I found myself thoroughly convinced by Mike's post on how overrated Rove has been as a "strategist." Rove himself set the goal not just at winning a couple of elections, but rather of creating a permanent Republican majority. In that, he seems to have been a colossal failure. I wonder if our presidential elections—given the electoral college, the structure of our media, and Buckley v. Valeo—will ever reward a uniter again, though?
I think back fondly to the very early days of the Dean campaign and his insistence that "Republicans are people, too." (Dean was actually a pretty conservative Governor of a pretty liberal state. So, yes, he was probably liberal in the national index, but not by as much as things seemed when he finished.) A lot of his planks were quite moderate, in fact. Still, he got trounced in the Iowa caucus (by Democrats) about as effectively as any modern candidate has who spent the kind of money he did. And here's why: shortly after Saddam had been captured, Dean's opposition to the war was spun by big money on the other side as naive—a hit Dean compounded by announcing that Saddam's capture didn't make America any safer than it had been. I don't think that was liberal or conservative. I think it was honesty, always a moderate's virtue. Yet Dean ended up being a polarizer himself, mostly because his campaign had only taken off when it started feeding on the energy his "base" gave him to attack Democrats who supported the war. As soon as that support cooled, he dropped like a stone.
I guess the moral is that you get elected (if at all) by the base and govern from the center. My worry is that getting elected has become a full time job for incumbents today because of the fundraising our politics now consists in.