Karl Rove was loathed and respected by liberals as an evil political genius for using anti-gay marriage amendments to turn out conservatives in 2004, particularly in Ohio. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But now Republicans have been stuck with an increasingly unpopular position for almost 10 years, something Rove has a habit of forcing them to do. Gay marriage is especially popular with young people — 81 percent of people under 30 support gay marriage, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday. Fifty-eight percent of adults support gay marriage, up from 32 percent in 2004. Hillary Clinton, wife of the man who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law, announced her support for gay marriage Monday.
There is evidence Rove's anti-gay marriage campaign wasn't even that great an idea back in 2004. Former Bush aide Matthew Dowd denies that gay marriage actually boosted turnout in Ohio. And while Republicans blame gay marriage for young voters' dislike of the GOP, young voters started to move away from the party in 2004, and the movement only grew in 2006, as New York's Jonathan Chait points out.
But attacking gay marriage at least looked like good politics at the time, and now it certainly looks like it turned out to be a disaster in the long run. This is something of a pattern with Rove, who was mocked by many speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week for failing to deliver in the 2012 election with his American Crossroads Super-PAC. Indeed, as the Republican party continues to re-evaluate itself this week beyond CPAC, Rove's role is looking increasingly dangerous when you compare his predictions to the facts. Take, for example, the Iraq war. But he had a crucial role in selling it to the public. We can blame him for the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the invasion, Gallup finds that 53 percent of Americans think the Iraq war was a mistake. Rove was confident that the war on terror — as well as votes on warrantless wiretapping and "enhanced interrogation" — would help Republicans hold on to their congressional majority in 2006. He was wrong.
Even Rove's 2012 election night meltdown — in which he insisted Fox News' math nerds were wrong and Mitt Romney could win Ohio — was not without precedent. Historical record suggests Rove was unskewing polls long before Dean Chambers. Rove was in charge of political strategy for the 2006 elections. As late as October 24, he thought his strategy was working. In an interview with NPR, Rove denied Democrats would win a majority in Congress. NPR was skeptical, calling him "optimistic":
NPR: I'm looking at all the same polls that you are looking at.
ROVE: No, you are not. I'm looking at 68 polls a week for candidates for the US House and US Senate, and Governor and you may be looking at 4-5 public polls a week that talk attitudes nationally.
NPR: I don't want to have you to call races...
ROVE: I'm looking at all of these Robert and adding them up. I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House. You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I'm entitled to THE math.
On election night, the math showed Democrats won 31 House seats and five Senate seats, taking the majority in both. Maybe Rove is not a genius who lost his touch; perhaps he was a mere turd blossom the entire time.