He will not appear on the Republican ticket or speak at the GOP Convention, yet his impact on the 2012 race for President of the United States has already been felt. He has skillfully navigated the post Citizens United landscape, helping to push the Tea Party into Congress. He is currently helping to pour millions of dollars into negative ads attacking Presidentin swing states. He has attempted to depict Obama as an outsider, a celebrity, and distorted and twisted the President’s record/persona in order to get his messages across to key voting blocks. His and all other Super PACs are legally bound not to have any coordination with a candidate’s campaign, but it would be naïve not to see the many ways in which the new rules can be skirted (See on stage at campaign event with his sugar daddy). He is , George W. Bush’s former Deputy Chief of Staff, and his American Crossroads Super PAC cohorts are in the business of throwing political hand grenades.
Althoughhas not yet selected a running mate, he can rest assured that regardless of his pick the same kinds of inciting statements made to Republican crowds by the likes of during the 2008 election (at the dismay of the McCain campaign) will be made by groups such as American Crossroads via the air and radio waves and the Crossroads GPS field campaign. Unfortunately for Romney, no matter how much he spends on ads, he will have never truly have control over the conservative message during this election season.
Much like Senatornever had control over Palin’s crowds during the heavy campaign season,, Romney will also have little to no control over Super PACs like American Crossroads. No matter how hard Romney tries to keep things positive or on an economic message, he will constantly be walking back ads that Rove’s group has put out. There is no way he can stop it, so he will either have to embrace it or suffer the same fate as McCain.
It's also notable that McCain was never truly in with the starkest conservatives, and neither is Mitt Romney. Romney, like McCain, is not a big draw, he is not exciting, and he doesn’t give a great speech. Like McCain, Romney was the settled-upon candidate. He is not, , or even . Yet, because of the ill-fated Palin experience, and because FOX News is a defacto GOP network with Karl Rove as an active talking head, Romney will have to walk a fine line by either picking a name that draws ratings or by trying to play it safe with a lesser-known that he can consistently overshadow and keep on message.
He can go with a big name and risk being Palin’d, or he can go with a low profile pick and risk being overshadowed by Super PAC messaging because the ticket is just too boring. Either way, Romney will eventually run into messaging issues. His VP choice will no doubt be difficult, but the end result may be the same regardless of whether the pick is Marco Rubio or Rob Portman. The more outrageous Super PAC messages will always draw bigger ratings on FOX andthan will play-it-safe Romney campaign ads, and the Super PAC nonsense makes for bigger headlines with opposition groups. There is simply nothing Romney can do to stop this phenomenon under the current rules.
The conservatives running American Crossroads are not, and never have been or will be true Romney Republicans. Sure, they want to beat Obama, but this group is for the most part composed of ex-Bush aides and veterans of the neo conservative movement who are trying to stay relevant by pursuing the same divisive political messaging that drove the Bush/Cheney to two terms in the White House. They play on religion, they entice the birthers, they are the brains behind the new Tea Party movement, but they are certainly not Massachusetts moderates. They are the same people who trashed McCain in 2000, Kerry in 2004, and both Obama and Romney in 2008.
Karl Rove and company have Romney cornered, because unlike the Democratic Party, the Republican establishment does not have a recognizable uniting voice or platform (not liking the President is not a platform!). There is no Barack Obama or, and Bush is currently a bad word on the Romney campaign. There simply exists a fractured GOP composed of factions representing different eras of conservatism leaning on an aging Reagan-era base in danger of disappearing if it does not begin to appeal to the changing face of modern America.
This lack of unification, coupled with the Citizens United decision, has opened the door for candidates to be at the mercy of the Super PAC if they are not themselves an intriguing presence. As far as Karl Rove and American Crossroads go, they have harnessed the potential of having the same negative impact or greater on the Romney campaign as did the unchecked rhetoric of Sarah Palin that haunted the McCain camp with independent voters in 2008.
The bottom line is that Mitt Romney cannot control Karl Rove even if Rove is trying to help him win. Because Romney will be outspent by Super PACs in an inter-party battle to define the key issues of this election, the Rove message will inevitably become part of the Romney message. Sure it’s still early, but it’s definitely not a stretch to say that Rove will end up having a Palin-like effect on Romney’s bid this November. Maybe Rove can help Romney fire up a segment of the conservative base that Romney cannot reach, but in the end, Rove’s push to fire up the Republican on dated social issues, along with his desperate attempts to create a straw man version of Barack Obama, could seriously backfire for Romney with undecided voters seeking to further distance this country from Bush-era practices and policies. Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, the money is in the bank and continues to flow to Karl Rove’s and other similar groups, their ads are already hitting the tubes, and the end results will be telling of the true effect of Citizens United on those who fiercely advocated for the Super PAC system.