Who listens to Karl Rove anymore?
I suppose the answer depends on who you ask. A standard DC swamp Republican with a three-decade-old mindset would likely reply, “a lot of people do, that’s who.” Closer to contemporary times, Nikki Haley probably has ol’ Karl’s number on her “Recents” page on her smart phone, as does any politician in good standing who hovers close to Republican party headquarters. Chris Christie is almost certainly found in that group, too, since the rotund former New Jersey governor adheres to a pre-Trumpian brand of Republican oblivion. Christie’s nothing but a very corpulent dinosaur from a forgotten period in the eons of time. How’s that for an image?
Nonetheless, Rove’s name and ancient reputation as “Bush’s brain” has earned him reverence from establishment cable news shows and publications, so that he can offer opinions whereby viewers/readers see his ramblings, nod their heads in agreement and remark, “Yeah, he has a point.”
One of Rove’s latest hypotheses is that both Republicans and Democrats would do better in next year’s general election if they’d wake up from their current politically blind and deaf stupors and select a party nominee closer to Americans’ real likings. Sure, like it’s just that easy, Karl!
Commenting on the recent New York Times poll that showed Donald Trump ahead in five out of six “battleground states”, in an opinion piece titled “Voters Want Anyone but Trump or Biden”, Karl Rove wrote recently at The Wall Street Journal:
“Republicans could score a historic victory next year if they run a new face. Apparently voters like what they see as the GOP’s values on the economy, defense, immigration, crime and the national debt. Democratic messaging mavens can try casting a fresh Republican as a Jan. 6 insurrectionist, an election-denying fabulist, a demagogic white supremacist. But voters wouldn’t be responding so positively in polls if they thought ‘Republican’ was synonymous with all that nonsense.
“Democrats are right to be scared, but Republicans should be concerned, too. Both party’s front-runners have enormous weaknesses. Joe and Jill Biden are deluding themselves if they believe only he can defeat Mr. Trump. But the GOP leader could sink his own campaign with his constant trashing of his intra-party rivals and their supporters. Turned off, they could fail to turn out or even turn away from the GOP.
“Neither party’s front-runner will be easily dislodged. But if no changes are made, Americans will get the worst dumpster fire of a campaign in history. It doesn’t have to be this way, and everyone but Messrs. Trump and Biden has good reason to try changing it. The party that picks a fresh face will likely win the White House.”
Absolutely, Karl. A “fresh face” in these times almost instantly morphs into something used, bloodied, bruised, unkempt and much less attractive when you actually attach a real image to it – and then throw in a name to go with the looks. Then it’s the same old story with the voters’ finicky preferences. Wasn’t Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. a fresh face for the Democrats this year? Or Marianne Williamson? Heck, she ran in 2020 and the vast majority of people still couldn’t identify her in a Democrat police line-up now. For the Republicans, there’s Ron DeSantis (whose mug is still pretty fresh) and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, a face so original to the national scene that Republican voters are still confounded by the Ohioan’s energy and overabundance of ideas.
Nikki Haley only qualifies as a “fresh face” in the campaign because she’s a woman and sets a wide contrast with Trump. Once people get to know her, however, her “freshness” fades rapidly. Fellow South Carolinian (to Haley) Senator Tim Scott also fit the “fresh face” qualifications and he opted to leave the race last week because he felt the American voters didn’t believe it was his “time” to run the country.
Don’t these events kind of refute Rove’s thesis? Supporters of both parties have hashed over the “fresh face” issue literally since the end of the 2020 election (if indeed there ever was an official conclusion that most would agree with). Didn’t the establishment media once bill Liz Cheney as the future of the Republican Party because she “got it” regarding Trump? Now there’s a political face that only a mother could love!
At the same time, it’s hardly a secret that big swaths of voters aren’t enamored with either Trump or Biden, and many, many, would prefer different party choices. That’s what primaries are for, aren’t they? Republicans are sorting through the process now, and Democrats – at least the higher ups – have already determined that it’s going to be senile Joe or the highway. Unless Biden takes himself out of the running. Rumors concerning such a possibility have swirled for years, and it’s hard to take off the record whispers seriously.
