News & Politics

Karl Rove Gets Twittered, IMs Opponents, and Talks Online Politics

Yahoo summit brings top political talent—including “Bush’s brain”—to discuss the future of politics in the digital age. Rove later revealed what ad his party would have run if Howard Dean had become the Democrat’s presidential nominee in 2004..

Karl Rove took the stage Thursday afternoon at DC’s Willard InterContinental hotel to discuss the pros and cons of the Internet at an invitation-only event held by Yahoo to educate Washington political types about the value of online political activity. One of Rove’s main points—that the Internet creates a dangerous society of spectacle where every political moment is recorded for instant consumption and critique—was realized as audience members live-blogged, Twittered (a form of new media similar to blogging but shorter in form), and took photos for instant proliferation throughout the Web.

During a cocktail reception after the talk, Rove instant-messaged a liberal activist he had criticized during his speech, dished on the 2004 campaign, and learned that live blogging of the event had already attracted attention from the Republican National Committee.

If the point of the Yahoo Summit—where former senator Max Cleland also spoke—was to educate the political elite about the nature of politics online, some in the audience clearly already had their PhDs. Perhaps some of the key players in Mark Warner’s and Howard Dean’s former campaigns didn’t need to hear Yahoo employees advise them to make sure “your candidate is in the mouth of citizen 2.0.” Citizen 2.0 apparently refers to those interested in online politics. Others in the audience who represented various associations struggling to figure out the Internet seemed to find the presentation helpful.

However, the real draw was a chance to see “Bush’s brain”—as Rove has been dubbed—expound on what happens when the Internet meets politics. Here’s what the political consultant who helped win two presidential elections and worked on several more—adopting cutting-edge technologies along the way—had to say.

On the nature of politics online:

  • The Internet changes the mechanics and logistics of politics, not its larger purpose.
  • The person who masters politics online will have figured out how to convince undecided voters to support  their candidate.

  • Bloggers and other online writers have distance from their discourse and are enabled to say malicious things they wouldn’t say in person or in a letter. Often these authors can be completely anonymous.
  • Online vulgarity and profanity threaten to undermine efforts to convince undecided voters, because these people are turned off by coarse language and hyperpartisanship.

  • The nature of inexpensive online publishing and other new media ensures that everything a candidate does is recorded; this constant surveillance threatens to damage our political system by catching good candidates in normal moments of human weakness.
  • The 24/7 news cycle is enhanced by the Internet, and fact-checking and accuracy are sacrificed by the    media in the race to get a story first.

  • Online, the proportions of events are skewed in relation to reality such that these events have a short life on the Internet; although they can dominate the political chattering class’s attention for a short period, such events often fade in political relevance as time moves on.

On the opposing party:

  • Democrats and Republicans are both harnessing the political elements of the Internet, but Democrats are better at talking about it. 

  • Rove really did want Howard Dean to be the Democratic nominee in 2004 (as he was quoted saying in a Time magazine article).

  • The Republican strategist had an ad ready to go if Dean became the nominee. It highlighted excerpts from a speech Dean had given at the California State Democratic Convention in March 2003: “I want my country back! We want our country back! I am tired of being divided! I don’t want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore!” The ad—relying on Dean’s own words—caused the Dean campaign “to be over” because it portrayed the candidate in such a bad light according to Rove’s focus group research. 

  • When Dean touted his 600,000-member e-mail list in the 2004 primary, Rove noted, Republicans already had a 6.2-million-member Bush-Cheney list.

  • Ned Lamont’s campaign was a giant failure of the liberal online community.

Other interesting tidbits:

  • Rove criticized’s Tom Matzzie for boasting that an antiwar group would end the war. Later, the two IM’d on a T-Mobile Sidekick provided by Clay Johnson, a Democratic Internet consultant and friend of the antiwar leader. According to Clay, Rove wrote to Matzzie: “This is rove and I did take your name in vain.” He then mysteriously added, “Have enjoyed listening to your [MoveOn?] calls!”

  • Rove has an iPhone.

  • His favorite blogs include the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web and Instapundit. He couldn’t recall      visiting the largest blog,

  • In another meta moment, an RNC staffer located Michael Bassik, who drafted a live blog post for         TechPresident to let him and Rove know that folks were e-mailing back and forth about the post at the   RNC.

Check out TechPresident’s writeup of the event (which got the attention of the RNC) here.

View a photo from an iPhone of attendee Kyle Stoneman below.

Karl Rove with Clay Johnson, a Democratic Internet consultant.