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.

USA-POLITICS/ROVE

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.