Besides, here’s thinking Rove must be dredging the bottom of the content generation barrel if he’s basically resorted to penning “anyone but” pieces to fill up his quota. Anyone who’s followed politics for – well, forever – knows that voters, before the general election’s either/or choice is defined, often select the “anyone but” option. The thinking behind such simultaneous pessimism/optimism is the forlorn hope that there may still be a smidgen of possibility that a magical, mythical “White Knight” candidate could appear out of nowhere in both parties to spare the poor, choice-less common people from having to partake in the well-rehearsed quadrennial plug-your-nose ritual and vote for one of the two major party contenders.
How long have we been going through this? Maybe every nominating cycle since Reagan? In 1988, for example, many/most conservatives were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of George H.W. Bush taking over the “Reagan Revolution”, fears that were later justified in spades. Democrats had the wholly uninspiring Michael Dukakis to fret over after Gary Hart and Joe Biden (among others) dropped out of the liberal winner-take-all primary race that year.
From that point on, every four years it’s been the same thing, namely, that polls taken before the party caucuses and primaries reveal that there’s a large glob of “anyone but” voters just waiting to be tapped into by political pros and fantasy candidates looking to provide relief to the intellectually un-stimulated.
It could even be asserted that the 2016 contest was the “anyone but” election because surveys up to the moment of voting revealed how dissatisfied Americans were with being compelled to select between the bombastic celebrity Donald Trump and the truly awful, nasty, compromised, evil and completely unlikable Hillary Clinton, wife of sleazebag serial philanderer Big Bubba Bill. Where’s the alternative?
Next year, however, assuming everything now stays the same and once voters get past the personal characteristics of the party nominees, they’ll have real policies and platforms to choose between. In addition, in the past couple weeks, it seems, Trump has toned down some of his anti-Republican rival rhetoric, even complimenting his intra-party opponents for running for president, which he admitted was not easy.
Rove also concedes that the Republican collection of issues he cites above is popular with voters, but he neglects to mention that Trump made many of them so. The crisis at the southern border was never a priority during the Bush/McCain/Romney years, and Trump came to the forefront of national politics because he put the concern first in his message. Didn’t George W. Bush want some form of amnesty? Wasn’t that part of the reason why the second Bush president left office with such low approval ratings?
Meanwhile, Biden enjoys party brethren (and sisters) who are too frightened to step out of line and criticize him directly, though it’s evident Democrats are split over the Israel/Palestine war, with traditional Democrats pressing to allow the Israelis to lay waste to Hamas until the last terrorist is eliminated versus the party’s newer, rabid-leftist forces (such as “The Squad”) leaning on their president for a “ceasefire” and/or a “pause” in the shooting.
One can only speculate who the Democrats could tap as a “fresh face” to wrest the nomination from Biden’s gnarled old hands. Does Kamala Harris equal a “fresh face”, or just one that isn’t Joe Biden’s? Imagine if the party poohbahs decided to replace Biden without his go-ahead and subsequently handed the bid to someone the elites considered more “electable” against Donald Trump than Affirmative Action first-choice cackling Kamala (granted, they’d say just about anyone would be superior to Trump).
Despite the easily articulated fantasy longings of the “Rove-ster”, neither the Republican nor Democrat bands can simply pick up in mid-song and bring in someone who might poll better than Trump and Biden on any given day. The arguments for “savior” or “White Knight” candidates get old after a while. They sound appetizing, but they have no shelf life.
Much has been written about how Democrats have no “bench” behind the Clinton/Obama/Biden generation, and Republicans have many role players but no “stars” to select from. Or it could be that in the GOP, there are too many qualified possibilities and they will all eventually knock each other off by trying to eliminate the others.
Here’s thinking the Republicans, by having too many good candidates, have a nice problem to deal with. Democrats, on the other hand, will search for answers well beyond 2024. Democrats only have the remnants of old-style party figures to consider – or the new “radicals” – and Republicans have a number of young stars in the senate and in governor’s mansions.
Karl Rove has (mostly) earned his stripes as a national politics commentator, but he doesn’t know everything. The voters will decide who they want to represent them, no matter the polls.
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