The lame duck becomes a lonely duck

They say in Washington that no one’s indispensable, but for the Bush White House Karl Rove comes close. Now, in another blow the White House didn’t really need, Rove has announced that he is resigning at the end of the month and returning to Texas.

The White House didn’t even try to put a good face on it. “Obviously, it’s a big loss for us,” said deputy press secretary Dana Perino.

For 14 years, Rove has been George W. Bush’s top political adviser and close confidante, and although he held the title of deputy White House chief of staff he was clearly the most influential of the president’s aides.

Rove said he was leaving because his nominal boss, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, had told senior staff that if they stayed past this Labor Day they were honor-bound to stay on until Bush left office in January 2009. But some suspect he was weary of sparring with Democratic-run congressional committees that have been relentlessly investigating him.

Rove was accorded a Rose Garden appearance with Bush and then flew off to Texas with the president aboard Air Force One. He leaves Washington still as cheerfully optimistic as Bush. Rove believes the Republicans will retake Congress, retain the White House and that Iraq will improve.

His own plans are to write a book and stay out of electoral politics. He said, and this is a little hard to believe considering the likely demand for his services, that he will not work on a campaign or endorse a candidate in 2008.

Inside the White House, Rove helped Bush by framing issues, often successfully, like the first-term tax cuts, sometimes not so successfully, as in the second-term immigration reform. His principal role was political strategist, for which Bush gave him the nicknames “The Architect” and “Boy Genius.”

He engineered victories for Bush and the Republicans in 2000, 2002 and 2004, but his magic deserted him in 2006 when he predicted a GOP victory right up until the Democrats gained control of Congress.

Since then, Bush’s inner circle has almost completely dispersed. He has lost his top domestic counselor, budget director, chief attorney, political director, top adviser on strategic initiatives and two deputy national-security advisers, and that’s on top of the earlier departure of his first press secretary and his national-security adviser to be secretary of state.

Bush’s final year in office is going to be his most difficult in terms of getting things done.