Turn over a scandal in Washington these days and the chances are you’ll find Karl Rove. His tracks are everywhere: whether it’s helping to purge United States attorneys, coaching bureaucrats on how to spend taxpayers’ money to promote Republican candidates, hijacking the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for partisan politics, or helping to organize a hit on the character of one of the first people to publicly reveal the twisting of intelligence reports on Iraq.
Whatever the immediate objective, Mr. Rove seems focused on one overarching goal: creating a permanent Republican majority, even if that means politicizing every aspect of the White House and subverting the governmental functions of the executive branch. This is not the Clinton administration’s permanent campaign. The Clinton people had difficulty distinguishing between the spin cycle of a campaign and the tone of governing. That seems quaint compared with the Bush administration’s far more menacing failure to distinguish the Republican Party from the government, or the state itself.
This was, perhaps, the inevitable result of taking the chief operative of a presidential campaign, one famous for his scorched-earth style, and ensconcing him in the White House — not in a political role, but as a key player in the formation of policy. Mr. Rove never had to submit to Senate confirmation hearings. Yet, from the very start, photographs of cabinet meetings showed him in the background, keeping an enforcer’s eye on the proceedings. After his re-election in 2004, President Bush formally put Mr. Rove in charge of all domestic policy.
In that position, as David Kirkpatrick and Jim Rutenberg reported in The Times, Mr. Rove took a lead role in selecting federal judges and the hiring — and firing — of United States attorneys. Mr. Rove’s staff maneuvered to fire the prosecutor in Arkansas and replace him with a Rove protégé, and also seems to have been involved in the firing of a United States attorney in New Mexico who refused to file what he considered to be baseless charges of election fraud against Democrats.
Mr. Rove’s efforts to maintain one-party rule go deep into the government. Last week, we learned about a meeting set up by Mr. Rove’s staff with officials of the General Services Administration that was wildly inappropriate and perhaps illegal. The aim, as outlined by Mr. Rove’s deputy, Scott Jennings, seems to have been to take advantage of the billions of dollars in contracts put out by the agency every year to return Republicans to the majority in Congress in 2008. It included PowerPoint slides on vulnerable House and Senate seats.
This sort of behavior should not be all that surprising. It was not that long ago that the Bush White House embraced the priorities of the Republican governor of Mississippi and virtually ignored the far greater needs of Louisiana’s Democratic governor after Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Rove retreated a bit from the public eye in the heat of the Lewis Libby trial, but after avoiding indictment, he seems to have regained his confidence. Take a look at YouTube to see his bizarre, humor-challenged gyrations as “MC Rove” at an annual media dinner in Washington the other night.
The investigation of the firings of the United States attorneys seems to be closing in on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who should have been fired weeks ago. But Congress should bring equal scrutiny to the more powerful Mr. Rove. If it does, especially by forcing him to testify in public, it will find that he has been at the vortex of many of the biggest issues they are now investigating.