The Rove Presidency and Realignment

The resignation of Karl Rove has been widely discussed with similar topics coming up repeatedly. These include the ultimate failure of Rove’s policy of division and his ongoing legal problems as his conduct in office is investigated. No matter what you think of the Bush administration, there is one characteristic which both supporters and detractors might agree on. They thought big. Their policies may have been failures, but they sure were big failures. Bush went from speaking out against nation building in the 2000 campaign to seeking to change the entire middle east. The Bush administration didn’t attempt to just whittle away at a bit of what they saw as the welfare state. Their policies were designed to ultimately destroy Social Security and Medicare.

Karl Rove also thought big in the area of politics. In an article in The Atlantic, Joshua Green described how Karl Rove wanted to do more than simply getting out the far right to win narrow elections. He had a bigger goal which was to create a realignment of of party politics which would last decades.

In a way he succeeded, but he didn’t create the permanent Republican majority he sought. Instead Rove contributed to a realignment of American politics in which groups who never before voted Democratic are now supporting the Democrats and voting against the Republicans.

A portion of Green’s article is reprinted below the fold.

Fifty years ago, political scientists developed what is known as realignment theory—the idea that a handful of elections in the nation’s history mattered more than the others because they created “sharp and durable” changes in the polity that lasted for decades. Roosevelt’s election in 1932, which brought on the New Deal and three decades of Democratic dominance in Washington, is often held up as the classic example. Modern American historians generally see five elections as realigning: 1800, when Thomas Jefferson’s victory all but finished off the Federalist Party and reoriented power from the North to the agrarian South; 1828, when Andrew Jackson’s victory gave rise to the modern two-party system and two decades of Jacksonian influence; 1860, when Abraham Lincoln’s election marked the ascendance of the Republican Party and of the secessionist impulse that led to the Civil War; 1896, when the effects of industrialization affirmed an increasingly urban political order that brought William McKinley to power; and Roosevelt’s election in 1932, during the Great Depression.Academics debate many aspects of this theory, such as whether realignment comes in regular cycles, and whether it is driven by voter intensity or disillusionment. But historians have shown that two major preconditions typically must be in place for realignment to occur. First, party loyalty must be sufficiently weak to allow for a major shift—the electorate, as the political scientist Paul Allen Beck has put it, must be “ripe for realignment.” The other condition is that the nation must undergo some sort of triggering event, often what Beck calls a “societal trauma”—the ravaging depressions of the 1890s and 1930s, for instance, or the North-South conflict of the 1850s and ’60s that ended in civil war. It’s important to have both. Depressions and wars throughout American history have had no realigning consequence because the electorate wasn’t primed for one, just as periods of electoral unrest have passed without a realignment for lack of a catalyzing event.

Before he ever came to the White House, Rove fervently believed that the country was on the verge of another great shift. His faith derived from his reading of the presidency of a man most historians regard as a mediocrity. Anyone on the campaign trail in 2000 probably heard him cite the pivotal importance of William McKinley’s election in 1896. Rove thought there were important similarities.

“Everything you know about William McKinley and Mark Hanna”—McKinley’s Rove—“is wrong,” he told Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker in early 2000. “The country was in a period of change. McKinley’s the guy who figured it out. Politics were changing. The economy was changing. We’re at the same point now: weak allegiances to parties, a rising new economy.” Rove was suggesting that the electorate in 2000, as in 1896, was ripe for realignment, and implying, somewhat immodestly, that he was the guy who had figured it out. What was missing was an obvious trigger. With the economy soaring (the stock-market collapse in the spring of 2000 was still months away) and the nation at peace, there was no reason to expect that a realignment was about to happen.

Instead, Rove’s idea was to use the levers of government to create an effect that ordinarily occurs only in the most tumultuous periods in American history. He believed he could force a realignment himself through a series of far-reaching policies. Rove’s plan had five major components: establish education standards, pass a “faith-based initiative” directing government funds to religious organizations, partially privatize Social Security, offer private health-savings accounts as an alternative to Medicare, and reform immigration laws to appeal to the growing Hispanic population. Each of these, if enacted, would weaken the Democratic Party by drawing some of its core supporters into the Republican column. His plan would lead, he believed, to a period of Republican dominance like the one that followed McKinley’s election.

