Karl Rove -- The Architect [home]
homemastermindrepublicansdiscussion
interviewsREPUBLICANS   JOURNALISTS

Republicans

matthew dowd

Matthew Dowd
A former Democratic consultant, Matthew Dowd was the chief campaign strategist for Bush-Cheney 2004 and director of polling and media planning for Bush-Cheney 2000. Here, he describes how, even as the Florida recount was progressing, he and Karl Rove were already thinking about a re-election campaign in the event that Bush won. Dowd tells FRONTLINE that while most of the resources in the 2000 campaign were devoted to trying to win over independents, his post-election analysis showed that only 6 to 7 percent of the electorate was truly "persuadable." "You obviously had to do fairly well among the 6 or 7 [percent]," he says, "but you could lose the 6 or 7 percent and win the election, which was fairly revolutionary, because everybody up until that time had said 'Swing voters, swing voters, swing voters…'" This analysis, which was tested in the 2002 midterm election, formed the basis for the 2004 campaign's decision, known as the "base strategy," to focus on delivering votes from reliable Republicans. In this interview, Dowd recounts details the campaign learned about Republican voters -- from which magazines they read to which television shows they watch -- and talks about how he immediately knew that the early 2004 exit polls, which showed John Kerry winning, were wrong.

ed gillespie

ed gillespie
Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) from 2003 to 2005, Gillespie has had a long career with the Republican Party, including as a congressional aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey; as a principal drafter of the Republican Contract with America; and as a campaign adviser to President Bush. Gillespie says that when he became RNC chairman, Karl Rove told him his most important job would be to "close the gap between registered Republicans and registered Democrats," and in that they succeeded. Here, Gillespie explains why he thinks Republicans are outpacing Democrats nationally and examines Rove's role in building Republican momentum. "Karl conceived of an election that was designed to bring more people into our party … and get them out to vote, and do that with a bottom-up structure, a grassroots structure" he says. He also talks about the party's goals for continuing to build on that growth.

mary matalin

mary matalin
Republican commentator Mary Matalin served as an assistant to President George W. Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney. Matalin tells FRONTLINE that she disagrees with the "blue-state mythology" that the president was re-elected based on a strategy of reaching out to the hardcore Republican base. "The base is important for both sides, [but] you can't win with the base," she says. "What this president won by, and significantly so in this election, were moderates. That's what Kerry didn't get." Matalin says that victory was due to the combination of Karl Rove's "excruciatingly detailed mano-a-mano getting voters to the polls" combined with the president's policies, including Social Security reform and tort reform, that voters recognized as both "visionary" and "practical."

mark mckinnon

Mark mckinnon
McKinnon was a media adviser for George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns and 1998 gubernatorial campaign. Previously he worked as a Democratic consultant in Texas for candidates including Governor Ann Richards, whom Bush defeated in 1994. In this interview, he describes his political transformation and what it was like to work on campaigns against Karl Rove. "My earliest memories of Rove was just [his] kicking my butt mercilessly over and over again," he says. McKinnon discusses how campaigns get their message out in a changing media landscape and recounts an incident from the 2004 campaign in which the Bush campaign targeted commercials in West Virginia, where they knew John Kerry was scheduled to speak, about his vote against the $87 billion appropriation for U.S. troops in Iraq. Those ads led to Kerry's receiving questions about the vote, which in turn led to his infamous statement, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it." "We were up at the campaign and we were watching it live, and we said, 'We got it,'" McKinnon recalls. "And we immediately recut the ad with that piece of his video in front of the veterans to close the ad and put it out." He talks about his favorite Bush campaign commercials, as well as the impact of the 527 political spots, including the Swift Boat ads and the commercial known as "Ashley's Story." "I remember the second I saw the Swift Boat ads … I was like, whoa, this is going to have a big impact," he says.

ken mehlman

ken mehlman
Currently chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mehlman was the campaign manager of Bush-Cheney 2004, the White House political director from 2001 to 2003, and the national field director for Bush-Cheney 2000. In this interview, he recounts the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, as well as the White House's efforts in the 2002 midterm elections. Mehlman describes the importance of "metrics," or benchmarks that can be measured to show progress. "[T]here was a very methodical effort over the last four years to say: 'How do we grow the electorate in a way that is beneficial to the president?'" he tells FRONTLINE. "'And how do we bring new folks into the cause, and how do we make sure that our political tactics are the most effective they can be?' We used the '01 and '02 elections to test those tactics for '04." Mehlman says that because of their efforts Republicans and Democrats now represent an equal part of the electorate for the first time.

grover norquist

grover norquist
As president of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist is a well-known Republican anti-tax activist and grassroots organizer. In this interview, he traces the evolution of conservative philosophy and activism from Sen. Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign through to Ronald Reagan's presidency, Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America, and then to George W. Bush. Norquist describes the Republican Party as the "leave-us-alone coalition," which includes gun owners, home-schoolers, property owners, taxpayers and small-business owners, among others. "[Republicans] speak now to the people who want to be left alone and run their own lives," he says. "That is a very large coalition of people. It's a governing majority." And he argues that Republicans are making policy decisions that are only likely to enhance their numbers. "[G]iven the list of things the Republicans are doing in Congress -- tort reform, getting rid of the death tax, tax reduction, free trade -- all of these things strengthen the Republican coalition and their numbers and reduce the Democratic coalition," he says.

christine todd whitman

christine todd whitman
In this interview, Whitman, who served as governor of New Jersey from 1993 to 2000 and as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2001 to 2003, makes the case for an inclusive, "big tent" Republican Party. Whitman, who is the author of It's My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America, argues that Karl Rove's election strategy of focusing on the social conservatives to "harden the base" was at the expense of broadening support among moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats. She says that the political calculations to play to conservatives are detrimental to good governance and the Republican Party's future, and has empowered those she calls "social fundamentalists" to say: "We won this election for the president. We are owed the next Supreme Court justice." Whitman also expresses frustration that a lot of the work the EPA did under her tenure was not communicated, in part, because the environment as an issue "never polled high with the base."

