The Rove Warrior

No adviser has ever dominated the White House like Karl Rove. So what does the President see in him, and what's he planning to do next?

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Rove's tidy world started crashing as the family prepared to follow Louis to yet another job in Los Angeles. On Christmas Day 1969, which happened to be Karl's 19th birthday, Louis announced he would be leaving alone. "I had a wonderful childhood. I had wonderful parents," Karl says. "You never really know what goes on in the private lives of your parents. They overcame big things in their lives. My dad would never speak about why the marriage broke up, but it clearly pained him till the end of his days that it did."

The shock of his parents' separation, however, didn't compare with the one Karl got the following fall, when an aunt informed him that the man who had raised him was not his biological father. Louis had adopted his wife's two oldest children, Karl and his older brother Eric. To this day, Rove says, he doesn't know the circumstances or even the timing of their adoption. "My supposition is that I was less than 2 and he was less than 4," Rove says. Karl was the trustee of Louis' estate but says he found no record that would shed any light on the adoption. The two brothers later met their biological father once, but they have not pursued the relationship.

"You know, you could psychoanalyze this," Rove says with breathtaking understatement. When Karl asked Louis about it, "he said, 'It didn't matter to me, and I hope it didn't matter to you.' Here was a guy, at this point they're now divorced, and he's sending a check to help me get through school. My father was living on nothing because he was supporting his children. And it turns out he didn't need to."

In 1981 a third devastating blow struck what remained of the Rove family. Karl's mother committed suicide in Reno, Nev. She had surmounted much in her life, Rove says, starting with poverty. Her father had worked on a road crew in the San Juan Mountains and sold knives from the back of his truck to grocery stores in little out-of-the-way towns. "They lived in a house in southern Colorado where, when they finished reading the evening newspaper, they'd take flour paste and slap it on the wall for insulation," he says.

After persevering through all that, the disintegration of a marriage and the challenge of raising five children by two fathers, why had Reba Wood Rove reached a point where she couldn't go any further? "Again, it's hard to figure out," Rove says. "You can speculate on what demons she just wasn't able to overcome, but she couldn't. And it's very sad for my sisters, who were very close to her."

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