Rove’s vision had a certain abstract conceptual logic to it, much like the administration’s plan to spread democracy by force in the Middle East. If you could invade and pacify Iraq and Afghanistan, the thinking went, democracy would spread across the region. Likewise, if you could recast major government programs to make them more susceptible to market forces, broader support for the Republican Party would ensue. But in both cases the visionaries ignored the enormous difficulty of carrying off such seismic changes.

The Middle East failure is all too well-known—the vaulting ambition coupled with the utter inability of top administration figures to bring about their grand idea. What is less appreciated is how Rove set out to do something every bit as audacious with domestic policy. Earlier political realignments resulted from historical accidents or anomalies, conditions that were recognized and exploited after the fact by talented politicians. Nobody ever planned one. Rove didn’t wait for history to happen to him—he tried to create it on his own. “It’s hard to think of any analogue in American history,” says David Mayhew, a Yale political scientist who has written a book on electoral realignments, “to what Karl Rove was trying to do.”

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  1. 1
    Farmer John says:

    You claim to have knowledge of a situation which is completely foreign to your experience. This situation was not foreign to BB. It is not foreign to me. Have you ever been responsible for the lives of men? Have you ever been in a position where lawlessness was not the exception, but the rule?

  2. 2
    Big Bubba says:

    “That is totally absurd. Having been there does not mean he is a credible source as to whether crimes were committed.”

    Yet the people you go to for your opinions haven’t been there either. Hanoi John will not take a position on his lies yet you still believe them.

    Whether or not Americans have committed acts against the Geneva Convention, or the Law of Land Warfare is beyond argument. It is established fact that it has happened. Equally true is that it is beyond argument that this nation tries to do the right thing when it comes to the civilian populations. Unfortunately the armed forces are but a reflection of our nation. That percentage of the population that are criminals applies. When you draft you get the honest moral person right along with the cold blooded murderer.

    I know you are a Doctor, however, it is hard for me to understand how you can be so devoid of logic and reason.

    Bye the bye, Ron, I showed up here because your web page popped up on my web page as a BlogAdSwap. I have decided to start, clicking on the ad, visiting and supporting the program.

    I saw a French movie recently that I am planning to comment about on my website. It brought home a point to me about who consistently tries to do the right thing. When I do it I will invite you to visit.

    PS I took a skull away from a soldier one time trying to leave RVN with it. Wonder where that came from? What category of experience does that fall under?

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Now you two have totally changed your arguments.

    Big Budda finally admits that it is established facts that Americans have committed acts against the Geneva Convention.

    “Equally true is that it is beyond argument that this nation tries to do the right thing when it comes to the civilian populations.”

    Nobody is arguing that this isn’t generally the case. This doesn’t change the fact that violations have occured. There is also the problem in Vietnam that there is evidence that soldiers were given orders by superior officers which violated Geneva Convention.

    Farmer John suggests he concedes this with his last comments where the argument is suddenly changed from an argument that such violations didn’t occur to an argument that they were justified under the conditions of war. That is a totally different question. All that I am discussing is that the actions did occur and that John Kerry testified honestly–not whether these violations of the Geneva Convention might for some reason be justified or at least understandable under the conditions of the war.

    This started with accusations that John Kerry lied in his testimony. John Kerry was called before the Senate to testify about his experiences in the war as well as the testimony of other veterans. This dispute began with Big Bubba saying he lied. Ultimately we have established that he did not lie. The violations of the Geneva Convention he reported did occur.

    In addition, note that Kerry was arguing from the perspective of defending the soldiers involved. Kerry was protesting against the leaders who gave these illegal orders and placed the soldiers in an impossible situation. Kerry made a number of other arguments in support of the troops and vets, but the Swifties prefer to twist his testimony for political reasons.

    “however, it is hard for me to understand how you can be so devoid of logic and reason.”

    Considering that I have proven my argument and you have had to keep altering yours as every argument was shot down by the facts, it looks that if anyone is devoid of logic and reason it would be you. By the way, maybe you first found the site thru a BlogAdSwap but I’ve also seen the derogatroy comments you posted about me on another site when you recruited others to come here to help argue. You can give up trying to sound so innocent.

    I’m not aware of being in a BlogAdSwap program but in the past week I did sign up to get the blog listed in a few directories (icons on this page). Some of them are new and it is conceivable that one of these is the the BlogAdSwap program you mention. Skinny has sent a bunch of different types of offers which I haven’t paid much attention to, so perhaps this is what you are talking about.

  4. 4
    Big Bubba says:

    “Now you two have totally changed your arguments.

