Rove's Bipartisan Role Models

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By Albert R. Hunt

In my column this week, I discuss Karl Rove's efforts to minimize the role of radical elements in the Republican Party. Rove has some prominent models: William F. Buckley and Bill Clinton.

In the early 1960s, Buckley, the influential editor of the National Review, decided that the extreme views of the John Birch Society threatened a burgeoning conservative movement. Robert Welch, who ran the Birchers, had charged that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the allied commander in World War II, was a "dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy."

If groups such as the John Birch Society weren't isolated, Buckley warned, potential conservative voters "will pass by crackpot alley" and align with the other political side.

His tactic succeeded, though Buckley gave comfort to Southern segregationists when he opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He later said that opposing the legislation may have been the biggest mistake of his public life.

 In 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, after heated debate within his campaign, decided to indirectly take on Jesse Jackson, a dominant influence in the Democratic Party and a controversial figure for many voters. The political director of Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign told the Clinton camp that Mondale had met with Jackson more than 70 times to thrash out disagreements.

Clinton, the 1992 presumptive Democratic nominee, spoke to Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. He used the occasion to criticize the rap singer Sister Souljah, who a month earlier had talked about killing white people.

Jackson was furious. But that marked the beginning of a decline in his influence in the Democratic Party. The Clinton campaign thought the move was well-received by a lot of voters.

(Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

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-0- Feb/24/2013 16:56 GMT