WASHINGTON – For eight years, George W. Bush had a White House political and public relations machine to defend his legacy and lash his rivals. Now that Bush is out of office, the same man is still leading the charge: Karl Rove.
The onetime chief political adviser to the 43rd president has emerged as the most frequent critic of the 44th. In a weekly newspaper column and appearances as a Fox News analyst, Rove offers sometimes-caustic assessments of President Obama and his administration.
During an interview this week on Fox, Rove called Vice President Joe Biden “a serial exaggerator” and “a blowhard,” accusing him of making up a private meeting with Bush in the Oval Office. “If I was being unkind, I would say he’s a liar,” Rove said Thursday. “You should not exaggerate and lie like this when you are the vice president of the United States.”
Reached by e-mail while traveling in Texas, Rove declined to elaborate.
The steady criticism of the Bush years emanating from the White House, and from Obama himself, appears to have moved some veterans of the former administration to action.
Some Bush partisans have held their tongues when it comes to the new administration. Former counselors Dan Bartlett and Ed Gillespie and former adviser Karen Hughes, who were visible spokespeople for the Bush administration, have been largely absent from the public arena since Obama took office.
But others are engaging the White House.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has launched several broadsides against Obama’s terrorism policies, warning of dire consequences if America strays from Bush policy. Spokeswoman Dana Perino has been making the rounds of the cable shows, though she has been cautious in her commentaries about Obama. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has taken on the president in his recent Washington Post columns.
“It is a sad, unnecessary shame that Barack Obama, the candidate of unity, has so quickly become another source of division,” Gerson wrote this week.
Rove and others appear eager to pierce the new president’s mystique and defend Bush’s legacy.
“He’s the best. He knows more than anyone else. He’s more proficient, and he has all the facts,” said Mary Matalin, a GOP strategist who was a senior adviser to Cheney. “Karl’s just a gutsy guy. He’s the E.F. Hutton on this.”
The current occupants of the White House privately insist that they are not listening. Aides there view Rove as offering overheated partisan rhetoric that they believe does not ring true with most Americans, and they argue that he is talking primarily to a conservative audience of Fox viewers and readers of the Wall Street Journal opinion pages.
“I would think the American people are tired of Karl Rove, and as we saw last fall, they overwhelmingly rejected his divisive brand of politics,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Timothy Kaine said through a spokesperson. “That’s why it’s so surprising that the Republican Party continues to allow him to be their top spokesman.”