Skip to content
Subscriber Only

A Republican Revolt Against Karl Rove

As the GOP tries to rebuild, activists accuse the strategist of trying to shove them aside
“I think Rove is trying to defend himself and deflect from his failure”—David Bossie
“I think Rove is trying to defend himself and deflect from his failure”—David BossiePhoto illustration by 731; Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images (Rove)

Twenty-one-year-old Karl Rove was a portrait of earnestness and ambition when Dan Rather interviewed him about Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign for CBS News on Jan. 18, 1972. Sporting owlish glasses and long sideburns, the president’s youth vote director held up a bumper sticker rebranding the GOP as the Generation Of Peace and explained how college students were the key to the election. “You can’t get some 35-year-old to teach the Republican Party how to get young people,” said Rove, supremely confident even then.

Over the next 40 years, Rove became the party’s most influential, admired, and feared strategist. For the first time in his career, that status is threatened. Tea Party activists are challenging the traditional party structure and have turned on Rove. Leaders who just months ago praised his 2012 fundraising machine as the model for modern campaigns fault the strategist for failing to deliver Mitt Romney to the White House and a Republican majority to the U.S. Senate. A study by the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks campaign expenditures, found that Rove’s two groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, spent more than $175 million in the 2012 general election. None of the candidates they supported won. Rove’s record in November was “just beyond abysmal,” says Brent Bozell, a prominent conservative activist.