Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How to Fight like Karl Rove

"...I think they put some lipstick on the pig, but it's still a pig."

I will not pretend to be an expert on Karl Rove. Entire scholarly careers will in the future be based on the study of Rove's brilliance as a master strategist and tactician - when it comes to winning elections, anyway. As we have seen over the past decade or so, Republicans are very good at getting themselves elected to positions of power, but are not very good at governing. Or running wars. Or economies. Or anything else, really, other than winning elections. And throughout most of the Bush Administration, the guy making sure the elections were won was Karl Rove - Turd Blossom, as his good buddy George W. Bush dubbed him, because of his ability to make something good come out of any mess, no matter how fecal. Good for Rove, good for Bush, not necessarily very good for anyone else, or for the country as a whole.

He's not gone. He's still around. Oh, he's a TV pundit now, and media ethics rules prohibit him from officially consulting with a candidate's campaign. But he has admitted that he will take a look at things if friends ask him to. And he has trained plenty of proteges to carry on in his stead.

No, I'm no expert on Karl Rove. But I'm a professional observer of systems. I can detect patterns, trends, even tease out reasons behind them sometimes, given enough data over a long enough period of time. So over the years I have made some observations of the way Rove has operated. I doubt this even describes a small fraction of his strategic brilliance, and I'm sure I'm missing some really major things that are too subtle for me to notice. But here's my poor attempt at a list:

1. ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK. First, last, and always, keep your opponent on the defensive. Never let them take a breath, or know where the next shot is coming from. Keep attacking. Even Muhammad Ali's "Rope-A-Dope" strategy will fail after a sustained attack of sufficient intensity.

2. Attack on weaknesses. This is basic: if your opponent has a weakness, exploit it. Amplify it. Inflame it. Turn it into a festering wound that cannot heal by itself.

3. Attack on strengths. This is clever. Identify your opponent's strongest points and attack there. Even if you fail to do serious damage - and you will almost certainly do serious damage with a sustained attack of sufficient intensity - you will undermine public confidence in your opponent's strengths, making them less valuable as assets.

  • Your opponent was part of the administration that led the country to its most successful economic period and ended with a balanced budged and a treasury surplus? Then the economy is overheated and needs to be talked down; the surplus belongs to the people and should be returned to them, and how dare the government keep this money for unspecified future use!
  • Your opponent has a strong and well-researched position on the environment, backed by a broad scientific consensus? Then the science is suspect, and anyone who accepts it is a naive fool.
  • Your opponent is a decorated war hero, wounded in battle? Then the incident of his heroism must be a lie, and the injury is a fake, and Purple Hearts are passed out like Band-Aids, anyway.
4. Make your weaknesses into strengths. Oopsie, turns out your hastily-chosen running mate has an underage daughter who got knocked up by a 18-year-old skaterat while her mom and dad were off hunting and fishing and shooting and riding quads and racing snowmobiles and basically doing anything they could other than be parents to their children? values! Blessed event! This is wonderful! Get the sperm donor on a plane, into a suit, and onto the stage at the convention! Yayyyy, Family Values!

5. Project your faults onto your opponent, and claim their virtues as your own. So you were caught being out of touch with the economic situation of 99.99% of the American public? Well, when you're among the stratospherically wealthy, that's perfectly understandable. Let's say...your opponent is out of touch because he's rich! Oh, and he was presenting himself as the candidate of change? Now you're the candidate of change! Yessiree Bob, twenty-two years a part of the Washington, D.C. establishment, and now you're all about change.

6. Never admit an error, fault, or mistake. These are for the weak. Winners never admit or even acknowledge their mistakes.

7. Lie, cheat, and steal - whatever it takes. These aren't the finals of Olympic fencing. Hoyle and Robert and the Marquess of Queensberry don't have any say here. This isn't a game. Only winning matters.

8. Lie some more. Ooopsie again, that darned running mate of yours turns out to have supported the "Bridge to Nowhere" long before she opposed it? And then when the bridge project was finally cancelled after it had lost all support, she kept the money anyway? And built a multi-million dollar road to the bridge that now no longer exists even on paper? Quick, a catch phrase! " I told Congress, 'Thanks but no thanks!'" (pause for applause and cheers)

9. A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. Barack Obama is a Muslim. Barack Obama is a Muslim. Barack Obama is a Muslim. Barack Obama is a Muslim. What? He denies it? Well, who are you gonna believe, a guy named Barack Hussein Obama, or dozens of anonymous e-mails forwarded to your inbox? Barack Obama is a Muslim. Barack Obama is a Muslim...

10. Create a double standard, and get your opponent to agree to it.
Declare your troublesome running mate's family off-limits for those who would attack you. Then have her exploit, exploit, exploit them for as much short-term political gain as possible. Declare any criticism of her sexist, even when it comes nowhere near the things you said about the woman who was very nearly your opponent.

11. Play the media like a harp from Hell, while at the same time lambasting them for treating your side unfairly. Remember, you own (or should I say pwn) the radio talk shows. You have a major cable network in your pocket. You have an echo chamber and networks of anonymous e-mail forwarders and countless bloggers at your beck and call. Your allies own major media outlets throughout the country. So what do you do? Condemn the media for treating you unfairly, in the most strident terms possible. Raise hell. Make them look like the bad guys, even if all they've been doing is repeating the contents of your press releases. Get them to step back and rethink their coverage. Inevitably, the outcome will be more favorable coverage for you, and less critical reporting.

I'm sure I'm missing some major stuff, and some key examples. If anyone thinks of anything, please let me know in the comments.


Super G said...


Following 9/11 Bush and Cheney Co involved us two wars against a mushy collection of Islamic extremists. They present no plan for bringing the wars to an end, but the question patriotism of any that question their leadership, develop their own vocabulary (Islamo-Fascists), and start bending the truth (their opponents strengths are theirs and their weakens are projected onto their opponents).

More than anything, Bush Co. has used fear to ensure their continued governance.

Isn't it obvious that Karl got his play book right out of the pages of 1984.

Todd HellsKitchen said...

Great post! Nice shade of lipstick, too!