LIFTING THE VEIL. Lots of people are talking today about whether Karl Rove is attacking Hillary Clinton in order to boost Clinton's chances to become the Democratic nominee, on the assumption that she is the most beatable candidate. What's unusual about this is that some in the press (see the Los Angeles Times) are trying to discern Rove's motives by contemplating the idea that he might be attempting to get them to write a particular story, as opposed to just taking his words at face value. Back when Rove was considered a political genius, the press was much more likely to examine his words for their inherent wisdom and brilliance. Consider July 4, 2003, when during an appearance at an Independence Day parade, Rove made a big show, in front of reporters, of letting it be known that Howard Dean was the candidate Republicans saw as the weakest in the general election. Here's how the Washington Post reported it:

Rove Spends the Fourth Rousing Support for Dean

By Juliet Eilperin

July 5, 2003

Talk about lining up the competition. President Bush's chief political adviser has seen the possible presidential candidates among the Democrats and has found one he apparently thinks his man can beat: former Vermont governor Howard Dean.

Karl Rove tried to stir up enthusiasm for Dean marchers yesterday at the 37th annual Palisades Citizens' Association Fourth of July parade along the District's MacArthur Boulevard, which always attracts plenty of politicians.

As a dozen people marched toward Dana Place wearing Dean for President T-shirts and carrying Dean for America signs, Rove told a companion, " 'Heh, heh, heh. Yeah, that's the one we want,' " according to Daniel J. Weiss, an environmental consultant, who was standing nearby. " 'How come no one is cheering for Dean?' "

Then, Weiss said, Rove exhorted the marchers and the parade audience: " 'Come on, everybody! Go, Howard Dean!' "

Apparently, the idea that Rove said what he did because he wanted reporters to write that he thought Howard Dean was a weak general election candidate -- and not that he actually thought Howard Dean was a weak general election candidate -- hadn't occurred to Eilperin. And why was Dean so weak? At the time, the prevailing belief was that Republicans would easily caricature him as a liberal Northeastern elitist. So do you think they had an iota of doubt that they could do the same thing to John Kerry? Please. What's more likely is that they were actually afraid of Dean, because unlike most Democrats back then, he was of the opinion that when the other side hits you, you should hit back. Rove may not be as smart as people used to think he was, but he was smart enough to know that the Democrat considered most "electable" in 2004 was the one he'd have the easiest time eviscerating, and the more Democrats based their primary votes on electability, the better off the Republicans would be.

Point is, now that all of Rove's grand plans have come crashing down, the veil has been lifted from reporters' eyes. It's not that they didn't consider that he was thinking two or three steps down the road -- of course they did -- but they rarely accepted the possibility that when he spoke to them it was something other than the great master sharing a pearl or two of wisdom, and that he was capable of using his reputation as a master strategist to get them to write pretty much whatever kind of story he wanted.

--Paul Waldman

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