Saturday, March 04, 2006

the architecture of republican politics

From Frontline's excellent 2005 biopic on Karl Rove:

On Anger
NARRATOR: "Anger points" — Republican consultants' shorthand for hot-button issues — were the other central elements of the direct mail arsenal. And for his candidates, Rove put the anger points together with the kind of battle plan he learned from Lee Atwater: attacking, attacking, attacking. Fifty percent of paid media should be devoted to attack. "If we do not attack, we surrender control of the agenda."

WAYNE SLATER: If there's any single thing that defines a Rove campaign, it's smash-mouth politics. He goes after you hammer and tong. He— attack, attack, attack is sort of the model that he used.

NARRATOR: And in the mid-'80s, Rove found an anger point that could unite voters statewide: tort reform. To Rove, tort reform was a simple story. The elected state supreme court had been bought by wealthy Democratic personal injury lawyers.

MIKE WALLACE, CBS 60 Minutes: Is justice for sale in Texas?

NARRATOR: The story was pushed to the newsmagazine 60 Minutes.

MIKE WALLACE: The Wall Street Journal has called the decision of one Texas court "a national embarrassment."

WAYNE SLATER: It was an enormously powerful piece in Texas. Rove was a part of the business effort that encouraged 60 Minutes, that fed them information. You couldn't have written a headline that was better than the 60 Minutes piece, or more effective.

On Exploiting Strength
WAYNE SLATER: And very early on, Karl Rove did something that many other political operatives don't do it, and it's really an element of why he's a unique figure in American political life. He understands that while other people look for the weakness in an opponent and exploit that, Rove has long looked at the strength of an opponent. In the case of Ann Richards running for governor, it was that she was tolerant and appealed to many constituencies, so you attack her as an advocate for the homosexuals' agenda.
NARRATOR: Rove's east Texas campaign chairman, State Senator Bill Ratliff, accused Richards of hiring avowed and activist homosexuals to high state offices.

Gov. ANN RICHARDS (D), Texas 1991-'95: The issue of homosexuality was very much an issue. It was very much involved in that campaign.

NARRATOR: Rove released a statement distancing the Bush campaign from Senator Ratliff's comments.

WAYNE SLATER: But in every case, what I found was a duplication of the exact pattern of every Rove race, that Rove's opponent is attacked, often by a surrogate or anonymous group, whisper campaigns, direct mail pieces or other kinds of personal attacks, in a way that Rove can't be directly, clearly seen with his fingerprints, but that Rove's candidate benefits from.

On Gays
NARRATOR: Kerry's poll numbers were static. They had kept him from any post-convention bounce. Bush was holding his own. But to make sure, there was always one other card to play, the gay issue.

RICHARD DAVIS, Political Consultant: It especially appealed to the small segment of voters who Karl was trying to mobilize and really excite — not just, you know, turn out, but excite — because if they were excited about the election, they were more likely to turn out to vote.

NARRATOR: Bush and Rove had decided to harden the base by supporting state ballot measures banning gay marriage.

TOM EDSALL: I think the gay issue is a very effective issue. And I think Karl keeps a watchdog eye on all that echo effect and in so far he can influence it to the advantage of the administration, he does so.

NARRATOR: The measures, certain to bring social conservative voters to the polls, would be voted on in 11 states, one of them the key battleground state of Ohio. And Bush and Rove went one step further.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America.

NARRATOR: Back in 2000, George W. Bush had courted the support of Republican gays and lesbians.

DAVID CATANIA, Washington, D.C., Council Member: I helped organize a group of gay Republicans, gay and lesbian Republicans, that went to Austin, and it became known as the Austin 12.

NARRATOR: Washington, D.C., council member David Catania supported Bush's candidacy then.

DAVID CATANIA: As far as individuals under 40, I was one of the president's largest fundraisers. You know, we have a fabulous picture with the president and first lady and the two of us, and they've their arms around us like a man overboard to a life vest. And I stopped raising money after the president made noise of a constitutional amendment. The first time he mentioned it, I shut it down because I wasn't going to be a party to it. I felt, you know, "What a betrayal."

WAYNE SLATER: The gay issue. Karl has used it for more than a decade in a very effective way. And there's something of an hypocrisy, it seems to me, because many of the people who are Republican operatives, who are helping implement this exact attack on the issue of gay rights, are themselves gay.

DAVID CATANIA: There are openly gays within the party, within elected officials in the administration that are gay, and how does Rove deal with them? So long as people don't make an issue, so long as people are lulled into a confidence that they are, in fact, second class and act accordingly, there's no problem. You know. You do not find, though, individuals, openly gay individuals that challenge Karl Rove. That doesn't exist.

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