DOES KARL ROVE KNOW SOMETHING WE DON'T?

Richard Reeves

LOS ANGELES -- Karl Rove, pundit for now, continued to pound away at his favorite target, Sarah Palin, over the summer, saying this time she was too "thin-skinned" to be president.

That was at least his second attack on her skin. The first, last year, was funnier.

In case you've forgotten, the first one was when she did an eight-part Discovery Channel show on the wonders of Alaska and herself. That time Rove, the Republican Party's ranking philosopher prince, did a pretty good imitation of of her out there fishing:

"Did you see that?" he asked an interviewer when the show began. "Holy crap! That fish bit my thigh. It hurts!"

"I'm not a reality show," Palin countered. "I'm documenting Alaska's resources."

Rove laughed and said it confirmed his theory that the former Alaska governor and all-round celebrity does not have the "gravitas" -- or presumably gravlox -- to be president of the United States.

Oh well, that's old news. What isn't so old is that Rove has been attacking two declared Republicans for president, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

Rove was among the first to question whether the Minnesota congresswoman could function as president because she has a history of migraine headaches. Rove suggested, "It's going to be important for her to get her doctors out there quickly to provide medical records and to provide the reassurance that people are going to want to have that this is not a serious issue."

Democratic pundits actually showed a bit of delicacy on that one, figuring she's done pretty well so far -- and who knows what goes on in that head.

As for Rick Perry, their hostility to each other goes deep into the heart of Texas politics and relations between Perry and Rove's meal ticket, former President George W. Bush. Rove opened his attacks on Perry by saying his views on Social Security are "toxic."

Then he added his take on Perry's wild criticism of Ben Bernanke: "You don't accuse the chairman of the Federal Reserve of being a traitor to his country. Of being guilty of treason. And, suggesting that we treat him pretty ugly in Texas. You know, that is not, again, a presidential statement."

What is going on here? Does Karl Rove know something we don't know about his party mates? So far he has taken on three of the 8 1/2 (Palin has not declared) of his party's candidates. True, it has been a woolly Republican campaign -- a lot of fun, really -- with two candidates, Bachmann and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, having to watch their top staffers walk away from the fight.

My own guess, prejudiced, if you will, is that Rove knows the Republicans are in real trouble with their "class" of 2012. His party's candidates are throwing around words that have largely been missing since the 19th century, beginning with "treason." Perhaps he senses that there is no way the Republicans and their tea party cousins get find a way to unite to defeat the Democrats even in rough economic times. Perhaps he wants to stay on the sidelines this time and make his own political comeback in 2016.

The Republicans may not have much to show in the coming campaign except for a well-groomed gang of extremists. Remember Barry Goldwater -- wonderful man, lousy candidate. At some point in the campaign, the Republicans may have to stand up or 'fess up to what they have been doing.

Their troubles may have begun when their Senate leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said the party's job was to spend four years making sure that President Obama fails, that he is a one-term president. (Bachmann has since taken up that chant.)

Is that any way to run a country? Republicans are basically saying they want the president -- and the country -- to fail so that they can take it over.

Rove may be on to that. If he is a true Republican, and he is, he may be trying to warn the rest of the party that it is headed for more trouble than it thinks next year.

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