Rove profile only scratches surface

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April 12, 2005|By Noel Holston | Noel Holston,NEWSDAY

Republican strategist Karl Rove's political foes have given him many nicknames, including Darth Vader, the Antichrist and several unfit for print in a family newspaper. "The Architect" is what President Bush called him the morning after they won re-election.

That should make him an excellent profile subject.

And the Frontline episode "The Architect" is fascinating, but ultimately disappointing. It tells us what Rove has accomplished and what he would like to do. But who Rove is and why he is so devoted to conservatism is underexamined.

We hear how a teenage Karl Christian Rove adored Barry Goldwater and became even more devoted to conservatism when the Arizona senator lost the presidential election in 1964. Wayne Slater, senior political writer at The Dallas Morning News, says Rove's sister "recounts a story that when he was a little kid and other kids had posters of football players and basketball players, she said, he had a poster that said, `Wake up, America.'" The sister isn't interviewed fresh for the film. Nor is any other relative or Rove himself.

The closest Frontline gets to him is his friend, GOP activist Grover Norquist. Speaking of Rove and Bush, Norquist says, "It's like two halves of a brain or something. They're both operating in sync, and have for years."

"The Architect" tracks Rove's string of successes with Bush, going back to Bush's successful run for Texas governor. And it points out certain themes of attack - including questioning opponents' patriotism and associating them with a gay "agenda" - that have recurred in higher-profile campaigns.

Rove's political savvy and his willingness to play the game hard and low-down are noted (and annotated), but his motivation is unclear.

Royal Masset, a longtime Texas political consultant, says, "I've never known him to have a personal life." That would seem doubtful, but if it is true, Frontline should explain why.

"Frontline" airs tonight at 9 on MPT, Channels 22 and 67.

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