The Plank

Karl Rove, Lifelong Gay-Baiter

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In the course of discussing with Sam Tanenhaus his book The Death of Conservatism (an expansion of this essay he wrote for TNR), Reihan Salam claims in passing

Karl Rove never imagined that opposition to same-sex marriage would cement a permanent Republican majority. It was a distraction that I'm sure he found distasteful.

Andrew Sullivan pounces

Rove thought this was a distraction? From his realignment? Does Reihan recall the kind of politics Rove cut his teeth on in the South? Gay-baiting was one critical part of his strategy for realignment.

Andrew doesn't cite it, but the best piece on the subject (at least of which I'm aware) was written by Josh Green in November 2004, at Andrew's current (and Reihan's former) home The Atlantic. Indeed, reading it anew, I'm still shocked by some of the details. In the 2004 context that Reihan was specifically referencing, Green singles out gay marriage as an issue that others in the GOP feared Rove was overplaying, thanks to his long experience in Texas:  "Several consultants pointed to the issue of gay marriage, which one described as a perfect Texas wedge issue.... But he doubted that the issue would have the same effect in the less conservative battleground states that are expected to decide this election."

But this is really nothing compared to the gay smears in which Rove had long specialized:

One constant throughout his career is the prevalence of whisper campaigns against opponents.... [O]ften a Rove campaign questions an opponent's sexual orientation. Bush's 1994 race against Ann Richards featured a rumor that she was a lesbian, along with a rare instance of such a tactic's making it into the public recordwhen a regional chairman of the Bush campaign allowed himself, perhaps inadvertently, to be quoted criticizing Richards for "appointing avowed homosexual activists" to state jobs.

Another example of Rove's methods involves a former ally of Rove's from Texas, John Weaver, who, coincidentally, managed McCain's bid in 2000. Many Republican operatives in Texas tell the story of another close race of sorts: a competition in the 1980s to become the dominant Republican consultant in Texas.... Both were emerging as leading consultants, but Weaver's star seemed to be rising faster. The details vary slightly according to which insider tells the story, but the main point is always the same: after Weaver went into business for himself and lured away one of Rove's top employees, Rove spread a rumor that Weaver had made a pass at a young man at a state Republican function. Weaver won't reply to the smear, but those close to him told me of their outrage at the nearly two-decades-old lie. Weaver was first made unwelcome in some Texas Republican circles, and eventually, following McCain's 2000 campaign, he left the Republican Party altogether.

Remarkably, it gets worse still. In 1994, Mark Kennedy was an Alabama Democrat who had the temerity to beat one of Rove's clients in a race for a judgeship. Here's what happened afterward:

When [Kennedy's] term on the court ended, he chose not to run for re-election. I later learned another reason why. Kennedy had spent years on the bench as a juvenile and family-court judge, during which time he had developed a strong interest in aiding abused children. In the early 1980s he had helped to start the Children's Trust Fund of Alabama, and he later established the Corporate Foundation for Children, a private, nonprofit organization....

Some of Kennedy's campaign commercials touted his volunteer work, including one that showed him holding hands with children. "We were trying to counter the positives from that ad," a former Rove staffer told me, explaining that some within the See camp initiated a whisper campaign that Kennedy was a pedophile. "It was our standard practice to use the University of Alabama Law School to disseminate whisper-campaign information," the staffer went on. "That was a major device we used for the transmission of this stuff. The students at the law school are from all over the state, and that's one of the ways that Karl got the information outhe knew the law students would take it back to their home towns and it would get out." This would create the impression that the lie was in fact common knowledge across the state. "What Rove does," says Joe Perkins, "is try to make something so bad for a family that the candidate will not subject the family to the hardship. Mark is not your typical Alabama macho, beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin', pickup-drivin' kind of guy. He is a small, well-groomed, well-educated family man, and what they tried to do was make him look like a homosexual pedophile. That was really, really hard to take."

Another "distraction" that Karl Rove found "distasteful"? I think not.

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