The Magazine

Karl Rove Laughs Last

Why his non-indictment is such good news for the White House.

Jun 26, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 39 • By FRED BARNES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The conventional wisdom is that Bush's failed pitch for Social Security reform in 2005 was a political and substantive disaster. It surely didn't help Bush's job approval rating. The president moved the ball, though, making partial privatization far more publicly acceptable, but probably leaving the job of achieving it to a successor. Conservatives should be thrilled with Bush on Social Security since he boldly went where Reagan feared to tread.

On immigration, Rove has reinforced Bush's instincts, which are to seek the maximum--stiffer border enforcement, a temporary worker program, and earned citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the United States. This irritates conservatives who favor enforcement only, but matches the view of Reagan, the conservative standard-bearer.

Immigration affects the Hispanic vote, a long-term obsession of Rove and Bush. In 2004, Bush lifted the Republican share of that vote to 44 percent, a record for a Republican presidential candidate. Left to their own devices, conservatives and congressional Republicans would enact an enforcement-only bill that might drive away Hispanics and deny Republicans a lasting majority in America. Rove and Bush are eager to prevent that by saving conservatives from themselves.

During his three-year ordeal as a Fitzgerald target, Rove showed remarkable equanimity. A few weeks ago he apologized to counselor Michael Gerson for having been "distracted" by the investigation. Gerson responded that he hadn't noticed. Indeed, he really hadn't.

For all Rove's clout, the White House has not been unswervingly supportive of him. On Fox News Sunday on May 14, First Lady Laura Bush was asked by host Chris Wallace about the Marriage Protection Amendment that "Rove and congressional Republicans are planning to reintroduce." Mrs. Bush, who doesn't favor the amendment, responded waspishly, "I didn't know Karl was an elected official."

A month earlier, the White House announced that Joel Kaplan would replace Rove as deputy chief of staff for policy. The impression was left that Rove was being demoted and stripped of any policy role. He wasn't. And Rove continued his primary task as the White House official in charge of the paramount domestic policy issue of 2006, immigration.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard and author of Rebel-in-Chief.