good by nominating conservatives with serious questions about their fitness and character.

Here are some of the articles that helped shape my thinking, in addition to my impression after meeting her briefly last year: 

Pasted into his email were three highly critical articles on O’Donnell that appeared in the liberal Delaware area media. I have been told that the pieces Rove sent were in fact from an opposition research project on O’Donnell. A project conducted by her losing primary opponent and the Delaware Republican Party. Said the ex-O’Donnell aide of Rove’s mailing? It was “full of lies and half-truths.”

The recipient of Rove’s email, replete with opposition research on the new Republican Party nominee from her own party leadership, was infuriated. Saying this in contacting me:

Back in 2010, I emailed Rove (see very bottom of what I'm forwarding to you below) when he was on Hannity the day after--or night of--the primary when C. O'Donnell won. I was stunned by what he said on air and by his angry demeanor. That's the first I saw of his true self. But the email I got back nearly immediately (as you'll note in the date/time entries) was a real stunner. I was furious. Look at the page after page of information he already had ready to email to everyone. This guy was already working tirelessly AGAINST the woman instead of just letting it play out. God forbid grass roots people ever succeed without his "help." 

I don't know if it interests you or not, but I thought I'd pass it on. I've saved it all this time and I certainly will never forget.  

Yes, it does interest.

And one suspects I’m not the only one who will be interested.

Why?

Because the email goes straight to the heart of what concerns so many conservatives about both Rove and his new “Conservative Victory Project.”

Here was the famed “Architect” personally sending her an email -- effectively a push button dump of anti-O’Donnell material after the candidate had just won the Delaware primary by six points. The same Karl Rove that others knew had appeared in Delaware before the primary to urge Tea Party members not only to support O’Donnell’s Establishment GOP opponent, liberal ex-governor and Congressman Mike Castle, but had quite specifically stressed how critical it was to band together after the primary to ensure the winner was elected in November. 

In other words, after the Republican voters of Delaware had made their choice for a Tea Party candidate -- a choice Rove did not like and had actively campaigned against -- Rove had not only gone on Hannity’s show to attack the winner. Two days later he was sending out a document dump of material attacking the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate -- even after he had made a point of saying to Hannity “I’m for the Republican.”

In point of fact -- as the angry recipient of this Rove email has documented -- not only had Rove refused to close ranks behind the official GOP nominee, something he had been urging when he assumed the Establishment Castle would be the nominee, he was actively sending out material that opposed the new Tea Party nominee.

News of this email comes on the heels of several blossoming Rove controversies that appear to some conservative activists to be clear signs of a pattern of deception. Specifically:

Deception One: Rove’s claim to Fox’s Bill O’Reilly that “I was the director of the Texas campaign for Ronald Reagan in the fall of 1980.”

The statement was instantly disputed by Reagan staffers, beginning with Reagan biographer Craig Shirley. As the days moved forward, one Texan after another from the 1980 Reagan campaign stepped forward to report that Rove in fact had been a staunch supporter of his old boss at the Republican National Committee -- George Herbert Walker Bush -- when Bush was the Establishment GOP’s Great Moderate Hope to defeat Reagan. Once Bush failed -- but was picked by Reagan at the August convention as his running mate -- then and only then was Rove involved. Getting a role in the fall Reagan-Bush campaign courtesy of his then-boss, Texas Governor Bill Clements.

• Deception Two: Rove’s effort to marginalize Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King, with Rove lieutenant Steven Law, the head of Rove’s “Conservative Victory Project,” telling the Times that: “We’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem.”

What “problem” is that? Back in August of 2012, when l’affaire Akin was burning up the political hot sheets, because King had the audacity to defend his friend Akin by saying politely that he had never heard such a thing as Akin was asserting -- namely that a woman could not get pregnant from a rape. Saying as well of his friend’s controversial statement that “I would be open” to discussing the issue. Liberals instantly tried to make this polite admission of intellectual curiosity into something it wasn’t -- that King agreed with Akin. When queried the next day, King ridiculed his critics for what they were trying to do, saying this, in a story the Washington Post headlined as: “Steve King: I’m No Todd Akin”:

“The liberal press and their allies have again twisted my words,” he said in a statement. “I never said, nor do I believe, a woman, including minors, cannot get pregnant from rape, statutory rape or incest. Suggesting otherwise is ridiculous, shameful, disgusting and nothing but an attempt to falsely define who I am.”

