Rove back to basics in reduced new role
'He didn't go home and celebrate,' a Bush adviser says
From Dana Bash
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Did a new boss looking to turn a page demote Karl Rove? Or was Rove shifted so he can spend more time doing what he does best, political strategy?
Bush advisers say the answer is both.
Despite his legendary status as the president's political guru, Rove also fancies himself as a policy wonk and wanted to be seen that way, sources say.
After the 2004 election, the president expanded Rove's official role to deputy chief of staff for policy. Those who know him say taking away any power, especially in the policy realm, is like a punch in the gut.
"Look, the bottom line is that since 1990, when Karl Rove started working for George W. Bush, his power has done nothing but grow. This is the first time Rove's power is being taken away, and no spin in the world can mask that," said one Bush adviser.
Even Bush officials in charge of trying to minimize the impact of Rove's diminished new role concede it's hard to mask the reality that the move was a demotion.
"Let's put it this way -- he didn't go home and celebrate this with his family," the adviser said.
But sources who have worked closely with Rove said he was simply not cut out to manage White House policy.
"Things were falling through the cracks," said a former senior Bush aide. "It was disorganized, and the policy suffered."
Wayne Slater, co-author of "Bush's Brain," a book on Rove, said, "His portfolio, of politics and policy, has been something that he can't handle as well as some folks might have hoped."
White House policy stumbles have bothered Josh Bolten, the new White House chief of staff, who focused solely on policy issues as deputy chief of staff in the Bush administration's first term.
The overhaul of Social Security, the biggest policy initiative in the second term, failed. Others, such as post-Katrina recovery efforts, were seen as anemic.
Worried Republican congressional officials say they're happy Rove can focus again where they need him this election year -- framing the case against Democrats.
What now for the president's longtime adviser? Sources close to Rove say they expect him to travel more to fire up his network of activists, many of whom are disappointed with the president.
"Karl Rove has become virtually an iconic figure to Republican grass-roots activists by virtue of his role in strategizing the last three Republican election victories," Republican activist Vin Weber said.
In reality, Rove may not be in charge of policy, but he will remain heavily involved. Even though the move was part of a White House effort to suggest a change, many observers said they don't expect much.
"I think the fact is, over the last six years of this administration, Karl Rove, because of his importance to the president and his importance to the administration, has been able to do what he wants to do, and that will largely continue to be the case," Weber said.
Translation: Karl Rove will remain a target of Democratic criticism and a key strategist and friend at the president's side.
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