Former Bush speechwriter David Frum offers his take on Karl Rove's legacy:
As a political strategist, Karl Rove offered a brilliant answer to the wrong question.
The question he answered so successfully was a political one: How could Republicans win elections after Bill Clinton steered the Democrats to the center?
The question he unfortunately ignored was a policy question: What does the nation need — and how can conservatives achieve it? . . .
This was a politics of party-building and coalition-assembly. It was a politics that aimed at winning elections. It was a politics that treated the problems of governance as secondary. But of course governance is what incumbents get judged on — and since 2004, the negative verdict on President Bush's governance has created a lethal political environment for Republican candidates.
Inspiring rhetoric and solemn promises can do only so much for an incumbent administration. Can it win wars? Can it respond to natural disasters? Can it safeguard the nation's borders? Can it fill positions of responsibility with worthy appointees? If it cannot do those things, not even the most sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation can save it. . . .
Building coalitions is essential to political success. But it is not the same thing as political success. The point of politics is to elect governments, and political organizations are ultimately judged by the quality of government they deliver. Paradoxically, the antigovernment conservatives of the 1980s took the problems of government far more seriously than the pro-government conservatives of the 2000s.
I think Frum gets it about right. On most issues, the Bush Administration elevated the politics of obtaining and maintaining political power over articulating and advancing a desirable policy agenda, to the detriment of the nation and (eventually) the Administration itself.