He added, “I have never heard of and categorically reject the so-called medical theory that launched this controversy.”

So under no circumstances did Steve King ever agree with Akin. Specifically, categorically saying so. And yet -- there is Rove’s Steve Law saying that “we’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem.” Which of course raises the obvious question: If King never said he agreed with Akin -- and specifically said he disagreed with him -- why is Rove’s group implying something else?

• Deception Three: The other night on Hannity, Rove was busy defending American Crossroads and the Conservative Victory Project, specifically saying this of the 2012 Texas Senate primary between Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz and Establishment favorite Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. Said Rove:

“You mentioned Ted Cruz. We didn’t need, nobody needed to be involved in the Texas primary. We had three good candidates and the best one won. So we didn’t need to be involved in that kind of thing.”

The message? “We” -- Karl Rove and his friends at American Crossroads -- “didn’t need to be involved in that kind of thing.” Meaning the Texas Senate primary.

The problem? This report in the Dallas News from February 11, 2013 -- that would be just yesterday -- says something quite different. Here’s the quote:

Several long-time Rove donors and major supporters of the American Crossroads superPAC were on the wrong side in last year’s GOP Senate primary in Texas. They backed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the establishment candidate, against tea party star Ted Cruz, who won easily.

Deception Four: This report from CNS News in September 2012 about Karl Rove’s involvement with a controversy involving the Komen Foundation and its recent tangle with the abortion lobby. The CNS report about Rove -- verbatim -- is this:

(CNSNews.com) -- Republican consultant Karl Rove, a former deputy chief of staff in the George W. Bush administration, said that an assertion in a new book that he encouraged the Komen for the Cure breast cancer organization to restore its funding to Planned Parenthood earlier this year was “not accurate.”

Rove did not confirm or deny that he endorsed re-funding, only that the account presented in the book was “not accurate.”

The book, released on Sept. 11, is entitled Planned Bullyhood: The Truth About the Planned Parenthood Funding Battle with Susan G. Komen For The Cure, and was written by Komen’s former vice president of public policy, Karen Handel.

Handel was the former Republican secretary of state for Georgia (2007-2010) and was hired at Komen in April 2011. She resigned from Komen in February 2012 after a controversy ensued following the group’s decision in early 2012 to halt its $680,000 in grants to Planned Parenthood -- a decision that was reversed in early February following a liberal and media backlash over the decision.

Handel tells her side of the controversy in Planned Bullyhood and states in the introduction that “Komen capitulated and reversed course. Komen’s surrender was even encouraged by conservative mainstays like Karl Rove.”

Later in the book, Handel reports that she was talking with Komen founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker on Feb. 3, after Komen executives had decided to restore its grants to Planned Parenthood, one of the world’s leading abortion providers.

Handel writes:

If we blink now, it’s over and no one will know what Komen stands for, I implored.

Nancy’s reply stunned me. “Karen, I’ve talked to a lot of people. And even Karl says we have to backtrack. There’s just no other way.”

“Karl? Who’s Karl?”

She looked at me strangely as if I should know exactly who she was talking about. She said, “Karl Rove!”

I started laughing. Just when I thought things could not get more bizarre. What in the world did Karl Rove have to do with anything?

Nancy continued, “This is the only way,” she reiterated. “You have no idea what I’ve been through over the past three days.”

In an e-mail to Karl Rove, CNSNews.com cited Handel’s story and asked the Republican political consultant whether he advised Komen to restore funding to Planned Parenthood and, if he did, to explain why.

Rove’s chief of staff, Sheena A. Tahilramani, responded by e-mail on Sept. 11, stating, “I’ve discussed this with Karl and Mrs. Handel’s book is not accurate.”

In a follow-up, CNSNews.com asked for clarification and whether Rove was stating that Handel’s claim was false. In a Sept. 12 e-mail, Tahilramani answered, “Ms. Handel’s account is not accurate.”

Although the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization is committed to fighting and ending breast cancer, the group restored its funding to Planned Parenthood.

According to its 2009-2010 annual report, Planned Parenthood received $487.4 million in tax dollars; and according to its fact sheet, Planned Parenthood performed 329,445 abortions in 2010. The organization does not do mammograms to screen for breast cancer.

