Frankly, I don't know why Rove resigned -- but if there is any lesson in History, go round tomorrow and ask folk to give you three points on Louis Howe, and see if they have any idea who you are are talking about. My point is, that the model for Rove's role in the White House, and in the career of George W. Bush is with no doubt, Louis Howe.
If I were, right now, suggesting to an American Studies, Political Science type or even American Historian what to take up for a Thesis Topic, this would be it. Compare and contrast Howe and Rove. Why? because the contrast will illustrate the changes in American Political Culture over the last century. So let's get started.
I would contend that Without Rove, no Bush II, and without Louis Howe, absolutely no FDR. Howe First. FDR and Howe first connected in early 1911, when Howe was impressed with FDR's efforts to take on the Tammany Hall types as a first term Democrat from a Republican District on the Hudson, and as a Journalist, he built up FDR in the upstate papers for which he wrote, but also in the City Republican ones -- and whether FDR knew what it was about or not, Howe created a Reformer. Howe then quit Journalism, and for the rest of his life he devoted himself to the cause of making FDR President. Howe died about the time of FDR's re-election in 1936 -- which means he died before I was born. I have had the delight some years back of visiting a couple of Howe acquaintences when they were in their late 80's and in nursing homes -- but I have also worked my way through many of Howe's related papers at Hyde Park. FDR had great sense about Politics vis a vis Congress, and various Interest Groups, but what Howe had was the instinct to comprehend every blasted Democratic County Committee in the country, and not to understand them in terms of polling, which hardly existed, but in terms of looking at County Democratic organization; who had power, who was contesting for it, and who could deliver for you later if you did a favor for one or another right now.
Howe would follow FDR to Washington during the Wilson Administration being the Secretary to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He would live in an apartment a few blocks from FDR's Georgetown Townhouse, but they would together walk to the Navy Department every day -- mutt and Jeff -- FDR was over 6 feet tall and walked in those days like royalty, but Howe was just 5 feet tall, always looked as if he came out of the dumpster, ill fitting suits and burns and flakes from the Sweet Caporals. But Howe was also one of the few who could call FDR "Franklin" and shout at the top of his voice that FDR was a fool. Who linked up with FDR's Mother Sara to stop the talk of divorce after Lucy -- well Howe. Who, after FDR had Polio first taught Eleanor to Drive, and then coached her as a public speaker so as to keep FDR's name in public, Well Howe. Who conducted all the correspondance with county Democratic Leaders for ten years between the 1920 VP campaign and 1930 when he wrote, after FDR had been re-elected Governor to every county Dem Chair in the 48 States about the 32 Presidential Nomination, Well Howe. Who understood that one odd political fight before the Democratic National Committee in 1930 was critical, and threw FDR into it front and center, so as to defeat the Smith and Wall Street forces trying to constrain FDR in 1930, -- Well Howe -- and it wasn't even much of a vote when he got through with the matter. And who was the operative who having engineered the nomination, met the plane, the first time a Democratic Nominee decided to address the convention and personally accept the nomination, well Howe. In the car driving into Chicago, FDR told Howe off -- Look, I am the nominee, I'll give my own acceptance speech. Howe was more than willing to fade into the background, and do his thing, and he remained in the WH nearly till he died in 1936, not doing policy, but being the rough and ready person who kept FDR in touch with County by County politics across the country. He remained the only person in the WH who could walk into the Oval Office and say -- "Franklin you are a fool." When Howe got too sick to work, they moved him upstairs and nursed him till a couple of weeks before he died. Even then, he was on the phone to the county level democrats, fashioning FDR's approach. Most historians of the great FDR error of 1937, the effort to pack the Supreme Court, believe that happened because by that time Franklin didn't have anyone who could walk into the Oval Office and tell him what a fool he was.
I would contend that what Howe did between 1911 and 1936 was to construct from the bottom up, what we now call the FDR or New Deal Coalition. It lasted into the 1960's as a reliable electorial coalition. FDR was the star of the show, but the roots of it were the work of Louis Howe.
Now contention is made that Karl Rove was essentially about the same thing, trying to create a permanent Republican Electorial Majority that would last beyond the fair haired boy he selected to focus his arts around. While Rove admits to meeting GWB only when GHWB was already Chair of the Republican National Committee -- I suspect they met somewhat earlier, when Rove was working for Harry Dent on Nixon's Southern Strategy, and Bush was hiding out from the Texas Air National Guard in the Alabama Senate Race of 1972, a sort of experimental run of the Racist Southern Strategy, which if we pick up and relate lots of detail from Watergate, was actually financed out of the Nixon White House. (my bet is that a little research would put Bush and Rove together the summer of 72 and not later.)
I don't think Rove was any sort of genius about real voting behavior. By 1972 the Democrats had made a couple of things clear -- they supported electing Black Representatives in districts in the south where they could get elected, and they were accepting of the black electorate into the party, moreover Democrats clearly understood that the Northern Black Electorate was as important to them as any other interest group, and certainly more valuable that any further links with Dixiecrats. So no surprise, the Dixiecrats were fair game for Rove to recruit on the promise, I suspect, that Republicans would restore some degree of Race supremacy, or at least hierarchy where whites and blacks would not necessarily politically and socially mix. But much as Southern Progressive Democrats may not fathom it, their future is in collaboration with Southern Blacks and in recent years, Southern Hispanics. It won't be any sort of repeat of Solid South, All White politics, but it is not the Rove Plan either, of just stealing the Dixiecrats from the Democratic column.
Many progressive pundits such as Conason have made the point that there was really no paradigm shift in recent close elections, such as the election of 1932 really represented, and confirmed in 1936. I agree as far as they take it, but I think it deepens if you contrast Howe with Rove. Howe dealt with it at the level of then party organization. What do the leading factions in any county need in order to feel part of the FDR family? A Postmastership, a WPA project, a visit by FDR or Eleanor? It was all about building for the long term, and while Louis Howe never lived to see it, it sustained itself for thirty years or so. I doubt if anything Rove has constructed will last two months. Republicans know well that the rewards went to the financial heavy hitters, Billions to Halliburton and the like, very little to sustain local party claims to being well connected.
And thus the difference between Howe and Rove. Howe built a National political machine, beginning with FDR's VP race in 1920, and reaching fruition in 1932 with the Presidential Race. It lasted at least 35 years. Rove built an electorate at the 51% level for two elections, that was not a survivable coalition.
I realize these days asking folk to talk about Louis Howe is a bit really off beat, but there are all those odd facts. For instance, when FDR went to DC in 1933, who did Howe recommend he lease his NYC town house to? Well Thomas Lamont, the grand daddy of Ned Lamont. And then eventually he encouraged the Congress to hold long detailed hearings about the Financial decisions of Thomas Lamont, head of JP Morgan, making life a little difficult. Howe made it possible for FDR to play that game at every county level in the country.