Karl Rove appeared on Fox News on Tuesday to double-down on his earlier insinuations that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) might have suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury that could prevent her from becoming president.
The New York Post reported Monday that Rove told a conference last week that Clinton had spent “30 days in the hospital.” “And when she reappears,” he recounted, “she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.” His Fox News colleague Bill Hemmer noted in his interview with Rove Tuesday that Clinton’s hospital stay had, in fact, been just three days.
Rove has called into question the mental health of other political opponents as well. In 2000, Rove was “architect” of Bush’s presidential campaign, which reportedly similarly attempted to portray his Republican rival as mentally compromised. After Bush lost the New Hampshire primary to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a series of false smears and push-polls began to crop up in South Carolina, where the next primary was to be held. Rove was widely believed to be connected to rumors that McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam had left him mentally unbalanced. Other rumors tied to the Rove-led campaign included allegations that McCain’s wife had a drug problem and that his adopted Bangladesh-born daughter was an “illegitimate black child.” Meghan McCain’s 2012 book slammed Rove for having “never publicly apologized for his cowardice and culpability for what was said about my little sister in South Carolina during the 2000 race.”
In his book Courage and Consequence, he noted that he thought former Gov. Howard Dean (D-VT) “looked like a madman” in his 2004 presidential campaign and in a 2008 GQ interview he called a Republican lawyer who accused him of dirty tricks in Alabama “a complete lunatic.”
Observers on the left and right have dismissed Rove’s latest attack as unfounded and out of bounds. A representative for Clinton quipped, “Please assure Dr. Rove she’s 100 percent,” while Rove’s former Bush White House colleague Nicolle Wallace called his latest attack “off the wall.” “I worked with Karl for a long time. This was a deliberate strategy on his part to raise her health as an issue and, I think in his view, a legitimate line of questioning ahead of the next campaign,” she told MSNBC on Tuesday, noting that the attacks seemed “out of place, out of time and some of the basic facts seemed to be wrong.”
But while basic facts have never been a requirement for smears by Rove’s campaigns, it has at times been difficult to pin the smears directly on him. A protégé of the late Lee Atwater, the legendary political dirty trickster who steered George H.W. Bush to victory in 1988 presidential election, Rove was first investigated by the Republican National Committee in 1973 for allegedly teaching seminars on dirty tricks to college Republicans (he was cleared of wrong-doing). Two decades later, Rove served as a top strategist to George W. Bush’s gubernatorial campaign against then-Gov. Ann Richards (D-TX). According to news reports, a whisper campaign about the divorced Richards’ sexual orientation was used in conservative East Texas to weaken her support. George W. Bush biographer Louis Dubose wrote: “No one ever traced the character assassination to Rove. Yet no one doubts that Rove was behind it.”