(3 of 7)
That kind of yin-ing and yang-ing tires Rove--almost as much as the insulting suggestion that someone besides Bush does the President's thinking for him. "If you can think a problem through and have clarity about what you think needs to be done, with a healthy respect that you may be right or you may be wrong, then people will say that it's anti-intellectual," says Rove. "I don't. I see it as he has a practicality about himself that is born out of comfort with ideas, and it is tempered by values that don't change."
Of all the stories that are told about the two of them, the one that Rove has fostered into mythos concerns the day in 1973 he first met George W. The budding operative, then working for chairman George Herbert Walker Bush at the Republican National Committee, had been assigned to deliver Dad's car keys to the son arriving home for Thanksgiving from business school. As Rove tells it, the rush of charisma--That bomber jacket! Those cowboy boots! That sexy stride!--nearly gave him the bends. "Not Brad Pitt. Let's see--Gary Cooper," he recalled in the umpteenth telling the other day.
Young Karl's dorky awe of young George makes for a funny riff, but it's probably not as important as what Rove saw take over Bush in midlife. "He was a certain way in 1988, and he was significantly different by 1990, 1992, 1994," Rove recalls. "I think it's his own life experience, waking up and saying 'I'm not going to drink because it saps my energy and drains my focus.' I think it's the freedom of being, ironically, his own self in the aftermath of his father's defeat in '92. I don't know. You could psychoanalyze it. Clearly, he's always had incredible abilities, [but] he had a stronger focus and a discipline. He brought all of his many talents to bear after he went through--I suspect like all of us do--something that changed his center of life."
If you were a Republican in Texas suddenly discovering a political calling, Rove was a handy fellow to know. He arrived in the state from Virginia as a direct-mail whiz in 1977, a time when Republicans held precisely one statewide office. "When I put up the shingle for my company [in 1981], it was a wasteland," he says, "but it was clearly a place of great potential." By the time he left for Washington in 2001, Republicans were sitting in all 29 of Texas' statewide offices. And most of those officials--including the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and both Senators--had at one time or another employed Karl Rove & Co.
What Rove saw sooner than most were the political opportunities being created by demographic shifts, such as a wave of corporate relocations from the north and west of the country to places like Collin County near Dallas and the Woodlands outside Houston. He was aware that homegrown Texans, having voted for Ronald Reagan, were noticing for the first time in their lives that there was another side to the ballot. So Rove set about recruiting candidates who could speak to the moderate impulses of suburban voters by emphasizing issues like education, even as they pried conservatives away from the Democrats with proposals like cutting back on lawsuits against business. And Rove knew the moneymen who could give his candidates the resources they needed to pound the opposition.