CNSNews.com contacted Komen CEO Nancy Brinker by e-mail on Sept. 12 asking whether Handel's report was accurate but no response was provided before this story was posted.

In other words, according to this story, Rove was essentially pushing the pro-choice agenda. This being a man who is a serious adviser in the pro-life party. And what is the quoted response from a Rove spokesperson? That the account is “not accurate.”

Which is to say, as with the truth on Rove’s Reagan connection, on what Rove’s Steven Law said about Iowa’s Congressman Steve King and Todd Akin, the tale Rove told Hannity about “we didn’t need to be involved in the Texas primary” when in fact his donors really were involved supporting the Establishment guy Dewhurst over the Tea Party’s Ted Cruz, and what Rove was reported as quietly doing to help the pro-choice Planned Parenthood in the Komen dispute -- not to mention this leaked email about the O’Donnell candidacy -- well. Wow.Taken all together, this is what is called a pattern.

A credibility problem

And it is safe to say that when the leaked email on O’Donnell is added to this combustible mix -- with Rove saying “I’m for the Republican” on Hannity while quietly sending out a document dump of articles trashing O’Donnell two days later -- which would surely be seen as Deception Five, it is precisely this kind of thing that has Rove undermining himself.

The single most important thing to understand here?

This may involve Karl Rove -- but it isn’t about Karl Rove.

This is decidedly not about Karl Rove personally.

But contrary to what Mr. Rove says -- yes indeed -- this is every bit about ideology.

The very fact that Rove chose to name his new venture the “Conservative Victory Project” instead of giving it a more nebulous, ideologically hazy name as he did with “American Crossroads” gives the lie to this. If this controversy isn’t about ideology -- why the felt need to gloss things up by calling the project “conservative” in the first place? There is only one reason.

To try and lull conservatives into the belief this project is all about conservatism -- when quite clearly it is not.

Indeed the whole shimmy over what Rove was or was not doing back in Texas in 1980 illustrates the point.

In fact, no one would care what was up with Karl Rove in 1980. But for one thing that Karl Rove knows instinctively and well. Which is surely why he seeks the identification with Reagan, even though it didn’t exist until after his old boss George H.W. Bush was placed on Reagan’s ticket.

As history has played out since 1980, Ronald Reagan has emerged as both one of America’s greatest presidents in the eyes of the American people -- and thus as the conservative gold standard.

Karl Rove’s entire political history is in a very real sense a snapshot history of the GOP Establishment. Indeed, in a small but telling detail, Rove’s memoirs include a picture of himself as a young man with two men -- then Vice President Ford and RNC Chairman Bush. There is not a photo to be found of Rove with Reagan, or for that matter any photo of Reagan.

The fact that Rove has now been positively identified by Texans as both a Ford supporter in 1976 and a Bush supporter in 1980 -- when added to his own record in the Bush 43 White House supporting expanding government in areas like education and Medicare, plus his comments about various Tea Party candidates in recent elections -- taken together they portray someone who is hell bent not only on supporting Establishment Republicans but defeating Reaganite conservatives wherever he can plausibly and quietly do so.

Put another way, Rove is badly hurting himself with conservatives who believe he seems decidedly unable or unwilling to see that the arc of history and the idea of Big Government is not only now perceived as a direct threat to the security of the country itself -- that $17 trillion debt looming Greece-like -- but is increasingly a decided non-starter for the conservative base of the Republican Party.

That where once as a young man he saw both Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush as more electable than Ronald Reagan -- he now looks at Establishment candidates competing with Tea Party candidates and sees exactly the same thing. Worse still, that in seeking to advance Establishment GOP candidates he is quietly finding ways -- like that email on O’Donnell -- to sabotage Tea Party candidates after they are nominated.

Historically speaking, this is seen by many conservatives as one of the worst traits of Establishment elites. From the days when Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney turned a cold shoulder to Barry Goldwater in 1964 -- all the way through to recent elections when party elites pushed party unity before a challenge to an Establishment candidate -- then turned on their heel and refused to endorse the Tea Party winner (as in Delaware and Indiana in 2010 and 2012) or even leave the GOP altogether (as the late Arlen Specter did when confronted by Pat Toomey’s second challenge in 2010), the GOP Establishment has acquired a haughty “my-way-or-the-highway” reputation.

