Election's No. 2 loser was Karl Rove, and Democrats are openly gleeful

For all the criticism being heaped on Mitt Romney, GOP strategist Karl Rove is getting nearly as much. Will Rove's reputation as 'mastermind' strategist be permanently damaged?

David Zalubowski/AP
A couple sits on chairs in a near-empty room to watch Fox News commentator Karl Rove on a big-screen television during a Republican Party election night gathering in the club level of Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

If Mitt Romney was the primary loser on Election Night, then the No. 2 loser, by universal consensus, appears to have been Karl Rove. And Democrats couldn’t be happier about it.

Mr. Rove, of course, ran two of the biggest outside-donor groups this cycle, Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads, whose primary tasks were to help defeat President Obama and take back the Senate for Republicans. He raised hundreds of millions from wealthy Republican donors – and in the end, those donors got very little for their money.

Republicans not only failed to take the White House, but only two of the Senate candidates backed by Rove’s groups won. As a report for the Sunlight Foundation estimated, American Crossroads got a 1.29 percent return on its spending. Crossroads GPS fared slightly better, with a 14.4 percent return.

Rove also publicly predicted that Mr. Romney would win with 285 electoral votes (he wrongly assumed Romney would take Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Colorado, and Florida). And he was the center of a bizarre episode on Election Night when, live on Fox News, he accused the network of prematurely calling Ohio for Romney (he was wrong there, too).

Needless to say, this has all given the Left a gigantic case of schadenfreude. After Democrats suffered bitter defeats at the hands of Rove in 2000 and 2004, and then heard him endlessly referred to as a “mastermind” strategist and a political “genius,” many can barely contain their glee.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said at a Monitor breakfast with reporters on Thursday: “Karl Rove’s reputation is going to take a significant hit. If Crossroads were a business and Rove was the CEO, he’d be fired for getting a poor return for his investors.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) of Ohio – one of Rove’s top targets, who nevertheless won reelection Tuesday – couldn’t resist taking a direct shot on Election Night, crowing: “Karl Rove had a bad night.” And top Obama strategist David Axelrod said that if he were one of Rove’s donors, he’d “be asking where my refund was.”

Even many conservatives are taking Rove to task. Donald Trump, who was so upset about the election results that he called for a “revolution” on Twitter, was almost as unhappy with Rove’s performance, tweeting: “Every race @CrossroadsGPS ran ads in, the Republicans lost. What a waste of money.” Likewise, Richard Viguerie, a veteran GOP operative, wrote that "in any logical universe, establishment Republican consultants such as Karl Rove ... would never be hired to run or consult on a national campaign again – and no one would give a dime to their ineffective Super PACs, such as American Crossroads."

Rove’s defenders have been arguing that his efforts prevented the presidential election from being a blowout, putting Romney and other Republicans in a position where they had at least a chance to win. The beleagured Jonathan Collegio, chief spokesman for American Crossroads, has been on cable television nonstop in recent days, pointing out that the Obama campaign outspent the Romney campaign on TV ads by more than $150 million, and – with the exception of a few self-funded Republicans – most Democratic Senate candidates outraised their GOP counterparts this cycle, leaving it to outside organizations to make up the difference.

Rove himself, in his weekly Wall Street Journal column, blamed the election results on a number of other factors, including hurricane Sandy, for “interrupting” Romney’s momentum, The New York Times headline writer who titled Romney’s 2008 op-ed on the auto bailout “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” and the hotel worker who surreptitiously recorded Romney’s now-infamous remarks about the 47 percent.

But in an appearance on Fox News on Thursday, Rove created yet another mini-controversy when he said that President Obama won reelection “by suppressing the vote.” (It turns out he was not referring to any actual attempts to prevent people from voting, but rather the Obama campaign’s efforts, through negative ads, to paint Romney as an unacceptable alternative – something Rove himself was accused of doing to Sen. John Kerry in 2004, and a tactic that has pretty much become par for the course in modern politics.)

The real question, of course, is how much any of this will affect Rove’s reputation and position as the GOP’s premier strategist and fundraiser going forward.

Our prediction? Not a whole lot. For one thing, politics is littered with operatives whose track records never seem to get in the way of future opportunities. Remember the famous “Shrum curse” – referring to Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, who worked on no fewer than eight losing presidential campaigns? And of course, if you put this election aside, Rove’s track record is still pretty good.

In addition, one of Rove's biggest past accomplishments was helping George W. Bush win 35 percent of the Hispanic vote as part of his 2000 victory – a share that today seems positively colossal for a Republican (Romney won just 27 percent of Hispanics). That's a particularly relevant success story, given the need for Republicans to bring more Hispanics into the party fold in the future. If the GOP decides that a new Hispanic strategy will be key to its success going forward, who knows, Rove might just be the one to spearhead it. 

If nothing else, Rove's longtime connections to the Bush family are likely to keep him in a prime position: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's name is often mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential candidate. And now it appears that Governor Bush's son, George P. Bush, is preparing to run for office in Texas –with many already calling him a future star of the party.

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