In November 2008, Rove published a column in Newsweek, “A Way Out of the Wilderness.” Rove now points to that column as the genesis for American Crossroads. “What is it that Democrats have that we don’t have?” Rove says he asked himself.
What Democrats had was a massive money machine of well-organized political-action committees that had ground McCain to dust with TV ads and get-out-the-vote drives. For Rove, McCain’s hand-wringing over the influence of corporate money was all well and good, but money was the game, period. Rove has often been cast as the reincarnation of President William McKinley’s political adviser, Mark Hanna, who famously said there are only two things important in politics: money and “I can’t remember what the second one is.”
Under Michael Steele, RNC was failing in this respect, and thus created an opening.
In truth, Rove didn’t have to work very hard. The prospect of Obama’s cap-and-trade policy was giving major heartburn to energy companies. “It’s like your doctor says you’ve got cancer and he pulls out a road map to recovery,” says Jim Francis, a close associate of billionaire oil magnate Trevor Rees-Jones, who gave $2 million to American Crossroads. “People were anxious to be supportive. And praying that it would work.”
The article adds a little detail to an earlier post about the Weaver Terrace Group:
Last spring, Rove was ready to don the crown. He gathered the old tribes together and effectively anointed himself their leader, holding a breakfast at his house in D.C. with eighteen leaders of rival pacs, including former Nixon and Bush 41 confidant and GOP fund-raiser Fred Malek, of American Action Network, and Mary Cheney, Dick’s daughter, representing the Partnership for America’s Future. The anxious group was packed into Rove’s cramped living room, his two massive, ceiling-high shelves of history books looming over them. Rove, the man who had won big elections for them before and promised to win more again, let his star power do the work.
“They went so they could tell their friends that they went to Karl Rove’s house,” says Steven Law. “That’s why I went.”
Rove proposed they coordinate their strategies. American Crossroads would clearly have been first among equals; by default, Rove would be the figurehead, the credibility, the brand. Afterward, they would even give the meeting a self-consciously historic name, ready-made for the second volume of Rove’s memoirs: the Weaver Terrace Group, after Karl Rove’s street address.
As an earlier post noted, Rove did not like Harry Reid. But other things were at work in Nevada.
Rove knew he had to inoculate himself against tea-party insurrectionists if he was to keep his footing in the party. So his first, and defining, strategy idea for American Crossroads was to support a tea-party candidate in a marquee race: Sharron Angle, she of the “Second Amendment remedies,” against Democratic majority leader Harry Reid.
The investment was a classic Rovean gambit, a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose wager that put his new organization in the center of the action and on the right side, whichever side triumphed. If Angle won, American Crossroads had a huge Democratic pelt on the wall. If she lost, as she would, Rove’s skepticism of the tea party’s fringier elements would be proved correct. The bet was hedged. Rove, a realist prospecting for winners, his eyes fixed firmly on 2012, knew the deep-red base couldn’t win independents in a national race. As a former White House official who worked closely with Rove says, “Karl Rove is not a conservative. Karl Rove is a man who wins elections.”