Journalists

mike allen

mike allen
A staff writer for The Washington Post, Allen covered the White House during George W. Bush's first term as president. In this interview, he explains why President Bush calls Karl Rove "the architect:" "He was the architect of the public policies that got them there. He was the architect of the campaign platform. He was the architect of the fund-raising strategy. He was the architect of the state-by-state strategy. He was the architect of the travel itinerary. His hand was in all of it." He talks about the differences between Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns. "What's interesting was the compassionate conservative rhetoric was very important in 2000," he says. "You didn't hear a lot of it in 2004." Allen, who currently covers Capitol Hill, also describes how Rove and Bush plan to mobilize the grassroots operation they built up during the presidential campaigns to sell their agenda, including Social Security reform.

dan balz

dan balz
Balz is a reporter with The Washington Post and the author of Storming the Gates: Protest Politics and the Republican Revival. In this interview he discusses the tactics Karl Rove used to build a Republican majority first in Texas, and then nationwide. "One of the things about Karl Rove is, Karl's not a believer in the big-bang theory of realignment," Balz tells FRONTLINE. "Karl's a believer in incremental politics…you keep accumulating territory from your opponent. … You don't go out and corral it all in one election. You find the weak points, and you go get a little bit of it, and then you solidify that, and you go get a little bit more." Balz also explains how Bush and Rove are trying to use this momentum as a mandate to pass key Republican policies, like Social Security reform.

david broder

david broder
Broder is a reporter and columnist for The Washington Post. In this interview, he discusses the evolution of the South, and Texas in particular, from the home of the "Yellow Dog Democrats" -- Democrats who would vote for a yellow dog before they'd vote Republican -- to a solid Republican voting bloc. He describes his interactions with Karl Rove when he was still a political consultant in Texas, and says that among Rove's strengths is that "he does have a really clear mind when it comes to discerning political strategy and figuring out the tactics that make sense in terms of that overall strategy." Broder also recounts the 2000 South Carolina primary in which Sen. John McCain was the target of whisper campaigns about his military career and mental stability. "It was an ugly campaign in the undercurrents," he says. "… There was enough talk about it that you had to believe that, at the very least, the Bush people were aware of what was going on."

thomas edsall

thomas edsall
Thomas Edsall is a reporter for The Washington Post. In this wide-ranging interview, he talks about the politics of the South; Barry Goldwater and the evolution of conservative thought; his early impressions of Karl Rove and George W. Bush; how Bush and Rove won the 2000 and 2004 elections; and more. He explains how Rove's background as a direct mail specialist taught him to effectively target the constituents' "anger points," or issues that make them angry, and how he was able to capitalize on policies such as tort reform, juvenile justice and education that are part of the Republicans' agenda, but also have an added benefit of undermining the Democratic base. "I think what [Rove and Bush] want to do is … have a gigantic legislative footprint altering the tax structure, Social Security, energy policy, and health policy in big ways," Edsall says. "… I think what they are trying to do is bigger than the Great Society and approaches the New Deal. They aren't kidding around."

sam gwynne

sam gwynne
Before becoming the executive editor of Texas Monthly, Gwynne was Austin bureau chief for Time magazine, where he observed the rapid ascent of George W. Bush and the Texas Republican Party. Here, he talks about how Republicans captured the state's executive, legislative and judicial branches and how Rove both encouraged and capitalized on those changes. "Karl happened at the right time," he says. "In other words, the Republican switch was going to happen in some way, but Karl happened to be right there at the beginning. He sort of midwifed it. He helped it begin. He got it going. He sustained it." Gwynne also discusses how Rove groomed George W. Bush as a candidate and postulates how Rove's Texas experience may be a template for his plans at the national level.

dana milbank

dana milbank
Milbank is a reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, and the author of Smashmouth: Two Years in the Gutter with Al Gore and George W. Bush, a book about his experiences covering the 2000 presidential campaign. In this interview, he talks about Karl Rove's role at the intersection of politics and policy in the Bush White House, his skill at mobilizing the Republican base, and how Rove wields power in Washington. "We've seen a couple of different sides of Karl Rove," he says. "At times he really seems to enjoy the Svengali image, times when he will be almost antic when we're traveling: clowning around, throwing snowballs at the press corps and joking about his elevated role in all kinds of sinister events. And other times he will be completely removed. So my guess, based on watching him, is he alternates between loving this image that he has in town as the second most powerful man in America, and knowing that it's bad for him because it makes him a giant target."

wayne slater

wayne slater
Wayne Slater, the author of Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential, has reported on George W. Bush and Karl Rove for The Dallas Morning News for more than a decade. In this interview, Slater gives an overview of Rove's personal and political background, from his childhood when he has a poster that said "Wake Up America," on his wall; to his days as president of the College Republicans; to his career as a political consultant in Texas; up to his becoming "the architect" of George W. Bush's political career. "Rove already had a blueprint for the Bush presidency before George Bush even knew he would become a candidate," Slater tells FRONTLINE. In addition, he discusses the allegations of dirty tricks that have followed Rove throughout his career.

home · introduction · the mastermind · republican party · interviews
texas · join the discussion · producer's chat · teacher's guide
tapes & transcript · press reaction · credits · privacy policy
FRONTLINE home · wgbh · pbsi

posted april 12, 2005

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS