Remedial Math for Mr. Rove

Updated August 18, 2007

"I'm looking at 68 polls a week," the pudgy college dropout and Deputy White House Chief of Staff told NPR's Robert Siegel. "You may be looking at four or five public polls a week that talk about attitudes nationally, but that do not in -- impact the outcome of the races." "... You've seen the DeWine and the Santorum race?" Siegel asked. "I d -- I -- d -- I don't want to -- yeah, l -- l -- look. I'm looking at all --" Rove stammered, channeling Porky Pig. "I'm looking at all these, Robert, and adding 'em up, and I add up to a Republican Senate and a Republican House. You may end up with a different math, but you're entitled to your math and I'm entitled to 'The Math.'"

Rove repeated his "68 poll" rap in an interview on Monday, November 6, with conservative talk-show host and law professor Hugh Hewitt. "I feel good about the Senate," Rove told Hewitt, "and the House is a race by race, district by district battle, that when you add it up, I see us with a majority." Rove predicted that voter turnout by Republicans and Democrats would exceed that of 2002, and that "we're likely to see more independents sit out this election." "All right, so a more polarized election," Hewitt concluded. Rove claimed not to have good data on Catholic or Hispanic voters, but did suggest that "individual Republican candidates are going to look back after this election and find that the rhetoric that they adopted hurt them in the Hispanic community."

Divide and Then What?

The National Journal's Chuck Todd called the 2006 election the Republicans' "worst midterm defeat in a generation," and, contrary to Rove's prediction, labeled it "the revenge of the independents." According to the Pew Center's Andrew Kohut, "Political independents, who divided their votes evenly between George Bush and John Kerry in 2004, swung decisively in favor of the Democrats this year. And moderates voted more Democratic than in 2004 by a 10-percentage-point margin." Nationally, 57% of independents voted Democratic, and 39% voted Republican.

Almost immediately after the election, especially once it became clear that Democrats would control not only the House, but the Senate as well, conservatives began searching for a scapegoat. Candidates included Donald Rumsfeld, whose departure Bush announced on November 8, Bush himself, conservative voters, and every variety of their own conservative coterie. Conspicuously absent from the scapegoat candidate list was their election strategist, Karl Rove.

It was, after all, Rove who, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 rejected the path toward national unity that might have come from pursuing a moderate legislative agenda, but chose instead to try to appease Bush's conservative base.

It was Rove who urged Bush to pursue Social Security privatization, even after it became clear that the public rejected the idea. In a similar misstep, Rove advocated comprehensive immigration reform, and alienated a sector of Bush's base in the process.

It was Rove, who, in consultation with Bush, delayed the announcement of Rumsfeld's departure until after the election. (A week earlier, in an interview with the Associated Press, Bush said that he expected Rumsfeld and Cheney to stay on through the remainder of his term in office.)

It was Rove who, at the annual Republican National Committee (RNC) winter conference in January 2006, had urged his fellow partisans to run on Bush's "remarkable" record. "This past year, we have seen three successful elections in Iraq. The Iraqi Security
Forces are increasing in size and capability. Iraq's economy is growing. And the terrorists in Iraq are now increasingly divided and turning on each other...," he rhapsodized. "[W]e need a commander-in-chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of this moment. President Bush and the Republican Party do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Democrats."

Rove urged Republicans to run on the (illegal) NSA domestic spying program. "President Bush believes if al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why," Rove said. "Some important Democrats clearly disagree. This is an issue worthy of a public debate." As Media Matters' Josh Kalven noted, from the time the NY Times first revealed the existence of the domestic surveillance program, Democratic leaders acknowledged the need to monitor communications of al Qaeda operatives; Republicans as well as Democrats expressed concern about the administration decision to ignore the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance act's provision that requires a warrant for domestic surveillance.

Rove also urged his fellow partisans to run on Bush's record on the economy, noting 4% growth in the third quarter of 2005, low unemployment, record home sales and ownership rates, increased "real disposable income," and rising financial market indexes. Bush's tax cuts, Rove claimed "help explain why the economy is so strong," -- not a very clear connection.

