Death of Political Consultants Greatly Exaggerated
The recent resignation of senior White House adviser Karl Rove inspired many journalists and commentators to crow that the era of the all-knowing, all-powerful political consultant is dead. Not so fast, says Dennis Plane, assistant professor of politics. Political consultants are more popular than ever, it’s just that they’re not trying to become famous.
As Karl Rove resigned his position as senior adviser to the President in the Bush White House, many in the media characterized his time there as a failure. Is that fair?
I wouldn’t characterize his tenure as a failure. The 2000 and 2004 elections were a big success and he was the mastermind behind the redistricting in Texas that give the Republicans a majority in that state and nationally.
Where did Karl Rove fail?
He hasn’t had the policy successes he was trying for; his initiatives on taxes and privatization of Social Security didn’t go anywhere. People who work as campaign consultants are really good at going for the jugular and creating divisive issues, and Rove was really good at that. Introducing domestic programs from the White House requires skill at negotiation and bargaining, and he is not good at that.
Are voters more savvy about recognizing the manipulations of campaign staffs?
Voters all say they can see through manipulation, but the electorate right now is about 50-50 and if a campaign issue can move 5 percent of the voters to your side you’ve won the election.
Have we seen the last of the all-powerful political consultants like Rove, James Baker, James Carville or Bob Shrum?
Campaign consultants are as valid as ever; what you’re seeing is the big names dropping out, although Joe Trippi, the guy who spearheaded Howard Dean’s campaign is back working with candidates. What is happening, especially with the growth of the Internet is the rise of very specialized consultants like bloggers.
Are these more specialists going to become the next big-time consultants or are they willing to fly under the radar?
Campaign consultants’ work works best when they are not noticed. Their job is to subtly massage public opinion around issues and that works best when the public doesn’t know it’s being massaged.
- John Wall, Director of Media Relations