AUSTIN — Anyone seeking evidence that the center of gravity in the Republican Party writ large, and particularly in Texas, has shifted needs to look no farther than Karl Rove’s recent upbraiding of leaders in the GOP who seek to excuse or minimize the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol one year ago.
Rove is well known as one of the masterminds of George W. Bush’s ascent first to the Texas Governor’s Mansion and then to the White House. But long before that — we're talking the 1970s — he supplied much of the brick and mortar for the Republican takeover of state politics.
He helped Dallas oilman Bill Clements become Texas' first Republican governor since Reconstruction in 1978. He was the first operative hired by George H.W. Bush for his unsuccessful 1980 race for the presidency. He helped former Democrat Rick Perry come from almost nowhere, politically speaking, to get elected as the first Republican state agriculture commissioner in 1990.
Four years later, Rove helped George W. Bush unseat Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, which proved the catalyst for the nation's most recent two-term Republican presidency.
Rove practiced a take-no-prisoners approach to politics that made him the most sought-after GOP operative in Texas and one of the top draws nationally. That’s what makes his blunt assessment of the party’s Jan. 6 deniers ring so loudly.
“My criticisms are often aimed at Democrats;” Rove wrote in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal published one year after the insurrection. “(O)n the anniversary of Jan. 6, I’m addressing squarely those Republicans who for a year have excused the actions of the rioters who stormed the Capitol, disrupted Congress as it received the Electoral College’s results, and violently attempted to overturn the election.
"There can be no soft-pedaling what happened and no absolution for those who planned, encouraged and aided the attempt to overthrow our democracy. Love of country demands nothing less," the piece continues. "That’s true patriotism.”
Rove mentioned no names, but the op-ed landed the same day Texas Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz felt compelled to crawdad back on his recent statement calling the insurrection a "terrorist attack." After he made the remark, some in the GOP castigated Cruz for effectively selling out former President Donald Trump, whose speech on Jan. 6, 2021, before Congress certified his election defeat, was seen as a precursor to the riot.
It's no stretch to say that the path for Cruz and nearly all of today’s top-tier Texas Republicans was paved in no small part by the spade work done by Rove more than a generation ago. The same year Clements was elected governor, there were no Republicans holding statewide office. Of the 31 state senators at the time, 28 were Democrats. Across the Capitol Rotunda, only 19 Republicans where scattered about the 150-member House chamber. Today, the GOP controls both chambers and holds all of the statewide elective offices.
In addition to Clements, Perry and the Bushes, Rove was instrumental in pushing forward the political careers of such Texas Republicans as Phil Gramm, Kay Bailey Hutchison, John Cornyn and others. In their 2003 biography "Bush's Brain," the late former Dallas Morning News Austin Bureau Chief Wayne Slater and former veteran Texas broadcast journalist James Moore called Rove "a man whose presence in an opponent's campaign can chill a Democrat's hopes."
Since leaving the Bush White House as deputy chief of staff for policy, Rove has been more of a pundit than a political trench fighter. In his recent op-ed, he showed his antipathy toward Democrats, chiding them for their "petty habit of aggravating partisan fault lines by indiscriminately condemning all who came to Washington" to protest the 2020 election.
But he said his own party bears a "heavier burden." The burden won't be lifted, he concluded, until all Republicans face the truth of Jan. 6, 2021.
John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.
This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Tough love: Karl Rove's blunt message to Republicans over insurrection