At the RNC conference, the final issue Rove urged on his cohorts was the judiciary. Referring to John Roberts and Samuel Alito, Rove asserted "Most Americans want judges who will strictly apply the Constitution and laws, not legislate from the bench. They want judges who believe in self-government instead of those who are determined to undermine it. They want judges who will stand against Judicial Activism and for constitutionalism." Applying the Constitution strictly, is, of course, code for opposition to Roe v. Wade, which declared that certain state laws criminalizing abortion violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

Exit polls showed that Rove's issue analysis was no better than his math. 67% of voters said that the situation in Iraq was extremely or very important, but 56% disapproved of the war, 55% said the US should withdraw some or all troops, and 59% said the war did not improve US security. On the economy, 50% of voters described the national economy as not good or poor, 67% said their family finances left them falling behind or with just enough to get by. While there was no direct measure of voter attitudes toward the judiciary, exit polls did ask about the importance of "values issues." 42.8% of Democrats said that values issues were extremely, very, or somewhat important, while only 38.36% of Republicans said so.

38% of voters identified themselves as Democrat, compared to 36% Republican. Although one would never know it from the Republican spin, this was actually consistent with three out of the five last elections. The two exceptions were 2002 (Republicans 39%, Democrats 38%) and 2004 (Republicans and Democrats tied at 37%). Democrats gained support among white working-class voters. As the New Republic John B. Judis noted, "In the Midwest, Democrats won these voters (most clearly identifiable in the polls as voters with 'some college') by 50 to 49 percent. White working-class support accounted, among other things, for Democratic victories over Republican incumbents in three predominately white downscale Indiana congressional districts that had backed Bush in 2000 and 2004."

What, Me Worry?

74% of voters indicated that corruption or ethics were extremely or very important -- topics that Rove understandably omitted from his RNC pep rally. 53% of voters also disapproved of the way the Republican leadership handled revelations that Rep. Mark Foley, R-FL, had exchanged sexually explicit electronic messages with high-school aged congressional pages (compared to 38% who approved).

"The profile of corruption in the exit polls was bigger than I'd expected," Rove admitted to Time's Mike Allen. "Abramoff, lobbying, Foley and Haggard [the disgraced evangelical leader] added to the general distaste that people have for all things Washington, and it just reached critical mass." "Iraq mattered," Rove continued. "But it was more frustration than it was an explicit call for withdrawal. If this was a get-out-now call for withdrawal, then Lamont would not have been beaten by Lieberman. Iraq does play a role, but not the critical, central role."

Rove's seemingly disinterested analysis belied his history with Abramoff and his role in the Foley scandal. As we've noted elsewhere in The Dubya Report, Rove's assistant, Susan Ralston, was formerly executive assistant to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ralston resigned on October 6, 2006 after a congressional report concluded she had accepted gifts in return for passing White House insider information to Abramoff. Ralston's position at the nexus of Rove's office was emblematic of the new form of government the Republicans foisted on the nation starting in 1994, which enabled lobbyists to author legislation, and, in the words of the New Republic's editors, "elevated the pork barrel to the central operating principle of government. Their entire legislative program was a massive payoff."

Appearing on NBC's The Chris Matthews Show on November 5, openly gay conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan reported that "The sworn testimony in the Mark Foley House Ethics Committee investigation is proving that Hastert, Reynolds and Rove knew full-well about Mark Foley for years." "Rove?" Matthews asked. "Rove, yes, because Foley didn't want to run again, and Rove talked him into it.," Sullivan responded. "And if you think Rove doesn't know what goes on on the hills of Congress, on Capitol Hill, he hadn't heard any of that stuff, then he's not Karl Rove. I think he may be entangled as well."

Rove's attempt to cast the election as a collection of local contests apparently failed, as 60% of voters said that national rather than local issues had influenced their decision. The Economist interviewed residents of Marcus Hook, PA, in the congressional district of Rep. Curt Weldon. (As we've reported elsewhere in The Dubya Report, the FBI is investigating whether Weldon used his position on the House Armed Services committee to channel lobbying deals to family and associates.) Marcus Hook resident Marion Grayson told the Economist that the deteriorating situation in Iraq affected her vote, but that she also resented Republicans who preached morality while behaving immorally.

Citing Sherrod Brown's victory in Ohio, and Lincoln Chafee's loss in Rhode Island, the Economist noted that
"[l]eftiness was no bar to Democrats winning, and moderation no shield for Republicans." In Iowa's 2nd congressional district, Dave Loebsack defeated moderate Jim Leach by arguing that Leach's centrist views "put him so out of step with his party that he had no influence, despite 30 years in Congress."

