"Karl Rove in a Corner," an article by Joshua Green of The Atlantic, probably is the definitive account of Rove's campaign tactics.
Green writes about some of Rove's darkest tricks:
One constant throughout his career is the prevalence of whisper campaigns against opponents. The 2000 primary campaign, for example, featured a widely disseminated rumor that John McCain, tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had betrayed his country under interrogation and been rendered mentally unfit for office. More often a Rove campaign questions an opponent's sexual orientation. Bush's 1994 race against Ann Richards featured a rumor that she was a lesbian, along with a rare instance of such a tactic's making it into the public record—when a regional chairman of the Bush campaign allowed himself, perhaps inadvertently, to be quoted criticizing Richards for "appointing avowed homosexual activists" to state jobs.
One of Rove's earliest hit jobs was against fellow Texas political consultant John Weaver, who went on to manage John McCain's campaign in 2000. In the 1980s, Rove and Weaver were locked in a battled to become the dominant Republican strategist in Texas. When it appeared that Weaver's star was rising faster than Rove's, something interesting happened:
The details vary slightly according to which insider tells the story, but the main point is always the same: after Weaver went into business for himself and lured away one of Rove's top employees, Rove spread a rumor that Weaver had made a pass at a young man at a state Republican function. Weaver won't reply to the smear, but those close to him told me of their outrage at the nearly two-decades-old lie. Weaver was first made unwelcome in some Texas Republican circles, and eventually, following McCain's 2000 campaign, he left the Republican Party altogether.
Perhaps Rove's most vicious whisper campaign came in one of his early Alabama contests. It was a judicial race between Republican Harold See and Democratic incumbent Mark Kennedy, which proved to be a rare loss for a Rove candidate in a close race. But Kennedy paid a high price for his victory.
When Kennedy's term was up, he decided not to run again. And it had much to do with vicious rumors he'd had to fight during the campaign against See and Rove. A former juvenile and family-court judge, Kennedy long had held an interest in aiding abused children. In fact, he served as president of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. So naturally, according to Green, the See campaign started a rumor that Kennedy was a pedophile. Green provides insight on how the Rove rumor machine works.
Some of Kennedy's campaign commercials touted his volunteer work, including one that showed him holding hands with children. "We were trying to counter the positives from that ad," a former Rove staffer told me, explaining that some within the See camp initiated a whisper campaign that Kennedy was a pedophile. "It was our standard practice to use the University of Alabama Law School to disseminate whisper-campaign information," the staffer went on. "That was a major device we used for the transmission of this stuff. The students at the law school are from all over the state, and that's one of the ways that Karl got the information out—he knew the law students would take it back to their home towns and it would get out." This would create the impression that the lie was in fact common knowledge across the state. "What Rove does," says Joe Perkins, "is try to make something so bad for a family that the candidate will not subject the family to the hardship. Mark is not your typical Alabama macho, beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin', pickup-drivin' kind of guy. He is a small, well-groomed, well-educated family man, and what they tried to do was make him look like a homosexual pedophile. That was really, really hard to take."
This gives you an idea of just how low Karl Rove will go in an attempt to win a campaign. And he honed his craft in Alabama. Perhaps Siegelman was too well known for a rumor campaign to be effective if spread through the University of Alabama law school. Maybe that's why Rove wanted intelligence from Jill Simpson.
All of which reminds me to raise a question we addressed earlier: If this is the kind of ethics that drove Karl Rove's judicial campaigns in Alabama, campaigns that proved to be highly successful, what kind of ethics are found in Alabama state courts now?
We hope you stay tuned to Legal Schnauzer as we shine a light into the dark corners of the Courts that Karl Built.