To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, Karl Rove, you're no Mark Hanna. Hanna didn't live to see the fruition of his grand design. But using the pragmatic approach he pioneered, Republicans won seven of the none presidential elections from 1896 to the Great Depression and controlled both houses of Congress for all but eight years during that span. The party was dominant or competitive everywhere outside the Deep South.
Rove knows this history as well as the handful of scholars who write about it do. Yet the strategy he has urged on his president and party is opposite that of Hanna. Instead of broadening his GOP's base in a divided nation, Rove has relied on Big Business and the Christian right to rally their loyalists.
Instead of enacting programs that could have given substance to the slogan of "compassionate conservatism," he led Republicans to pass big tax cuts, oppose a hike in the minimum wage and, until recently, deny the facts about global warming.
A strict adherence to conservative gospel buoyed Republicans as long as the administration seemed a reliable defender of national security. But that polarizing stance has made them vulnerable as Bush's incompetence has outweighed his toughness. It would have been shrewder to imitate Hanna's method of truumphing through compromise. Unfortunately for the GOP, Rove convinced Bush that compromise was a sign of weakness, and Bush carried that stance to all aspects of his presidency. Karl Rove might have once been one of the Three Wise Men in this administration, but now he's joined the others as one of the Three Stooges.