The National Journal's Chuck Todd wondered:

For 18 months, there was evidence that this was going to be a tough midterm thanks to basic history (six-year itch, after all) and the war in Iraq. So why didn't Karl Rove attempt to do what he did in '02 and '04 and dictate the terms of the debate? It was clear this was going to be a national election, yet the White House stuck to its "stay the course" guns for way too long. Northeastern Republicans were desperate for Bush to pivot on Iraq and he just wouldn't do it. When he finally did, it was too late.

The political arm of the Bush White House doesn't usually miss this badly, but it appears this election was misjudged from the beginning. Maybe they believed all the "genius" books that were being written about them.

The Philadelphia Daily News's Will Bunch asked (facetiously?) "Is Karl Rove even more of an evil genius than we think? Did he and Bush just produce an election flop...on purpose?" Bunch questioned:

  • Why the Justice Department stepped up the Weldon investigation, just weeks before the election?
  • Why stories about Mark Foley's misbehavior with congressional pages were leaked by Republican staffers in the summer of 2006?
  • Why Rumsfeld held a news conference 12 days before the election?
  • Why Bush was sent to campaign in Missouri and Montana where he did more harm than good?
  • Why four days before the election Cheney told ABC news that the administration planned to continue "full speed ahead" in Iraq?
  • Why Bush went out of his way to praise Cheney and Rumsfeld five days before the election?
  • Why Rove spent millions of RNC advertising dollars in Democratic strongholds New Jersey and Maryland when Virginia and Montana were so close?

If Bush and Rove "threw" the election, Bunch speculated, it was to try to bring the Democrats to the table on Iraq.

A GOP majority in Capitol Hill would have guaranteed that 'the Republican war in Iraq' would dominate the 2008 presidential race, and that equation would hand the keys to the White House to the Democrats for sure. And Bush's patrons -- oilmen and the defense contractors -- need the White House a lot more than Congress, especially after the recent expansion of presidential powers. And now both parties will have a stake in Iraq, and the mostly likely in the coming fiasco there.

Bunch's theory, if that's what it is, was promptly shot down from the left and the right. From the left, Editor and Publisher's Greg Mitchell suggested that the "the alternative view is just as chilling: that many, if not most, of our Washington-based pundits are even more out of it than we'd guessed." Ultimately Mitchell rejected Bunch's conspiracy theory, concluding instead "The more likely explanation: Even evil 'geniuses' screw up -- if they were 'geniuses' to start with. And, as I've been saying for three years, the public hates the war far more than the pundits and newspaper editorialists admit."

The Wall Street Journal ridiculed both Bunch and Mitchell, suggesting that "Rove is a tactical genius, but that his skills were insufficient to save the day this time because of a combination of Republican strategic missteps and Democratic tactical improvements." The Journal went on to observe that Iraq is already a bipartisan problem.

Trick or Treat

In his interview with Time, Rove failed to take any responsibility for the party's losses. "My job is not to be a prognosticator," he told Allen. "My job is not to go out there and wring my hands and say, 'We're going to lose.' I'm looking at the data and seeing if I can figure out, Where can we be? I told the President, 'I don't know where this is going to end up. But I see our way clear to Republican control.'" Rove went on to claim that he had tried to warn his fellow partisans when he referred repeatedly in speeches to the Democrats' defeat in 1994, because of "ossified thinking and an entitlement mentality." "What I was trying to say was: What happened to them could happen to us."

There's evidence that Rove was up to his old divisive tricks. In Tennessee, he may have had some success. In the Senate contest between Democrat Harold Ford Jr. and Republican Bob Corker, a now infamous television ad featured a bare-shouldered white woman whispering "Harold, call me," and then winking into the camera. The ad, paid for by the RNC, did not mention that Ford is black, but the NAACP and others complained that it invoked racial stereotypes. "In a Southern state like Tennessee, some stereotypes still exist,"Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington bureau of the NAACP told CBS News. "There's very clearly some racial subtext in an ad like that."

