Why Fox News had to bench Karl Rove

The GOP strategy guru was a staple on Fox during the campaign. Then he quarreled on-air with the channel's decision to call the election for President Obama

Karl Rove
(Image credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Since the November election, two of Fox News' most prominent political commentators — Karl Rove and Dick Morris — "have virtually vanished," says Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast, "seemingly airbrushed from the airwaves." What's going on? "Turns out they’ve been sidelined, at least temporarily, by Roger Ailes." New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman was the first outsider to notice. "Multiple sources say that Ailes was angry at Rove's election-night tantrum when he disputed the network's call for Obama," Sherman reports. Former George W. Bush strategist Rove, Kurtz says, "drew national ridicule for challenging Fox's own projection that Obama had won Ohio, and with it a second term."

In that moment, [Rove] became a symbol of a partisan operative not willing to accept an uncomfortable reality.[Meanwhile,] Morris got so carried away in his cheerleading for the GOP ticket that he predicted Mitt Romney would win in an electoral landslide.(The other all-star Fox pundit, Sarah Palin, seems to be making only infrequent appearances now that her political star has dimmed.)Perhaps this is just a cooling-off period — Rove and Morris did pop up a few times after Election Day — until we plunge off the fiscal cliff or something and both men can be brought back as the memories of 2012 recede. Or perhaps, contrary to conventional wisdom, some pundits do pay a penalty for being spectacularly wrong.

Fox had to do something to deal with Romney's crushing defeat and the reality of Obama's second term, despite their predictions, says Josh Voorhees at Slate. Getting the two faces most likely to evoke the election off the air seems a logical first step.

On one hand, Obama's re-election gives the channel's TV personalities four more years to stoke anger at a president that most of their viewers dislike (something that will no doubt be good for the channel's already strong ratings). But on the other, the president's comfortable margin of victory left the network with a few fences to mend with viewers who had been assured by those same talking heads that Romney would prevail on election day.

Liberals who love to hate both Rove and Fox are elated, says Billy Hallowell at The Blaze, but the inside story isn't as sexy as they've made it out to be. Rove and Morris' absences just reflect the fact that the election's over. Ailes simply issued a new rule saying that, now that the news has moved on, producers have to get approval from above before booking the guys who were the channel's go-to commentators on electoral matters.

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While a spokesperson for the Fox president claimed that reports of a rift [between Ailes and Rove] are inaccurate, the network did confirm the new booking rules, noting that they are rooted in the fact that the election has concluded.

This is part of "a serious reckoning with reality" that everyone associated with the GOP is, or should be, facing, says Alex Moore at Death and Taxes. "Sometimes numbers and facts are irrefutable — sometimes when you lose you can no longer credibly scream victory in the face of defeat, as Karl Rove tried to do in his now-famous election night meltdown ranting against Fox News' own statisticians. Rove may still be in denial, but Fox News for their part is facing reality and moving on."

John Boehner and current House Republicans don't seem to be joining in — their stance in the fiscal cliff negotiation is that the election changed nothing. But if Obama holds the line and waits for the incoming class to replace some outgoing Representatives in January he may find a more receptive audience. When even Fox News is changing, you know it’s time to get with the program.

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