One of the pleasures offered to readers of the Wall Street Journal is the weekly political column by Karl Rove. Rove, as is widely known, heads the American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS organizations that between them, according to the National Journal, have spent $120 million on advertisements in the presidential campaign and millions more promoting other Republican candidates.
Rove was the Svengali behind President George W. Bush's election in 2000 and masterminded his successful reelection strategy in 2004. He is widely respected as a political strategist and tactician and therefore his views, as laid out in his weekly column, hold special interest.
All the following excerpts come from Rove's own website: Rove.com.Already last summer, on June 22, 2011, Rove was looking ahead to a Republican victory in 2012. He wrote:
President Barack Obama is likely to be defeated in 2012. The reason is that he faces four serious threats. The economy is very weak and unlikely to experience a robust recovery by Election Day. Key voter groups have soured on him. He's defending unpopular policies. And he's made bad strategic decisions.
By May 17, 2012, with Mitt Romney safely ensconced as the Republican nominee, Rove saw only trouble ahead for the incumbent:
In 2008, Team Obama ran a first-rate campaign. They made relatively few unforced errors and capitalized on openings. Things look very different this time. The re-election effort is off-key and off-balance, making the president's strategic weaknesses more apparent. His record is uninspiring. He has no explanation for his first term and no rationale for a second.
Skip ahead to August 9, when Rove's reading of the polls showed trouble ahead for Obama:
Wednesday's Gallup poll had President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney essentially tied, with Mr. Obama at 47% and Mr. Romney at 46%. That's good news for the challenger: Mr. Romney has absorbed a punishing three-month Obama television barrage that drained the incumbent's war chest. Historically, undecided voters tend to break late for the challenger.
A week later, after Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate, Rove was positively giddy over the choice.
It is said that in politics, if you're explaining, you're losing. That's not always true. Sometimes when you're explaining, you're reassuring voters and undermining your opponent's credibility. That's the case with this issue now. It's why Team Romney was smart to quickly run an ad attacking Mr. Obama for robbing Medicare to pay for ObamaCare.
Democrats have long had an issue advantage on Medicare. Republicans cowered in fear. This time it's different. The Romney-Ryan ticket is not only talking about Medicare, it is putting Mr. Obama on the defensive. If Republicans succeed, politics will never be the same.
The following week brought a similar message from Rove on the eve of the party conventions:
Mr. Romney has a decided advantage, since Mr. Obama doesn't even pretend to offer a second-term vision. Mr. Romney's pick of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate exemplifies the GOP standard-bearer's desire to make this a campaign of big ideas. Having a governing agenda gives the Romney campaign a significant advantage entering the fall. If pursued with clarity and vigor, it should be enough to win over voters who remain up for grabs -- and with them, the election.
The Democratic convention was in full swing on Sept. 6, when Rover wrote: "On every front, Mr. Obama is on the defensive, fighting to keep states and voter groups in his winning coalition. He can absorb some erosion from his 2008 totals, but not much. Right now the signs are ominous for him."
By Sept. 11, the conventions were both over and the Democrats were widely seen as having used their opportunity to make their case more successfully. But Rove saw only hard times ahead for the President:
David Axelrod, one of the president's top political advisers, recently said Mr. Obama faces a "Titanic struggle" for re-election. Mr. Axelrod is right, but not in the way he means. We are rapidly approaching the time when arguing about one set of political tactics versus another may be about as useful for Mr. Obama as rearranging deck chairs on the world's most famous passenger liner.
By Sept. 20, polls seem to be moving in Obama's direction, especially in swing states. Rove didn't share the general Republican gloom:
Presidential races can look one way now but much differently on Election Day. In mid-September 1980, President Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan 44% to 40% in the Gallup poll. By late October, Reagan had slumped to 39% in Gallup, while Mr. Carter had risen to 47%. Reagan won by nine points.
As for the here-and-now, one key number to watch is Mr. Obama's vote share. In the past month, there have been 83 national polls and daily tracking surveys. Mr. Obama reached 50% in just nine and his average was 47%. That is bad news for an incumbent when attitudes about the No. 1 issue--the economy -- are decidedly sour.
In his most recent column, Rove looks ahead to the debates as a chance for Romney to set the record straight:
"By carefully calling into question the president's veracity, Mr. Romney will have the opportunity to provide context: Mr. Obama doesn't shoot straight because he can't defend his record and has no agenda for the future except the status quo, stay the course."
I'm going to continue to read Rove's columns with interest. I'm especially looking forward to the one he will write just after the election on November 6.