RNC chairman Ken Mehlman said that the ad was produced by an independent organization, as required by campaign law, "without the knowledge, the participation, the advice, the approval or the involvement of either the national party or the campaign." The ad's producer, however, was Scott Howell, a Rove protégé, and former political director of Rove's consulting company in Texas. Other Howell ads have included:

  • A spot for Sen. Saxby Chambliss featuring then-Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, a veteran who lost both legs in Vietnam, next to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
  • An ad for Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, that accused his Democratic opponent, Brad Carson, of being soft on welfare, while showing black hands counting cash.
  • An ad for Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore suggesting that his opponent would not have used the death penalty for Adolf Hitler.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) also hired Conquest Communications to make so-called "robocalls" -- automatically dialed recorded messages -- in 20 congressional races. In several of these races the calls failed to identify themselves as NRCC calls at the start of the message (as required by law), sounded initially as if they were calls of behalf of the Democratic candidate, and were apparently programmed to redial the called number if the call's recipient hung up before the call was finished. The result was that some voters received a large number of repeated calls, apparently intended to arouse animosity toward Democratic candidates.

Not so coincidentally, on November 15 Shaun Hansen, former owner of an Idaho-based telemarketing company, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in connection with a Republican plot in 2002 to jam get-out-the-vote and ride-to-the-polls phone lines run by state Democrats and a nonpartisan firefighters union in New Hampshire. Three former Republican officials were also convicted in the plot, including James Tobin, the former New England chairman of President Bush's re-election campaign.

In Maryland, the GOP trucked in homeless men from Philadelphia, and had them pass out fliers stating that three prominent black Democrats endorsed the Republican senatorial candidate Michael Steele. Only one of the men shown actually endorsed Steele. The back of the flier claimed to be a "Democratic Sample Ballot," but endorsed Steele for Senate.

In Virginia, voters registered in more than one state received calls declaring that they would be subject to criminal penalties if they voted. (In fact, being registered in more than one state is not a crime as long as the person votes in only one.) The FBI is investigating.

In Orange County, CA, 14,000 registered Democrats with Latino last names received a letter warning them that they faced jail or deportation if they attempted to vote on November 7. The letter included naturalized legal immigrants -- who are eligible to vote, as well as native-born Latinos. A state investigation concluded that campaign workers for Republican congressional candidate Tan Nguyen were responsible for the letter, and the Attorney General's office is reportedly considering filing criminal charges.

In Pennsylvania, a group calling itself the Progressive Policy Council denounced Democratic candidate Bob Casey's conservative positions on abortion rights, stem cell research, and gun control. The group's only activity, however, appeared to be the anti-Casey mail campaign, and its attorney is Jason Torchinsky, who was Deputy Counsel to the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign. Republican donors also funded the entire Green Party campaign for the US Senate, but a judge eventually ruled that candidate Carl Romanelli did have have enough petition signatures to qualify.

The Myth of the Victorious Conservatives

The spin from Republicans and conservatives was that Democrats had won because they had fielded conservative candidates, with the implication that "only conservatives win." That narrative, wrote the University of Maryland's Thomas Schaller, is fiction. Proponents of this view cited the Heath Shuler's win in North Carolina. Shuler refers to himself on his web site as a "pro-life Democrat," and is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He also opposes privatization of Social Security, and supports raising the minimum wage, changing course in Iraq, and embryonic stem cell research. Shuler "qualifies as a culturally conservative Democrat," wrote political analyst Stu Rothenberg, but "is the exception, not the rule." "Virtually all of the Democrats I interviewed were pro-choice," Rothenberg continued, "favored rolling back President Bush's tax cuts and sounded traditional Democratic themes on education, the environment and foreign policy."

Some commentators pointed to Montanan John Tester's flattop haircut, Virginian Jim Webb's service in the Reagan administration, and Pennsylvanian Bob Casey's opposition to abortion. "These biographical nuggets," wrote Thomas Schaller, "obscure the fact that these men and the other three new Democratic senators ran as strong economic populists and thundering critics of the war." In Rhode Island, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse ran to the left of "the most liberal Republican incumbent senator," and won. "And in Ohio, Republican moderate Mike DeWine fell to Sherrod Brown, who promptly was named heir to the late Paul Wellstone, the über-progressive senator from Minnesota," Schaller wrote.

