The resignation of Karl Rove, architect of President George W. Bush’s election triumphs and a crucial behind-the-scenes policy guru, is the latest sign of the White House’s diminished agenda and shattered dreams of a Republican super-majority, analysts said.
Rove, the last and most prominent of Bush’s inner circle of Texas advisers to quit the administration, leaves a lame-duck president suffering from low approval ratings, an unpopular war in Iraq and public rejection in the 2006 elections.
With Democrats in control of Congress and brimming with optimism about the 2008 White House race, Rove’s talk of a lasting and historic shift to Republican dominance seems long ago.
“This closes the chapter where George Bush and Karl Rove thought they were building a new Republican majority that would last a generation. That is clearly off the table,” said Cal Jillson, a political analyst at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Bush’s top domestic priorities — overhauls of Social Security and immigration — are dead in Congress, leaving the administration scrambling in its final 17 months to save his first-term tax cuts, blunt Democratic spending priorities and salvage the war in Iraq.
“At this point all they are trying to do is save some of the signature items from their first term and hand off the war in Iraq to the next guy in better shape than it looks today,” Jillson said.
Rove, known as “Bush’s brain” by foes but nicknamed “boy genius” by the president, said on Monday he will leave the White House at the end of the month to return to Texas with his family.
His departure leaves a huge void in a White House where his influence was matched only by Vice President Dick Cheney, and where since the 2004 election he had filled multiple policy roles as deputy chief of staff.
“Rove is the guy who wove all the policy and political threads through the needle. Now you’re talking about a small committee to just duplicate the expertise and perspective he brought,” said Bruce Buchanan, a political analyst at the University of Texas.
He said Rove’s departure, along with the recent resignation of adviser and longtime Bush aide Dan Bartlett, would leave Bush increasingly isolated in the White House.
“There is nobody left with that kind of relationship with Bush and that closeness,” he said, adding that might explain a recent increase in Bush’s visits with his father, the former president.
But White House spokesman Tony Snow said Rove’s resignation was not a sign the administration was starting to count down the days to the end on January 20, 2009.
“If you take a look, the president’s got a pretty aggressive domestic agenda and there’s a lot of stuff to be done on foreign policy,” Snow said. “As the president has said many times, he’s going to sprint to the tape.”
Analysts said Bush’s declining political fortunes and the Democratic win in 2006 had proved the flaws in Rove’s political strategy, implemented after the September 11 attacks, of focusing on pleasing the Republican Party’s conservative base.
“The idea you could govern by appealing to the Republican base was simply wrong,” Jillson said. “The independents drifted away until all they had was the base.”
Rove told reporters traveling to Texas with the president he viewed November’s election results as a temporary setback for Republicans. He said he would not take an “official” role with any 2008 Republican presidential campaign, but left the door open for an unofficial consulting position.
Democrats, happy to see Rove go, condemned him for increasing political partisanship and divisiveness in Washington.
“Goodbye, good riddance,” Democratic presidential contender John Edwards said in a statement.