For many frustrated right-wing activists, news of Karl Rove’s departure from the White House may have felt like good riddance to bad rubbish. Richard Viguerie called it “good news for conservatives.” Paul Weyrich, another old hand of the conservative movement, said, “You have to say that if (Rove) can claim credit for what happened in 2004, it is reasonable that he is somewhat responsible for where we are in 2007.”
But if these right-wing activists can pin the blame for the administration’s woes on the president’s erstwhile “architect,” they will have a hard time glossing over Rove’s role in giving them an important berth of political power in the Bush White House.
As Rove helped make the Republican Party dominant in Texas in the 1990s, he increasingly forged an alliance with the Religious Right, one that went so far as to find “Christian nation” pseudo-historian David Barton the state party’s vice chairman. As early as 1997, when he apparently helped departing Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed get a cushy consulting gig at Enron and kept Reed from attaching to another campaign, Rove saw the far Right as a ticket to the White House.
After Bush’s win in 2000, Rove saw locking in Evangelical and fundamentalist voters – by inflaming them over wedge issues – as key to creating a “permanent majority” out of a victory so narrow that his candidate lost the popular vote, and he developed working relationships with religious-right leaders. In 2004, the Arlington Group – a powerful coalition right-wing groups and leaders – put pressure on Rove directly and was able to secure the president’s endorsement of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Although the Right complained that Bush dropped the amendment after using it for his re-election, Rove retained enough trust on the Right to personally convince James Dobson to support the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court—support which was withdrawn later, to Dobson’s embarrassment, after a right-wing campaign against her coalesced and drove her to step aside. “Dobson didn’t call here asking for any advice,” an official at the Family Research Council told reporter Dan Gilgoff. “He just relied on the word of Karl Rove.”
In spite of a few apparent missteps like that, Rove will be remembered fondly for his efforts to organize Bush’s campaigns around abortion, gays, and judicial nominees, and to give the Religious Right enormous access. For while Rove helped create a politics structured around far-right values, he also helped solidify a Religious Right, addicted to this influence, that remains structured around the Republican Party.