March 28, 2005


With Bush Safely Re-elected, Rove Turns Intensity to Policy (RICHARD W. STEVENSON, 3/28/05, NY Times)

In naming Mr. Rove deputy White House chief of staff for policy last month, on top of his continuing catch-all title of senior adviser, the president formally recognized Mr. Rove's affinity for the nitty-gritty of governance and publicly acknowledged his influence over whatever deal might emerge on Social Security, his No. 1 domestic priority.

"All roads lead to Karl," said Kenneth J. Duberstein, a Republican lobbyist who was the White House chief of staff under President Ronald Reagan and is now part of Mr. Rove's vast network of informal advisers and intelligence gatherers. [...]

[W]hile Mr. Rove's policy acumen has helped him expand his portfolio, his influence is derived in large part from the political apparatus he has built up.

He plays an important role in deciding where Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and other administration officials go as they crisscross the country trying to win public support. He is overseeing an intelligence-gathering effort that closely tracks the positions of every Republican in Congress and makes sure they get phone calls, invitations to the White House, rides on Air Force One or other expressions of support if they come under pressure from the forces battling Mr. Bush over Social Security.

The work done inside the White House is augmented by the Republican National Committee, now run by Ken Mehlman, who managed Mr. Bush's re-election campaign under Mr. Rove. The committee holds a nationwide databank on Bush supporters that Mr. Rove's team amassed during the election, a treasure trove that Republicans said would be used to mobilize public pressure on Congress when Social Security legislation is taken up.

Additionally, Mr. Rove is calling on a handful of outside groups to play a substantial, loosely coordinated role in the effort.

Every Friday the Republican National Committee holds a meeting on Social Security that is often attended by Barry Jackson, Mr. Rove's deputy in his senior adviser role, who handles much of the day-to-day oversight of the Social Security campaign. Also in attendance are representatives of Progress for America, an advocacy group that is running television commercials supporting Mr. Bush's call for individual accounts in Social Security, and Compass, a business-backed group that is running a grass-roots campaign on behalf of the initiative.

Although those groups operate independently of the White House, they have close ties to the administration and to Mr. Rove. Compass's campaign is being run by Terry Nelson, who was one of Mr. Rove's top aides as political director of Mr. Bush's re-election campaign. Compass is an offshoot of the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, which was once run by Mr. Blahous, the Social Security expert. Progress for America recently adopted an advertising strategy used by the Bush campaign, sponsoring traffic reports on radio stations in cities around the country.

Many Democrats say Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove have reached too far on Social Security and are headed for the first big defeat of their partnership. Republicans have yet to settle their own differences; Mr. Kemp, for one, continues to publicly support the approach Mr. Rove objected to, which is embodied in legislation sponsored by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire.

And there is grumbling among some Republicans that Mr. Rove has mishandled the Social Security campaign. But Mr. Rove's allies and fans say that he anticipated the difficulties of moving the Social Security debate forward and that he and Mr. Bush remain convinced that they will win in the end.

"Anyone who thinks otherwise," said Charlie Black, a veteran Republican strategist, "they're underestimating Karl and they're underestimating the president."

Folks have made quite a habit of doing just that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 28, 2005 7:23 AM

This story's actually a step up for the Times, since conventional wisdom right now coming from the Democrats in Washington is Social Security reform is already DOA on Capitol Hill, and disapproved of by the masses. Stevenson's tone indicates at least he thinks this issue is still open and takes the Bush-Rove GOP operation seriously, even if the bulk of the paper's op-ed page still subscribe to the Bush-is-an-idiot/Rove-is-an-evil-mastermind story line.

Posted by: John at March 28, 2005 8:58 AM

SS reform will happen - the Democrats are defending the political equivalent of the Maginot Line, and they simply cannot move anywhere on the issue without complete collapse.

But the GOP has room (and the ability) to manuever. Plus, the demographics are quite strongly on their side.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 28, 2005 9:27 AM