Rush, Dick, Karl: Enjoying the Wilderness

May 21, 09 | 9:31 AM   byMichael Wolff
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I met Karl Rove last night. I walked into the NBC television studio in Washington and there, coming through the security turnstile, with an amazing twinkle in his eye as he approached, was Karl Rove. He looked fit, relaxed, sunny—and impish. We shook hands. While I could not be sure he had any idea in hell who I was, this is Washington, and he certainly acted like he did, undulating and glowing with my hand in his. I mentioned a friend we have in common (at least my friend says he knows Rove), and Rove at least pretended he knew my friend. “My man, Ian!” said Rove, on his public game.

I mention this because it occurs to me that maybe the Republicans are in a good mood, rather than in the terrible doldrums all liberals think the GOP is in, and because Rush Limbaugh is going after Colin Powell, which doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do—but if Rush is doing it maybe it is.

Anyway, Karl Rove does not—at least not in our most fleeting flirtation and brief exchange—look like a man who is discouraged. This was, in fact, the face of serenity and contentment and of a man with something up his sleeve.

(AP Photo)

Likewise, neither Rush Limbaugh nor Dick Cheney seem like men who are up against it or on anti-depressants. Rather, they seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.

For a second, yesterday, I thought it’s got to be nuts to take on the most famous military man in the United States. Joe McCarthy’s end famously began when he took on the Army. On the other hand, if a key political tactic is to attack people who only weakly hit back, you can’t do better than going after Colin Powell.

The GOP may not be eating itself up. This may not be internecine party warfare. Rather, what we’re seeing is the boys having a good time. Losing is not, as the winners always believe, ignominy or wilderness. It’s a vacation. It’s a relief. It’s even, in Washington, often a great payday. And all that’s required is patience: You don’t have to succeed; you just have to wait for the other guys to fail.

The liberals believe that what we are now witnessing is a hegemonic political reordering that will see the Democrats in power for several generations. Anything is possible, but that is among the least likely outcomes.

It would require not just Democratic success, but Republican implosion. And while, from the outside, they do seem to be bursting inward, if you look at it more closely, what you have is these big bears, like Limbaugh and Cheney and gimlet-eyed Rove, playing with rabbits like Powell and Meghan McCain. The Republicans are up to something, but it’s not implosion—it’s more like fun and relaxation.

I saw it in Karl’s eyes last night. He’s still in business.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at

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