Karl Rove put himself on shaky ground earlier this year when he sided with near shoo-in Mike Castle over no-shot Christine O'Donnell in the Delaware GOP Senate primary, then compounded his mistake on election night by conceding the obvious reality that O'Donnell has no shot. Now the movement is turning on him with a vengeance due to this comment in an interview with Der Speigel:
SPIEGEL: Is the Tea Party movement a repeat of the Reagan Revolution?
Rove: It's a little bit different because the Reagan Revolution was driven a lot by the persona of one man, Ronald Reagan, who had an optimistic and sunny view of what the nation could be. It was also a well-organized, coherent, ideologically motivated and conservative revolution. If you look underneath the surface of the Tea Party movement, on the other hand, you will find that it is not sophisticated. It's not like these people have read the economist Friedrich August von Hayek. Rather, these are people who are deeply concerned about what they see happening to their country, particularly when it comes to spending, deficits, debt and health care.
The comments provoked an uproar. Even Rush Limbaugh, who has invited Rove to guest host his program, is (somewhat mildly) going after Rove. Rove's suspect place within the movement can be measured by the fact that Mike Huckabee has singled him out as emblematic of the dread establishment.
Naturally, Rove is now furiously backpedaling. Here is his attempt to get himself back into the good graces of the movement:
BOB SCHIEFFER: Let’s talk about the Tea Party a little bit. Rush Limbaugh said you feel threatened by the Tea Party because you and the-- the other establishment folks didn’t have anything to do with forming it.
KARL ROVE: No, no. I-- I welcome it. I think it’s one of the most positive and wholesome developments. What he took out of context was a comment I made in an interview with a bunch of hostile German reporters in which I said, “The Tea Party is not sophisticated.” And then yet, in my definition of the word sophisticated, I was using the one about pretentiously or superficially wise. These are not people who are skilled in the ways of Washington. They don’t want to be. They’re ordinary Americans from Main Street America who have created a massive grassroots effort driven by a sentiment in this country. Even more important than the groups is the sentiment that’s driving it, that the government is on a terribly dangerous course of spending too much money, running up too much deficit and taking up too much of our-- too much control of our lives with things like Obamacare. And I consider it to be wholesome, patriotic, and incredibly positive for the country.
BOB SCHIEFFER: I-- I want to get back to that but I must ask you about something you just said. Are you saying, have you come on FACE THE NATION this morning and said for the record that Rush Limbaugh takes things out of context?
KARL ROVE: Well, in this instance, he-- he didn’t-- he may have commented before he saw the entire interview. Look, he’s a friend of mine. And he is more-- he is almost more than anybody else is responsible for helping encourage people to educate themselves about the-- the impact of the spending, the deficit and Obamacare so that they have become politically active. He has a vast audience and that audience and-- and others have talked to that audience as well. And people have come to-- think about it. The President of the United States has the biggest bully pulpit in the country. He’s got vast majorities in the Senate and the House. And yet, the health care bill goes from being a-- as a general concept favored by American people in the early part of 2009, by two to one to when the bill actually passed--forty-four percent of the Americans favored it, forty-seven disapproved of it. And today, if you take a look at the average of the polls over the last several months, it’s an average of forty percent of the American people favor the bill and nearly fifty percent today don’t favor. It’s the only piece of major so
This is quite a hilarious effort, and it's worth considering Rove's method here. The defense begins with a pro forma assertion that his comments were taken out of context. (When pressed in a follow up by Schieffer how this happened, Rove immediately retreats, and makes no effort to explain what the context was.)
Next, Rove shifts the blame to "a bunch of hostile German reporters," who, his audience could assume, may have twisted his words or edited out context, though in fact the entire interview was published unabridged and the ideology of his interviewer is irrelevant.
Third, Rove says he meant "unsophisticated" as a compliment -- "in my definition of the word sophisticated, I was using the one about pretentiously or superficially wise." That actually might make sense, especially in the Bushian world in which intellect in a mark of pretension and snobbishness, something that distinguishes faculty members and NPR listeners from Real Americans. Except it's obvious from the interview that Rove did not mean it this way. He meant sophisticated in the other, positive sense in which conservatives use it -- to connote a familiarity with the works of right-wing authors. This is the sense of the idea that Rove uses to cast himself as a genuine intellectual, and it's clearly not a compliment he was directing at the Tea Party.
This is a tenuous defense, one that Rove would only make if he genuinely thought the Tea Party consisted of idiots. Thus on the the final element of his defense: distraction. Rove ends both his answers by directing the issue back to the comfortable terrain of the evils of Obamacare and big government, and the specific glories of Limbaugh and the Tea Parties in combating them.
Will this be enough to save Rove's reputation? Or, more plausibly, exactly what is he going to have to do to re-secure himself as a conservative in good standing? We shall see.