Karl Rove says did not ask for gay marriage fight
Karl Rove, the political operative widely credited with the electoral successes of former U.S. President George W. Bush, says in his new book that he did not choose gay marriage as a wedge issue but that circumstances thrust it his way.
Conventional wisdom, at least in some circles, has it that Rove masterminded gay marriage as an issue in the 2004 White House race in a bid to get conservative evangelicals — a key base for the Republican Party, especially during the Bush years — to the polls. There were ballot initiatives in about a dozen states that year to ban gay marriage (or, supporters of such measures would argue, to defend traditional marriage). Many political commentators have said such tactics are in keeping with the “Rovian” strategy of ginning up the base to clinch narrow victories.
Rove, in “Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight,” says the ballot initiatives made little difference to the outcome that year and that they were not his idea anyway.
“Gay marriage was an ugly fight we had not asked for but could win if we handled with care. Done right, our response to gay marriage could show it was possible to bring a courteous and caring tone to a divisive issue. The issue also revealed the nuttiness of the Left, which never saw how persistent America’s traditionalism really was. Instead, the Left seemed convinced that Bush and I engineered the issue’s emergence to drive Bush partisans to the polls. But, of course, it was a liberal supreme court that brought the issue to the fore,” he writes.
He was referring to a November 2003, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that legalized gay marriage in that state. Rove said that development sparked the ballot initiatives and he maintains their impact in the election battle against Democrat John Kerry has been greatly exaggerated. What did matter in his view was that state court decision.
“In the end, whether a state had a marriage ballot measure didn’t affect Bush’s share of the vote: he increased his portion of the vote between 2000 and 2004 by an average of 2.7 points in the states without referenda and by an average of 2.5 points in the eleven states with defense-of-marriage initiatives on the November ballot, a statistically insignificant difference … But the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision did affect the 2004 election by motivating culturally conservative Democrats and independents who might otherwise have voted Democratic to abandon Kerry over his wobbly views on marriage.”
Bush of course opposed same-sex marriage and called for a federal constitutional amendment to bar it, though Rove also notes that the former president supported same-sex partner rights such as hospital visits and health coverage.
“Neither Bush nor I regret his stand on gay marriage. The issue was thrust upon us and we were perfectly willing to make our case. To overturn the time-honored definition of marriage is a socially revolutionary act. To do so through the courts and against the will of the people makes the attempt even more radical,” Rove writes, giving the standard critique of gay marriage that one hears in conservative Christian circles.
Rove also talks about the allegations that his adopted father was gay — allegations we blogged about the other day when he said in an interview that families should be off limits in politics. He says that the reporters who pushed those allegations were “driven by hatred” and that they wanted to push the angle that Karl Rove, the anti-gay crusader, had a gay father.
For the record, Rove says he does not know to this day and does not care if his late father was gay.
Rove does not have much more to say on the hot-button social issues and religious vote that have been associated with him and Bush. I have only had a chance to read a few sections of the book but according to the index the word abortion is only found on about a dozen of the book’s over 500 pages and some of those references are brief. The word “evangelicalism” is mentioned on only a handful of pages as well.
Rove was widely seen as a hardened warrior in the trenches of America’s culture wars. But he says he was reluctantly dragged into some of those battles.