    Big Budda finally admits that it is established facts that Americans have committed acts against the Geneva Convention.”

    If pressed I will also admit that today people were needlessly murdered, a brave jehadist blew up innocents, and someone jay walked, somewhere. When did I say there were no atrocities committed in VietNam? Do you think I wasn’t reading newspapers/watching TV when My Lai happened? Just point it out where I said “no atrocities committed,” and I will stand corrected. Hanoi John is an infamous liar. He will not stand by past statements. He will not allow his book of lies to be republished. He is nothing but a nouveau riche poseur.

    “In addition, note that Kerry was arguing from the perspective of defending the soldiers involved.”

    The lying scum bag was not defending me or any other real soldier. Didn’t you notice the uproar that his Presidential candidacy caused?

    I didn’t recruit/ask/beg/plead others to come here. It would have been thoughtful if I did because I know how much they truly love pseudo intellectual progressive liberal knee jerk mindless twits.

    I don’t even remember where I visited (on the site) or what a posted. I am rarely derogatory preferring to be extremely descriptive.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    “The lying scum bag was not defending me or any other real soldier. Didn’t you notice the uproar that his Presidential candidacy caused?”

    Yes, it caused an uproar because of a politically motivated smear campaign. They took advantage of the feelings of people like you who they knew could easily be offended by accounts of Kerry’s testimony if the content of the testimony was distorted.

    “I didn’t recruit/ask/beg/plead others to come here…”

    Then someone is posting on other sites under your name and linking back to this post.

  6. 6
    Big Bubba says:

    I certainly didn’t link back to this post.

    Listen pal, I was offended in 1971 by the lying scum bag and I remained offended, permanently. The correct term for “people like you” is veterans who served their country honorably.

    “The results of this investigation, carried out by the Naval Investigative Service, are interesting and revealing.

    Many of the veterans, though assured that they would not be questioned about atrocities they might have committed personally, refused to be interviewed. One of the active members of the VVAW told investigators that the leadership had directed the entire membership not to cooperate with military authorities. A black Marine who agreed to be interviewed was unable to provide details of the outrages he had described at the hearing, but he called the Vietnam War “one huge atrocity” and “a racist plot.” He admitted that the question of atrocities had not occurred to him while he was in Vietnam, and that he had been assisted in the preparation of his testimony by a member of the Nation of Islam. But the most damaging finding consisted of the sworn statements of several veterans, corroborated by witnesses, that they had in fact not attended the hearing in Detroit. One of them had never been to Detroit in all his life. He did not know, he stated, who might have used his name. Incidents similar to some of those described at the VVAW hearing undoubtedly did occur. We know that hamlets were destroyed, prisoners tortured, and corpses mutilated. Yet these incidents either (as in the destruction of hamlets) did not violate the law of war or took place in breach of existing regulations. In either case, they were not, as alleged, part of a “criminal policy.” The VVAW’s use of fake witnesses and the failure to cooperate with military authorities and to provide crucial details of the incidents further cast serious doubt on the professed desire to serve the causes of justice and humanity. It is more likely that this inquiry, like others earlier and later, had primarily political motives and goals.”

    The only place Hanoi John is a war hero is Hanoi. I have to go now to do my genealogy work for the evening. Back tomorrow to see how you describe gloriously winning your argument, yada, yada, yada.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:


    No, “veterans who served their country honorably” are the veterans who understand what this country stands for.

    Plus, “veterans who served their country honorably” are those who stood together and supported each other, like John Kerry and those who served with him, not those of you who are so easily conned into believing the slurs on an American war hero like John Kerry.

    I’ve met John Kerry. I know what John Kerry stands for. You are no John Kerry.

    Why do you bother posting your nonsense here where no one is interested? After you figure out who is posting in your name looking for reinforcements and linking here on some lame site, you might look for better things to do. (You really think your denials mean a thing? You’ve been tracked since the moment you first posted here.)

    You might try posting your thoughts on your own blog. Oh, I almost forgot, your stat counter shows you average a whole six readers per day. Or is that you checking your own blog six times per day? Maybe you and your mother each checking in three times a day? I also wonder (not really) why the slope for visitors for the year at your blog is going in the opposite direction as in my stat counter. Don’t you want a positive slope?

