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Rove's Science of Dirty Tricks

Karl Rove's resignation as deputy White House chief of staff cements the political future of the waning Bush administration. George W. will have little to do except wield his veto pen; he doesn't need the steadying hand of Rove for that, or his strategic insight.

As Rove joins the ranks of discredited politicians who resign "in order to spend more time with family," a retrospective of his dirty tricks might be in order. Much is attributed to Rove, dubbed "Bush's Brain" by Texas journalists Wayne Slater and James Moore -- yet very little sticks to the man. Bearing in mind that we presume innocence until guilt is proved, read on:



  • In 1970, College Republican Rove stole letterhead from the Illinois Democratic campaign of Alan Dixon and used it to invite hundreds of people to Dixon's headquarters opening, promising "free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing," disrupting the event.


  • In 1973, Rove ran for chair of the College Republicans. He challenged the front-runner's delegates, throwing the national convention into disarray, after which both he and his opponent, Robert Edgeworth, claimed victory. The dispute was resolved when Rove was selected through the direct order of the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who at the time was none other than George H.W. Bush.


  • In 1986, while working for Texas Republican gubernatorial hopeful William Clements, Rove claimed that Rove's personal office had been bugged, most likely by the campaign of incumbent Democratic Gov. Mark White. Nothing was proved, but the negative press, weeks before the election, helped Rove's man win a narrow victory. FBI agent Greg Rampton removed the bug, disrupting any attempt to properly investigate who planted it.


  • When Rove was an adviser for George W. Bush's 1994 race for governor of Texas against Democratic incumbent Ann Richards, a persistent whisper campaign in conservative East Texas wrongly suggested that Richards was a lesbian. According to Texas journalist Lou Dubose: "No one ever traced the character assassination to Rove. Yet no one doubts that Rove was behind it. It's a process on which he holds a patent. Identify your opponent's strength, and attack it so relentlessly that it becomes a liability. Richards was admired because she promised and delivered a 'government that looked more like the people of the state.' That included the appointment of blacks, Hispanics and gays and lesbians. Rove made that asset a liability."


  • After John McCain thumped George W. Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire primary, with 48 percent of the vote to Bush's 30 percent, a massive smear campaign was launched in South Carolina, a key battleground. TV attack ads from third groups and anonymous fliers circulated, variously suggesting that McCain's experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam had left him mentally scarred with an uncontrollable temper, that his wife, Cindy, abused drugs, and that he had an African-American "love child." In fact, the McCains adopted their daughter Bridget from a Bangladesh orphanage run by Mother Teresa.


  • According to the investigation of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, Rove played a central role in the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak and former Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, in retaliation for the accusation by her husband, Joe Wilson, that the Bush administration falsely claimed Saddam Hussein had sought uranium in Niger.


  • Rove has ignored subpoenas to testify before Congress about the Justice Department scandal stemming from the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. He skipped a hearing on improper use of Republican National Committee e-mail accounts by White House staffers that allowed them to skirt the Presidential Records Act. Rove claims he enjoys executive privilege, which travels with him as he leaves the White House.


  • These are but some of the dirty tricks attributed to Karl Rove. We are to believe that Rove, born Christmas Day, 1950, is retiring to write books. Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and populist firebrand Jim Hightower describes Rove's departure as "a rat jumping off a sinking ship."

    But arch-Rove watcher Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News knows better. He notes that Rove and his wife have built a house in the Florida Panhandle -- the "Republican Riviera" -- and that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will be 59 in 2012, a ripe age for a run for the White House.

    Regardless, the art and science of the political dirty tricks, learned by Rove in the Nixon years and perfected by him in the George W. Bush White House, will be with us for years to come.

    Denis Moynihan provided research assistance on today's column.

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