A reputation that Mr. Rove memorably reinforced that night in September of 2010 when he launched on Christine O’Donnell -- angering the viewer who sent me his provocative email.

So how does all of this boil down?

It’s safe to say in this sudden controversy that conservatives see the battle with Karl Rove as illustrative of the battle that must be fought and won if conservatives are to have any chance at all of defeating the most destructive presidency in American history -- an Obama presidency obsessed with literally spending the nation into bankruptcy. Making America Greece.

This is not a battle that can be won if the Republican Party is populated with leaders who see themselves as doing the Big Government routine -- but just less so. The dime store New Deal approach. Whether out of fear of criticism from the liberal media, a desire of social acceptability in Washington -- or from a felt need to protect the Establishment GOP.

Politically speaking, there is considerable umbrage taken by conservatives at the idea that a GOP Establishment that keeps losing presidential elections (2012, 2008, 1996, 1992, 1976) or wins them by unnecessarily narrow margins (2000 and 2004) -- has the chutzpa to blame conservatives for losing elections. And that’s before you even get to the disaster that was 2006 (when there was no Tea Party and Karl Rove himself had free rein from the White House) or losing races with Establishment candidates in places like Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota and Massachusetts.

There is concern that what Rove is seeking to do is build a Shadow Republican Party -- a decidedly Establishment GOP. An Establishment GOP that is effectively built in the image of all those repeatedly losing presidential candidates, not to mention the Establishment losers supported by American Crossroads in recent elections. When in fact the Tea Party -- and the conservative movement in general -- is the only reason Republicans have been winning in the first place.

Not to put too fine a point on it. but John Boehner is Speaker Boehner today because of the Tea Party.

Which is another way of saying -- the Reagan legacy is among other things the Reagan Blueprint.

A blueprint that Establishment Republicans like Mr. Rove repeatedly ignore, the election consequences of not following the Reagan blueprint for victory be damned.

It’s easy to respect Karl Rove for his personal loyalty to both President Bush 43 and 41. They were instrumental in bringing him to where he is today. They are good people who did many good things while in the White House. President Bush 41 is a genuine American hero, and President Bush 43 literally kept this country safe after 9/11. 

But the hard political fact is that conservatives see both men’s domestic choices as failures. The breaking of 41’s “read my lips” tax pledge and 43’s “compassionate conservative” idea of growing government more, just no so much more. (Except, of course that in the latter case the spending was so through the roof -- can you say TARP? -- that it was the end of the Bush era, not just the beginning of the Obama era -- that launched the Tea Party.)

An even harder political fact, never mentioned, is that presumably neither Bush presidency not to mention Karl Rove’s entire Washington career would ever have existed at all -- if it weren’t for Ronald Reagan and the conservative movement he represented.

And of Senator Mitch McConnell’s role in all of this?

Over at the Huffington Post there is a story saying that Karl Rove got his idea from none other than the Senate Republican Leader, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell. The story reads in part:

The model for the new super PAC, dubbed the Conservative Victory Project, is akin to one that McConnell has touted the need for at GOP events in recent years, two GOP fundraisers with good ties to the senator told Huffington Post. Both asked for anonymity to speak candidly about private events and discussions.

Hmmmm.

And just who is Steven Law, the guy listed as the president and CEO of Rove’s American Crossroads? The guy at the center of the New York Times story announcing Rove’s “Conservative Victory Project”?

That’s right. Mr. Law is a former top aide to… Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky -- the Senate Republican Leader.

There’s another story making conservative rounds as well. This one from the Lexington Herald-Leader in -- Kentucky. Reads the headline:

Several Kentucky Tea Party groups seek to defeat McConnell in 2014 

You can’t get much more Establishment Republican than being Mitch McConnell.

This entire episode is inviting trouble.

One remembers in the long ago when the Bush 41 White House was quietly discussing breaking 41’s no new taxes pledge. The Bush White House sent the signal that they saw the President as politically invincible.

Untouchable.

The President who once had a popularity rating hovering around 90% so infuriated the conservative base he wound up with 37% of the vote as he lost to an underdog Bill Clinton in 1992.

Lesson?

No one is untouchable in politics.

No one.

Not the Establishment Republican elite.

Not Senator McConnell.

And not Karl Rove.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.