  8. 8
    Karennj says:


    You are completely wrong about John Kerry’s testimony. Have you ever read the full text? Kerry was asked to speak about the Winter Soldier hearing he had attended. The ususal testimony that would have been expected from this invitation would have been for Kerry to repeat stories told in a short statement. Had Kerry testified in that fashion, he would have been remembered as little as the many other people who have testified before Congressional committees. Instead, Kerry wrote that very short tight paragraph that contained a list of what soldiers there said had happened. This was the paragraph that was used against him. (The Senators had already received a tape of the complete procedings – Kerry did NOT claim the accounts were accurate – no one involved had the resources, responsibility or the contacts to investigate these claims. Things like these were proven to have happened and military manuals were changed to try to minimize their likelihood in the future.)

    The rest of Kerry’s speech is why he got the praise from the Senators and media he did. He then spoke of the needs of the soldiers, who were not getting the support they needed from the their government. His comments on the VA sound like recent comments on Walter Reed. He also spoke of the soldiers dealing with PTSD, that was not then recognized.

    He then spoke of how the war was unwinnable. In more recent times, MacNamara, the architech of the war, in FOG OF WAR said that he knew the war was unwinnable in 1968. Half the men that died in Vietnam died after that point. In documents released from the Nixon files in 2006, there was a 1969 Kissinger letter to the Chinese that suggested the US would agree to leave if they could get their client state to agree to waiting 2 years to allow for a “decent” interval before the fall of Saigon. But, whether Kerry was right or wrong – this was stated as an opinion and Kerry made a case for why this was so. To me, it seems that that half of the dead died so that Presidents Johnson and Nixon did not have to admit that they were ending a losing war. The peace terms in 1973 were what was offered in 1968.

    The last part of Kerry’s testimony was a plea to change America’s foreign policy and hoped that Vietnam would be remembered as where America turned.

    This speech and the Q & A, where the Senators asked Kerry’s opinion on many issues and were clearly impressed with his knowledge, thoughfulness and seriousness. Senator Pell, before leaving to go another meeting, said he hoped some day that Kerry would be in the Senate himself.

    As to the impact, you say you were a soldier then. I was a college student. My experience was different than you might expect. In the year before Kerry’s speech, one of the soldiers who got the most press was Lt Calley. Among students at my state University and my lower middle class parents and their friends, he was an image of the Vietnam soldier that absolutely horrifed us. This is not to say that we thought all soldiers were like him, after all there were vets attending my college and their were high school classmates who went.

    In contrast, the eloquent, serious Kerry was a very good image of a man who cared about the men who were still there and who he hoped to get back sooner and the veterans who needed more support than they were getting. Your idea that Kerry hurt the war or the image of the American soldier is just incorrect. On the first, Kerry could only make his case to the Senate. If they were swayed, it was because there was a good case made. But, most of the Senators against the war then were against it before Kerry spoke and Nixon was the CIC – he alone could stop the war. On the second, for anyone whose image of the Vietnam soldier went from Lt Calley to John Kerry, Kerry GREATLY improved your reputation – to the point where I would use the word REDEEMED your reputration.

    You may also want to think of thinks said on the secret Nixon tapes – he thought Kerry’s apperance excellent. He also learned from his people that Kerry really was a war hero and had a squeaky clean background. For political reasons, this led Nixon to order people like Colson to destoy Kerry, a 27 yr old war hero. There was also a recent letter to John Mitchell from a Nixon staffer – his recommendation after seeing Kerry’s testimony and his TV appearances – to see if the Republicans could get him to run as a Republican for the House! (After all he went to Yale and had an upper class background. In fact, Kerry was a Democrat.)

  9. 9
    Ron Chusid says:


    Good response. Of course it will be over their heads as they’ve been carrying around the belief for years that Kerry attacked the soldiers in Vietnam for years and I doubt that any exposure to reality will change their minds.

    Incidentally, there are a bunch of comments from both of them in the moderation que. At quick glance they were primarily packed with obscenities and claims Kerry lied without any evidence that anything he said was incorrect. I’ll have to look when I have more time to see if there is any point in putting them thru, such as whether there is any real arguments included. If I do put them through, they will appear here in the order they were written and will appear above your comment.

    All in all, they don’t have much to say. In additions of accusations of lying without demonstrating a single untrue statement, they claim I’m being close minded. It is hard to imagine an attitude more close minded than theirs in believing all the far right spin about Kerry when simply reviewing what he actually said would prove that his testimony was the exact opposite of how they are mischaracterizing it. Instead they would rather stick with taking things out of context and misquotations so they can stick with the same misconceptions they’ve been spreading for years.

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