November 7, 2004


A Coalition of Conviction (Kate O'Beirne, November 7, 2004, Washington Post)

Republicans were mocked when popular social liberals Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger were showcased to make their party's case on national security and economic opportunity at the national convention in New York. What Democrats saw on the podium were dissident Republican politicians with enlightened views on abortion and gay marriage who had been enlisted in order to deceive voters; what we were all actually looking at was the makings of a successful majority party.

The moderate Republicans who spoke at the convention are at home in their conservative, pro-life party and represent countless others who share their views on such issues as foreign policy, tax rates or tort reform. Political parties are coalitions, and elections are won when a self-confident party can remain faithful to its core principles while appealing to voters with different priorities. President Bush's success exemplifies that approach: He is unapologetically opposed to abortion but passes no judgment on those who disagree with him and encourages them to find common cause with him elsewhere. Last year, Sen. John Kerry was calling pro-lifers "the forces of intolerance."

The election was won because neither Bush nor his party pretended to be something they're not. George Bush was the Real Deal running against the Great Pretender.

Bush enjoys the appeal of authenticity. He is a conviction politician, utterly comfortable with who he is and what he believes.

If nothing else, this election demonstrated, once again, that Mr. Bush is the most disciplined campaigner we've ever seen. Rove, Mehlman and company never altered their game plan and the President ran not just on his record but on completing the work leftover from the last campaign. A lot of folks may dislike him, but they know who he is and what he wants to do.

Four More Years Attributed to Rove's Strategy: Despite Moments of Doubt, Adviser's Planning Paid Off (Dan Balz and Mike Allen, November 7, 2004, Washington Post)

The reelection strategy was built on the belief that with U.S. forces in Iraq, the outcome there uncertain, and fighting terrorism still at the forefront of Bush's presidency, Bush had to shape and win the debate on national security and still contend with Democratic criticism that he had ignored domestic problems.

It was also designed around a plan to increase members of the electorate calling themselves Republicans. This has been described as a strategy aimed almost exclusively at energizing and mobilizing the GOP's conservative base. While social and religious conservatives played a significant role in the outcome, Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said Bush's advisers also believed they could simultaneously "reach out to and expand the base and expand support among ticket-splitting swing voters."

John Weaver, a strategist for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who ended a longtime feud with Rove this year when Bush sought McCain's help, said Rove has moved closer to the goal of creating a Republican majority not by seeking one big realigning election, but by recognizing that political change often is incremental and using every election to get a little bit closer.

"He gets three feet here, three feet there, constantly eroding the other side and grabbing turf," Weaver said. "He has proved his point that you can expand the base, and not just among white males, without drifting or modifying either language or policy. I'm not sure it would work with any other candidate, at any other time. But it worked, and he proved the skeptics wrong."

Rove's assessment is that the 2004 election pushed the country away from deadlock, where it had come to rest after the disputed election four years ago. "We now clearly are not the country that was 49-49," he said. "We're now at 51-48 and may be trending to 51-47. It is incremental but small, persistent change. We saw it in 2002, and we saw it again this year. . . . It tells me we may be seeing part of a rolling realignment."

Bush's victory is likely to enlarge the myth of Rove, with all its layers and complexities, but the reality is that Bush's reelection was secured not by the design or execution of a single person but by a team.

That team included Mehlman, who executed the game plan with an extraordinary grasp of attention to detail, and chief strategist Matthew Dowd, who provided a stream of research on the state of the electorate that kept pessimists at bay and the campaign focused on the big picture rather than, as one insider put it, "chasing rabbits." Long ago, Dowd predicted a victory margin of close to three percentage points.

Others who played significant roles were Bartlett, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, campaign communications director Nicolle Devenish, media adviser Mark McKinnon, rapid response chief Steve Schmidt, political director Terry Nelson, vice presidential advisers I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby and Mary Matalin, and presidential confidante Karen Hughes. Many were regular members of a breakfast group at Rove's house where strategy was developed and great quantities of cholesterol consumed.

No small part of the credit, of course, goes to the president, the point man on the campaign trail and, Rove says, the one who established the broad outlines of the reelection strategy during a meeting with his chief adviser in December 2002 at his Texas ranch. The president also continually prodded his team to keep the pressure on Kerry throughout the campaign.

Rove, who turns 54 at the end of the year, has a 30-year friendship and an unbreakable bond with Bush, the two having first met the day before Thanksgiving 1973. Their history put Rove at the center of the operation, serving as the link between the campaign and the White House and between the campaign advisers and the occupant of the Oval Office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 7, 2004 10:56 AM
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