Karl Rove has a "new lease on life," reports Joe Hagan in New York. The mastermind of George W. Bush's winning campaigns has evolved from someone inextricably linked to the "most unpopular U.S. president in modern history" into a star in his own right: A Fox News personality and creator of American Crossroads, a new political action group that raised and spent tens of millions in the 2010 midterm elections. In a wide-ranging profile, Hagan reveals Rove's tactics, his thoughts on the future of the GOP, and his feelings on Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. Here, 6 key takeaways:
1. Rove is still no fan of Palin
Last year, Rove came under fire for suggesting that Palin's reality-TV exploits proved she lacked the "gravitas" to run for president. Rove remains unimpressed, says Hagan, complaining that Palin spent months "doing a travelogue reality show" during a key election year when "candidates and party organizations [were] crying for her presence in races in order to raise money and visibility." Rove does a "withering" impression of Palin's "sniveling accent" while lampooning a fishing scene from Palin's series — "'Holy crap! That fish hit my thigh! It hurts!' — before asking, "How does that make us comfortable seeing her in the Oval Office?"
2. Rove's favored 2012 candidate? Still a Bush
When asked who is the "purest ideological heir" to George W. Bush, Rove waves away the question. But, says Hagan, in an "unscripted moment worthy of Palin," the strategist suggests that his "dream candidate" for next year would be Jeb Bush, the former president's younger brother. Bush, who's taken himself out of the running for 2012, would make an "incredible" president, Rove tells Hagan.
3. Rove says Bush made the right call on Scooter Libby
Dick Cheney, for one, remains angry at Bush for failing to pardon Scooter Libby — the former adviser who was convicted of perjury in the Valerie Plame-CIA leak case. Rove himself was implicated, but never charged, and did not mention the Libby pardon in his recent memoir. But he comes clean to Hagan that he "supported Bush's decision to let Libby hang." He adds that he still considers Libby a "close friend."
4. The inspiration for Rove's comeback is Michael Steele
Rove says he was motivated to create American Crossroads after watching the "tone-deaf" former RNC chair (a "power vacuum") fail to attract funds from party stalwarts. Rove pitched American Crossroads to donors in 2009 as an "outside group that would effectively replace the RNC," with himself as the "name brand on the label." The group would go on to raise $71 million ahead of last year's midterm elections.
5. War may be brewing between Rove and the Koch brothers
It's no secret that Rove disdains non-traditional, Tea Party-supported political candidates like Christine O'Donnell, the sort that libertarian billionaire Koch brothers have backed. And Rove says he could see a future where Koch-backed Tea Partier squares off against a rival backed by American Crossroads. In fact, no sooner had the interview been published than American Crossroads announced it would attempt to raise $120 million ahead of next year's elections. The Kochs, meanwhile, have said they will raise and spend $88 million.
6. Rove is willing to consult on Karl Rove: The Movie
Hagan notes the existence of a "hot script circulating in Hollywood," telling the story of Rove's early years as a Republican operative. The "quirky and charged" screenplay is "both a serious exploration of electoral politics," says the Los Angeles Times, and a "lighter-hearted buddy comedy." What does Rove think of the script? "They got it all wrong!" he tells New York, particularly his relationship to legendary GOP strategist Lee Atwater. Would he consider consulting for the project, asks Hagan? "For the right price, baby," yells Rove.