Karl Rove boasted on the eve of Tuesday’s election that all signs pointed towards an electoral college landslide. He was right about the result, just wrong about the candidate. And now it’s up to Rove to explain to donors why, after blowing through $300 million of their money, President Obama is still President Obama and Harry Reid still runs the Senate.
Judging by Rove’s election night tantrum on Fox News, this was not a situation he was well prepared for. In a surreal stretch of television, he refused to believe the network’s call of Ohio, lashed out at producers for making it, then spouted a blizzard of county by county statistics to justify his increasingly untenable case.
“Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?” Fox host Megyn Kelly asked at one point, “Or is this real?” Given Rove’s prior history on election predictions, it was a logical question.
As Rove’s complaints dragged on, Kelly marched over personally to Fox’s election experts who told her live that they had “99.95%” confidence in their projection, no matter what the network’s on-air talent thought. The segment was passed around endlessly the next day and nearly caused Jon Stewart to die of laughter.
Two days later, Rove started the hard work of explaining why the Democrats were simply too much for any one billionaire-funded super PAC to handle.
He offered up a litany of culprits behind Obama’s victory in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Thursday. People to blame included:
•Mother Nature: Don’t like the election result? Blame God: “Hurricane Sandy interrupted Mr. Romney’s momentum and allowed Mr. Obama to look presidential and bipartisan.” Rove telegraphed this argument even before election day, but the fact remains that there’s almost no polling evidence at all for it. Obama’s swing state lead had stabilized well before the storm hit.
•Editors: “Then there was the anonymous New York Times headline writer who affixed “Let ‘Detroit Go Bankrupt’ to Mr. Romney’s November 2008 op-ed on reorganizing the auto companies, which the Obama campaign brought up again and again in the industrial Midwest. The president made it appear that Mr. Romney favored liquidation of the companies (which he did not), instead of an orderly reorganization (which he did).”
•The Hired Help: “A hotel employee with a cellphone camera taped Mr. Romney talking at a May fundraiser about the “47%” of the population that do not have any federal income-tax liability. When released in September, the video added to public doubts about Mr. Romney’s wealth and character.”
He also offered up another pair of juicy targets on Fox News the same day.
•Dirty Tricks: Rove told Fox that Obama won by “suppressing the vote.” Not by, say, imposing voting restrictions that disproportionately affect certain demographics, but by running mean ads about Bain Capital. And while Rove did the best he could (“The first group to respond to attacks on Bain was American Crossroads”) the real problem was….
•Mitt Romney: Rove said the Republican nominee ran a “valiant race,” but suggested that the failure to rebut the Bain attacks was exclusively a Romney issue. “We don’t do defense all that well,” he said. “It’s better to have the candidate [respond].”
Whether ultra-wealthy donors like Sheldon Adelson will decide Rove’s most recent writings are more credible than such recent gems as “Can We Believe the Presidential Polls?” is an open question. At least one billionaire isn’t buying it:
In the meantime, Democrats are happy to watch him twist in the wind.
“I would think there will be reluctance in the future when Mr. Rove and others come knocking on the door,’ David Axelrod told reporters on Thursday.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.