This is a documentary about how Karl Rove became President George W. Bush’s Senior Advisor and chief political strategist. It shows his political beginnings in the Young Republicans, his political campaign work in Texas and his involvement with George W. Bush over the years. The film is made up of archival footage and interviews that are a mixture of reporters from Texas, victims of Rove’s alleged political activities and Republicans who worked with him. He was given an opportunity to present his version of the events, but declined.
Rove’s first big splash on the Texas political scene came when he worked for the 1986 gubernatorial campaign of William Clements, Jr. At one point during the campaign the polls were tied. In a fax Rove sent to the authors of the book, he disputes this point, claiming that if they do research, the public polls will show there was always a comfortable lead for Clements. The filmmakers do the suggested research and find a Gallup poll commissioned by four TV stations and The Houston Post had the candidates dead even at 46 percent.
Around that time, Rove claimed to have found an electronic bug hidden in his office. He implied that only Governor White’s staff would have had any use for bugging his office. The police and FBI investigated. The bug’s battery was so small that it needed to be changed every few hours and it hadn’t been in the device long before Rove found it. Near the election and with Clements in a sizeable lead, a Republican judge halted the investigation.
John Weaver was the co-chairman of the Clements campaign and would only agree to be interviewed as long as Rove’s name wasn’t mentioned. In regards to the bug incident, he stated, “I don’t think Mark White had anything to do with it.” That doesn’t leave too many other suspects.
A circumstancial pattern forms when other campaigns Rove has worked on are examined. Somehow, when Rove’s candidate needs a boost, an opponent is attacked with a whisper campaign; rumors and innuendos emerge that have nothing to do with the issues of a campaign, yet have a strong, visceral influence on voters.
For example, when George Bush runs for governor in 1994, the idea that Governor Ann Richards might be a lesbian starts to circulate because she is appointing openly gay people. When George Bush is running for the Republican nomination for President in 2000 in the South Carolina primary, John McCain’s military service is attacked and people question how stable he is due to being a P.O.W. for all those years. The worst slur against McCain dealt said he had a black love child, possibly from a prostitute. The truth is that the McCains adopted a Bangladesh child from Mother Theresa.
The end of the film begins to drift in its focus. We learn about the attacks on Georgia Senator Max Cleland during his 2002 reelection campaign, but don’t really see much that connects to Karl Rove. Sure, the basic tactics are dishonest, but that’s the way all political campaigns seem to work nowadays. It isn’t as obvious that Rove was directly involved as he was the previous incidents.
The interview with Cleland was compelling because he doesn’t come across as a man upset about losing his Senate seat. He lost three limbs to a grenade in Vietnam and almost died, so he has a much better perspective regarding what’s important in life; however, he is upset about the way he lost because of what that means for the future of politics and the future of our country.
Then, the film makes a major misstep. After showing Rove talk about the upcoming Iraq War in 2002 to Republicans, we get a touching segment about Marine 2nd Lt. Frederick E. Pokorney Jr. It’s about this young man who lost his life during the Battle at Nasiriya on the fourth day of the Iraq War. We meet his surviving family members in Tonopah, Nevada and get their reactions. I understand the filmmakers wanting to attach a human element to the consequences of the war, but it feels like it belongs in a different movie. Plus, it doesn’t attach itself to Karl Rove like the other segments do.
The main point the filmmakers are trying to make is what a bad guy Rove is because of the dirty tricks he is alleged to have used. He comes off as Machiavellian, but that’s certainly no surprise coming from a successful political strategist. Of course, the Democrats have their own attack dogs, but that doesn’t excuse Rove’s alleged actions. It’s an interesting film for the most part, especially if you don’t know who Karl Rove is. Unfortunately, Rove is too smart to get caught and that’s why he is as good as he is. The film does illustrate that you would rather have him on your team than not, but you better not have a conscience.
Directed by Joseph Mealey & Michael Shoob
Based on the book by James C. Moore & Wayne Slater