Coinciding as it does with the backlash against Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney’s shameful Karl Rove-style attacks on the Department of Justice, the release of Karl Rove’s spin-tastic memoir provides an opportunity to remember the central lesson that Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, and Liz Cheney learned from 9/11: 9/11 is good for Republicans.
In a 2007 article analyzing Rove’s failure to create a durable Republican majority, John Judis wrote that Rove’s focus on expanding the Republican base did contribute to Bush’s victory in 2004, but, in both 2002 and 2004, it took second place to the effect of the September 11 attacks, which scared the hell out of the American people”:”
As political psychologists have recently discovered… that fear made Americans more susceptible to the kind of charismatic appeal Bush could provide. It also widened and deepened the appeal of social conservatism. What Rove did was to recognize the full extent to which Bush and the Republicans could politically take advantage of this fear. [...]
As Rove explained in a January 2002 address to a Republican luncheon in Austin, “We can go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America. Americans trust the Republicans to do a better job of keeping our communities and our families safe.” [...]
Without September 11, Rove would not have had a base to expand or constituencies to target. Republicans would have been faced with an electorate that was moving to the center-just as it had begun to do in 2000-and would have had to fight for the voters in the middle. As it was, the electorate of 2004 split roughly in half, and the Republican half was sustained chiefly by the spell cast by September 11. As voters’ perceptions of the war on terrorism vied with their growing awareness of the disaster in Iraq, the spell began to lift, and what Rove took to be a permanent majority began to disintegrate.
Rove understood fairly quickly, as Cheney and Kristol and the current GOP leadership also understand, that Keeping America Scared is essential to preserving Republican political power — even if that means affirming Al Qaeda’s own propaganda in the process. On the actual national security substance, the Rove-Cheney-Kristol faction lost the debate over the war on terror. They’re now trying to win the political debate through blatant fear-mongering and McCarthyism. Unfortunately, thanks both to the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats who seem unable to take their own side in an argument, they seem to be making progress in that debate.