As I sat by my window and staring out at the wonderful Washington, D.C., landscape, my office announced a phone call from Air Force One.
Hmm. Been a while since someone called me from Air Force One or Two. But I knew it could be only one person: Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove. Despite our many political and policy differences, I have gotten to know and respect Mr. Rove's political skills. And I have the scars to prove it.
My first thought on hearing of the Rove resignation was that this is too good to be true. Mr. Rove is actually leaving a town where he's on everybody's A-list? No way. Mr. Rove packing his bags before January 2009? I didn't believe it, so Mr. Rove put the president on the phone.
President Bush, always cordial and down to earth, told me it was time for Mr. Rove to go and make some real money. Mr. Bush said Mr. Rove deserved to earn a good living and to take his wife, Darby, out once in awhile. I told the president Mr. Rove would also be able to afford to take me out for something better than the White House mess. Laughs aside, I am afraid this is not a good sign for Democrats. Mr. Rove's departure should be a wake-up call.
It's too early to be popping champagne or measuring drapes over in the West Wing. My gut tells me the departure of the so-called "architect" of Mr. Bush's political victories should serve as a warning sign to Democrats to be careful what you wish for.
At the Bush-Cheney White House, Mr. Rove was inside the system. He was constrained (theoretically) by the rules and strictures governing members of the executive branch. Certainly, Mr. Rove found, created and exploited many loopholes to get around the restrictions. Exactly how many e-mails did he send (and delete) from his Republican National Committee e-mail address to avoid the congressional scrutiny such communications would have received if they were sent from a White House address? We may never know.
Mr. Rove managed and oversaw a huge piece of real estate in the West Wing — from the political shop to the policy wheel. Ultimately, he had a hand in shaping the Bush presidency. With low approval ratings, divisions in the ranks and a Republican brand out of sync with its base, Mr. Rove has plenty to do in retirement. He is a master strategist who knows how to work the system. He always has, and he will continue to do so from outside it. Message to Democrats: Mr. Rove is more dangerous in the shadows than he ever was in the spotlight.
"Divide and conquer" is an ancient strategy, but in the last decade, Mr. Rove has taken it to new heights, or, more accurately, depths. His win-at-all-costs mentality has delivered many victories, but not without cost. While Mr. Rove solidified the gains made by Republicans in the 1990s and helped the GOP maintain its electoral edge through all but the last midterm election, he failed in his ultimate goal of securing a permanent majority. But that doesn't mean he'll stop trying. I don't believe Mr. Rove will simply walk away and go back to hunting quail. I know him, and I'm sure part of his focus is to help reshape the Bush presidency and secure a legacy for his good friend and enabler.
His genius, albeit largely nefarious, could take the GOP's right wing, single-issue base only so far before the inevitable backlash against his divisive tactics caught up with him. The country is now sick and tired of being divided. The voters yearn for a leader Mr. Rove once promised — someone to restore our faith in government, to, as Abraham Lincoln once said, "bind up the nation's wounds" and bring us back together.
Mr. Rove's resignation is not a retirement. It's just another opportunity for him to create that lasting Republican majority he envisioned years ago and to spend his waking days doing what he so enjoys — beating Democrats in the alleys and gutters. Just ask Sen. Hillary Clinton, Mr. Rove's target when he called in to speak to Rush Limbaugh. He couldn't help it. Mr. Rove just had to take one last shot before riding out of town. More to come, Team Clinton.
Stay tuned, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and anyone else who decides to get in Mr. Bush's way as his presidency comes to an end. It will take leadership, the kind we have not witnessed thus far in this Congress, for Democrats to forge compromises and drive the country forward instead of miring it in mudslinging and wedge issues. Despite all the president's protests and veto threats, the American public will find real leadership a welcome respite and may reward the new majority next year at the polls.
Mr. Rove proved you can win elections with rumors, fear, division and manipulation. But you can't win hearts that way. People wise up. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes decades. Mr. Rove may be out, but he's not down, and he will not simply go away. Democrats must throw the champagne back in the fridge and return to the drawing board, because there's a storm brewing, and we'd better be prepared. Whatever's brewing is something to fear.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and National Public Radio and the former campaign manager for Al Gore.