The irony surrounding Karl Rove’s speech this week at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics was hard to ignore.
The conservative political consultant told his small but friendly audience not to despair over the current turmoil in Washington and the crude and divisive behavior of President Donald Trump because the country has survived worse.
He cited numerous historical examples of political discord and boorish, even mean and nasty, behavior on the part of presidents, presidential candidates and their surrogates.
He failed to mention himself.
Rove, a longtime Republican strategist, fundraiser and commentator, excoriated the several presidents preceding and following Abraham Lincoln for their ineptitude before and after the Civil War and later their inability to calm the sectional differences that divided the country over racial and civil rights issues.
He also dissed more recent politicians, mostly Democrats, for destructive rhetoric that prevented bipartisan dialogue, pointing to unhelpful comments by President Barack Obama and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
But the Olympus High School graduate and former U. student has been criticized himself for playing divisive games and smearing political foes.
After parlaying a Hinckley internship into a paid position with the College Republican National Committee in the early 1970s, Rove formed a relationship with then-Republican National Committee Chairman George H. W. Bush.
Rove later followed Bush to Texas, where he launched a consulting business, earning a reputation as a political genius and, simultaneously, as a campaign smear artist.
His direct mailings often implied dirty business on the part of his clients’ rivals, and they proved stunningly successful.
Rove is credited with helping the Republicans flip Texas from a blue to a deep red state. He helped George W. Bush become governor of Texas and later win the U.S. presidency.
The governor’s race featured a whispering campaign that implied incumbent Democrat Ann Richards’ administration tolerated gay appointees.
Rove’s political acumen and campaign tactics inspired the book “Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove made George W. Bush Presidential” by Texas journalists James Moore and Wayne Slater.
The book described a number of political corpses whose careers were damaged or destroyed by charges and innuendos leveled during their campaigns against Rove clients.
After Bush’s 2004 re-election against Democratic nominee John Kerry, the president called Rove “the architect.”
The Bush campaign strategy was characterized by Al Franken as “fear, smear and queer.” It capitalized on the 9/11 attacks by scaring voters into worrying that Democrats would be soft on terrorism. It had surrogates allege Kerry had lied about his military service in Vietnam, assertions that were later debunked. And it helped get on ballots anti-gay marriage initiatives in 11 states — including Utah — that brought more Christian conservatives out to the polls.
Whether Rove was behind all that, who knows? He’s denied it. But Bush has lovingly called him his “turd blossom.”
The former president Rove praised the most for bringing civility and unity back into the federal government was William McKinley.
And, of course, during his speech, Rove pitched his book: “The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters.” He told the audience several times that it is a “great read.”
Actions and words • When White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned earlier this week amid allegations of spousal abuse, Sen. Orrin Hatch initially was livid at the accusers of his former chief of staff.
“Shame on any publication that would print this — and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name.”
For the record, Hatch was the co-sponsor with then-Sen. Joe Biden of the Violence Against Women Act, expressing at the time his deep concern for the victims of domestic violence.
Hatch later said of the Porter episode that he was “heartbroken” by the allegations and denounced domestic violence as “abhorrent.”