- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Behind every modern American president is invariably a resident guru, a political number-cruncher, that got the man the job in the first place and labors to get his client a second term. Some presidents Bill Clinton, for example had more than one.
In an earlier day, Franklin Roosevelt relied on Louis Howe, who relied on connections more than knowing numbers. Most stay in the background and, when they become a household word like Dwight Eisenhower's Sherman Adams, president and eminence grise come to rue the day.
So, who exactly is George W. Bush's genius? Lou Debose, Jan Reid and Carl Cannon tell us in "Boy Genius" about the rise and rise of Karl Rove, who few people know, and the press pack has yet to descend on at least for now.
Mr. Rove, it appears, deserves much of the credit for the younger Bush's swift political ascent, although it helped that political enemies have consistently underestimated the former Texas governor.
Mr. Bush, born to wealth and a famous family, seemed a pushover to his opponents. Mr. Rove, who started with little but keen wits and a penchant for hard work, made over the Texas Republican Party and thereby ended Democratic dominance of that state which had existed since Reconstruction. Next, with the shrewd George W. (then a political neophyte) as a client, Mr. Rove took away the Texas governorship from a popular incumbent Democrat Ann Richards, and gave the top job, along with most other statewide offices, to the Republicans. Democrats in Texas have been reeling ever since.
In the book, the authors offer insights about Texas' political tornado (the mirror image of California's), and they keep the reader entertained. In fact, both Democrats and Republicans ought to pay attention, because if the Rove-Bush approach is applied to the rest of the nation, the GOP is going to be a majority party for a long, long time. Then again, maybe not. After all, if nothing else, l'affaire Lott shows us that at heart many Republicans prefer to remain in their country-club bunkers.
So how does Karl Rove do it? He does his homework, knows the voters and excludes no one (especially not Hispanic voters). And he stays on message with a short list of issues that resonate at all income levels tax cuts, better education, restoring political civility. The "Boy Genius" was also an early practitioner of direct mail, and honed its techniques while others were still relying on friends and families to raise funds.
In his quick rise to national politics, Mr. Bush garnered both endorsements and cash before anyone else had even gotten started, and in that the Rove hand can be clearly seen. But Mr. Bush's greatest achievement was getting the Republican establishment's early support while he was Texas governor, posing as an outsider. The authors simply marvel at that rope trick, but shouldn't really. Successful politicians often do it, although seldom with such brio. Jimmy Carter ran as an outsider, and then stocked his government with insiders despite the protestations of yet another presidential guru, Hamilton Jordan.
So how long is Mr. Rove good for? The authors note that Washington loves a winner, and as a winner he is untouchable. Perhaps. Washington is also envious, and there has never been a lack of schadenfreude in this town. Still, the Republicans won both houses and did so following largely a White House strategy where the president was deployed in the right places at the right moment. The senatorial victories in Missouri, Georgia and Minnesota were real triumphs and almost wipe out the miscues in the California gubernatorial race and the setback in Louisiana, not covered in the book.
So, where from here ? To 2004, which is very much on screen at the White House these days. Of course, nasty things like a war with Iraq or increasing unpleasantness with North Korea may get in the way, and number crunchers, as useful as they are, cannot do much with stubborn foreign facts. Ditto for an economy still attempting to recover from the 1990s irrational exuberance. But if anyone can do it, Karl Rove can, and the authors show us why.

Roger Fontaine worked on the national security staff under President Ronald Reagan.

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