Rather than a victory of conservative Democrats, in Schaller's view the election was "the final stage of a regional realignment, one that began four decades ago, in the wake of the civil rights movement, and slowly but steadily converted most southern Dixiecrats into Republicans." Dubbing it the "Rust Belt Realignment of 2006," Schaller noted that Chris Shays of Connecticut is now the only Republican among 22 Representatives from New England. The irony, Schaller suggested, is that Republicans "who pulled their party to the right" were re-elected, while liberal Republicans were beaten by Democrats who ran to their left. "[T]the notion that conservative Democrats carried the day is plainly absurd," Schaller concluded.

Conservative talking heads usually rush to paint Democrats as a pack of tin-eared, out-of-the-mainstream liberals. That's why it's so surprising that some of these same voices are now cherry-picking the results in an effort to perpetuate the fiction that Republicans lost, but conservatives somehow won. It suggests that this year's defeat so stunned the conservative movement, it lost its messaging mojo, too.

National Journal's Chuck Todd warned Republicans against listening to those within their conservative ranks who blame their losses on not having had enough conservative candidates or candidates who were conservative enough. Todd "There are some shreds of truth in that thinking," Todd wrote, but, citing Republican losses in Missouri and Virginia, he added " ...the GOP will only isolate itself even more if it takes a turn to the right. Republicans will not regain the majority if they continue to grow away from the inner-suburban voter." Todd also noted some evidence that Bush's last minute campaign trips to Missouri and Montana may have cost Republicans the Senate seats there. In Missouri, where Bush made last minute appearances, 55% of voters who made up their minds on election day or the three days prior voted for McCaskill, the Democrat, while only 38% voted Republican. In Montana, polling showed that incumbent Conrad Burns, who received more money from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff than any member of Congress, was making gains against his Democratic challenger, John Tester, as Election Day approached. Bush's visit to Montana, Todd reported, may have stopped Burns' momentum, at least in Billings, the state's largest metropolitan area.

Todd suggested that the tired "red" "blue" categorizations of the country should be thrown out in the aftermath of the 2006 elections. Instead, he argued that the nation is now divided into "four voting blocs: the Democratic Northeast, the Republican South, the populist Midwest and the libertarian West." In Todd's view, the Democrats have a "decent grip" on the populist Midwest. He described the libertarian West as "more up for grabs than it should be," because of libertarian distaste for the pro-government turn the Republican party has taken, and because of the influence of the Christian right and their intrusive social agenda.


Rove fancies himself a historian, but, according to Huffington Post's Andrew Gumbel, he may have misread a key passage. As has been reported widely, during Bush's first presidential campaign, Rove chose as his model the election of 1896, which ended an era of populism and began a 30-year period of Republican dominance. McKinley's victory also began the Republican transformation from the inclusive party of Lincoln to one more focused on deregulation and alliances with business. Segregationist Democrats ruled, largely unopposed, in the South, and Republicans essentially controlled the rest of the country. The missing key in Rove's analogy, however, suggested Gumbel, is that while McKinley's campaign manager, Ohio businessman Mark Hanna, may have been a free-market Republican, McKinley himself was not, and, in fact, condemned business mergers as "dangerous conspiracies against the public good." The election of 1896 is generally acknowledged to have opened the Progressive Era, which continued until the US entered World War I. The faction of the Republican party most aligned with Hanna eventually gained control in the 1920s, to be followed shortly by the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression.

Princeton economist and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman recently referred to "the potent alliance of wealthy individuals, corporate interests and the religious right that took shape in the 1960s and 1970s" as "movement conservatism." "This alliance may once have had something to do with ideas," he wrote, "but it has become mainly a corrupt political machine, and America will be a better place if that machine breaks down."

Calling it "fundamentally undemocratic," Krugman suggested that "[w]hen movement conservatism took it over, the Republican Party ceased to be the party of Dwight Eisenhower and became the party of Karl Rove. The good news is that Karl Rove and the political tendency he represents may both have just self-destructed."

In his treatise on authoritarian conservatism, Conservatives Without Conscience, John Dean described Rove as having "all the credentials of a right-wing authoritarian," adding "and if he has a conscience, it has hardly been in evidence during the five years in which he has been in the public eye.

He is conspicuously submissive to authority, exceedingly aggressive in pursuing and defending the policies he embraces (namely, whatever George W. Bush believes, or that which is politically expedient), and he is highly conventional. As a political strategist, Rove appreciates the value of fear, so it is not surprising that he proclaimed that the 2006 midterm elections would be won or lost based on how frightened Americans are about terrorism.

