Karl Rove, the Biggest Loser
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Mitt Romney wasn’t the only big loser last night. For Karl Rove, the coup de grace came in the hour just before midnight.
It began at around 11:18 pm, when Fox News called the election and posted its gaudy graphic: “Barack Obama Re-elected President.” Britt Hume, Megyn Kelly and a host of pundits offered up brief post mortems. Even the house organ of the Republican Party had conceded.
But then, abruptly, at 11:25, the narrative changed dramatically. “I have great respect for our decision desk,” said Fox’s Chris Wallace, “and I can see that they’re very happy [at Obama headquarters] in Chicago, but I have to tell you that the Romney camp has real doubts by the call that has been made by us and by other networks.”
Enter Karl Rove—Machiavellian GOP party boss, master numbers cruncher, and Fox News analyst—to challenge the verdict that everyone had anxiously awaited. Wallace got right to the point and asked Rove if he thought Ohio was locked up for Obama.
“No, I don’t,” Rove said.
“We’ve got a quarter of the vote,” he explained. “Now remember, here is the thing about Ohio. A third of the vote or more is cast early and is won overwhelmingly by the Democrats.”
Rove insisted that calling the election was “premature.”
“So, maybe not so fast, folks!” Wallace said.
The unthinkable had just happened. Fox had called the election for Obama, but Karl Rove, its Svengali like analyst, had just disputed his own network’s call.
There was an uncomfortable moment of dead air.
Then, Fox anchor Megyn Kelly addressed the situation with understatement. “Well, that’s awkward,” she said.
To resolve the issue, she hiked, on camera, all they way back to the analysts’s bullpen where the Fox decision desk was located. There, several unidentified analysts confidently assured her they had done their homework, crunched the numbers and explained there was no way Romney could take possibly Ohio. They were 99.95 percent certain. They were not backing off. Too many of the remaining precincts that were unreported were in heavily Democratic precincts.
But Rove wouldn’t let go.
Next, Fox brought on conservative pundit Michael Barone, a pal of Rove’s who had predicted a Romney victory and who is, in Rove’s words’ “the smartest guy in America when it comes to precinct results” to set him straight.
By this time, Rove was effectively disputing not just Fox News, but all the major news outlets in the country that had called the election for Obama. It was nearly midnight. The spectacle had dragged on for forty minutes, providing an unparalleled spectacle of schadenfreude for Democrats: Karl Rove, stricken, like Humpty-Dumpty after the fall, as Barone patiently explained to him, as one might talk to a child, that Obama reallyhad won Ohio—and the election.
Fox showed a shot of Obama supporters cheering wildly. “They’re not listening to Karl,” said Megyn Kelly. “They don’t care what Karl says.”
Ultimately, it was left to Fox’s Bret Baier to make a feeble excuse for the chastened Rove. “Maybe we got you a slow computer,” he offered weakly.
Rove’s defeat did not come from want of trying. Throughout the entire campaign, on the surface, he played the lofty pundit pontificating for Fox and the Wall Street Journal as if he had no role whatsoever in the campaign. But whenever one looked closely beneath the surface, one found the Mark of Rove. Under the radar, via his surrogates in the Romney campaign, Boss Rove orchestrated massive, multi-million dollar political ad campaigns that inundated the swing states with countless ads funded by his SuperPACs and “dark money” groups. He drummed up narratives portraying Obama as a latter day failed, weak, Jimmy Carter, and reawakening paranoid fantasies that suggested America still lived in the aftermath of 9/11, cringing in fear of the terrorist threat. In more than 30 states there were attempts at voter suppression—Jim Crow 2.0– in one form or another, a strategy Rove had begun to employ by 2004. In Ohio, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who had worked on Rove’s Ohio campaign in ’04, did everything he could to limit early voting. Nathan Sproul, a former Rove operative, launched nationwide schemes to disenfranchise Democrats, but was investigated by authorities for electoral misconduct and voter registration fraud. And various electronic voting machine companies were suspected of positioning themselves to rig the vote.