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Karl Rove, 'The Architect,' Returns Home

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie, sitting in for Steve Inskeep who's on assignment.

When Air Force One touched down in Texas yesterday there were two long-time political companions onboard - President Bush and Karl Rove. Rove got a ride home after announcing his resignation from the White House staff. He says he wants to spend time with his family. Rove has been the closest adviser to Mr. Bush since the current president was considering running for governor of Texas.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The White House ceremony yesterday morning was brief and emotional for the two men. The president said Rove was moving on down the road.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I would call Karl Rove a dear friend. We've known each other as youngsters interested in serving our state. And we worked together so we could be in a position to serve this country.

NAYLOR: Rove, his voice quavering, said he was grateful for the opportunity to serve.

Mr. KARL ROVE (Deputy White House Chief of Staff): I'm grateful for being able to work with the extraordinary men and women that you've drawn into this administration. And I'm grateful to have been a witness to history. It has been the joy and the honor of a lifetime.

NAYLOR: Rove mentioned that he had been working for Mr. Bush for 14 years, starting back in the days when the president was chief executive of the Texas Rangers baseball team, thinking of running for governor. It has been an extraordinarily tight relationship, says U.S. News and World Report columnist Michael Barone.

Mr. MICHAEL BARONE (Senior Writer, U.S. News and World Report): Well, you can't really separate the candidate and the chief consultant, the client and the political consultant, because, you know, they're a symbiotic pair. And in this case, I think, especially, Karl Rove helped to fashion a campaign that was suited to what George W. Bush wanted to do as president.

NAYLOR: Their agenda included among other things cutting taxes, appointing conservative judges, overhauling Social Security, and setting standards for public schools. Not all of it came to pass in Congress, especially not the Social Security piece or the Bush-Rove ideas about immigration.

But Rove left his mark as master of political strategy and tactics. He was the architect, as Mr. Bush put it, of two successful campaigns for the Texas Statehouse and two for the White House. And while Rove will be remembered for installing his boss in the White House in 2000, his masterpiece may have been the Bush reelection in 2004.

That year, Democrat John Kerry got more votes than Al Gore had four years earlier. But Rove helped the president add even more in his column with an extraordinary get-out-to-vote effort he helped devise. Again Michael Barone.

Mr. BARONE: They found them all over. They found them, you know, they found accountants who were volunteering for the Bush campaign and they recruited other accountants. They found people who were active in the Boys Scouts and they recruited other people who were active in the Boys Scouts.

NAYLOR: While Rove may have been a political mastermind, he was also an adept political street fighter. He made the national security issue into a political weapon, pounding the Democrats as weak on terror in the elections of 2002 and 2004. But that strategy finally came up short in last year's congressional campaigns when, despite Rove's insistence that his numbers added up to a Republican win, Democrats captured control of both chambers of Congress.

Since then life in Washington has been more difficult for the president and his staff, who have been besieged by investigations and other challenges from Capitol Hill. Rove has been at the center of this struggle, the subject of suspicion and subpoenas. And yesterday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was skeptical about Rove's decision to leave the administration.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): Karl Rove is major political adviser to the president in the White House. He will now be a major political adviser to the president outside the White House. No change.

NAYLOR: And while Rove says he hopes to spend time with his family and write a book on the Bush years, he also knows he'll be fending off subpoenas from congressional panels seeking his testimony on everything from missing e-mails to the firing of U.S. attorneys to the Valerie Plame case.

Speaking with reporters yesterday onboard Air Force One, Rove likened himself to Moby Dick, saying there are three or four members of Congress who are trying to cast themselves in the part of Captain Ahab, but Rove denied that was the reason he was resigning.

Brain Naylor, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.