Dean quotes Josh Marshall on the connection between authoritarianism and competence. "Authoritarianism and secrecy breed incompetence; the two feed on each other," Marshall wrote. "It's a vicious cycle. Governments with authoritarian tendencies point to what is in fact their own incompetence as the rationale for giving them yet more power."

In the wake of the Republican defeat, Rove's defenders offered a range of excuses to Slate's John Dickerson. Some suggested that things would have been worse without the ground operation that Rove and RNC Chair Ken Mehlman built over the last seven years, and that microtargeting voters and careful deployment of advertising cash limited Republican losses. Dickerson compared this to praising the football coach who loses by five points instead of six.

Other Rove supporters argued that events were simply out of his control, especially the continuing violence in Iraq. The argument that Dickerson found most persuasive, however, was that congressional Republicans are responsible for the election outcome. This argument posits that profligate spending and congressional scandals (the Foley affair being the most recent) and de-motivated the base of Republican voters.

Dickerson suggested, however, that some of Rove's defenders do so out of self interest. As long as Rove remains in the White House he can still dispense favors, patronage, influence appointments, etc. "Even if Rove leaves Washington tomorrow," Dickerson wrote, "he'll remain a leading light of the conservative movement for the unapologetic, even brutal, way he fights for conservative ideas."

The Washington Times's weekly Insight magazine reported on November 14th that "despite pressure on the president to reshuffle his staff for 2007, Mr. Bush wants Mr. Rove by his side." Bush, the magazine said, "as agreed to keep his chief political advisor for the remainder of his administration." According to Insight, the president appeared to blame Mr. Rove for the Republican Party’s election strategy, based on the notion that there would not be a significant swing vote." An unidentified "administration source," implied that something like blackmail was behind Bush's decision to keep Rove on. "He knows too much," the source said. "The last thing the president wants is another published memoir and book tour of life inside the White House."

Three days later, however, the White House Bulletin reported that Rove will leave during the coming year, because "his partisan style is a hurdle to President Bush's new push for bipartisanship." An unidentified "key Bush advisor" told the Bulletin "Karl represents the old style and he's got to go if the Democrats are going to believe Bush's talk of getting along." Trent Lott's election as Senate Whip, the number two GOP leadership position in the Senate, is also seen as a repudiation of Rove. Lott's ouster as majority leader in 2002 following remarks that appeared to endorse retroactively Strom Thurmond's segregationist presidential campaign of 1948 is widely believed to have been engineered by Rove.

Another "top West Wing advisor" suggested to the Bulletin that Susan Ralston's exit from the White House was engineered by White House counsel Harriet Miers, still smarting from what she perceived as Rove's lack of support for her Supreme Court nomination, as a "signal for Rove to leave." According to this source, "Rove is aware of the situation and that a departure might come in 'weeks, not months.'"


"Politics was policy in Rove's world," James Moore and Wayne Slater wrote in Bush's Brain. "[I]ssues were simply instruments to advance the cause of electing Bush ...." They were describing Rove during the time Bush was governor of Texas, but the characterization echoes John DiIulio's assessment of the Bush White House.

Rove's role in Bush-world creates quite a dilemma. In an administration that, by its own admission, dismisses the "reality based community," Rove (presumably) must actually try to use (gasp) science -- or at least statistics -- to measure some kind of objective reality -- the opinions of real voters.

Toward the end of the NPR interview, Robert Siegel asked Rove about the effect of administration Iraq policy on the election.

SIEGEL: How then do you read this, or how do you look ahead to the election, in terms of Iraq policy? If the Republicans maintain majorities on the Hill, it's a ratification of the Iraq policy?

ROVE: Well, I think Iraq and the economy play a role in virtually every race, but there're also local considerations and the local contest between two individuals that, at the end of the day, matters for a great deal of the contest. It's not a -- there's a natural human desire to simplify everything to one big thing. What was Curly's line from the movie, you know, 'One thing.' But that's not th' way politics really is. Politics is, you know, a complex equation, which voters are going to be examining a variety of issues and a variety of characteristics as they arrive at their decision.

In describing politics as a complex equation, Rove may have revealed more than he intended. For, as every high school math student will tell you, the distinguishing characteristic of complex numbers is that there's a part that is imaginary.


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