Who is More Toxic to the GOP Brand: Sarah Palin or Karl Rove?

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Ben Cohen
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The ongoing spat between Sarah Palin and Karl Rove has provided the Left with a rich source of comedy, and the Right with a constant headache. The rift between the Queen of Incompetence and the Master of Manipulation is emblematic of the massive problems facing the GOP as it continues to tear itself apart. Both Palin and Rover represent factions of the Republican Party that are still relevant but inherently flawed.

Anyone interested in the realities of politics understands that the GOP must change if it is to succeed in the future. Both Palin and Rove seem to understand this and fire shots at each other at every given opportunity, blissfully unaware of their own toxic effects on the deeply troubled Party.

Said Palin at CPAC in reference to Rove:

"If these experts who keep losing elections and keep getting rehired and getting millions -- if they feel that strong about who gets to run in this party, then they should buck-up or stay in the truck."

Rove, not one to shy away from a spat, responded with the following reference to Palin's sudden departure from her position in Alaska:

"Look, I appreciate encouragement I ought to go home to Texas and run for office and, it would be news if I did to have her support. But I don't think I'm a good candidate -- a kind of balding, fat guy. And second, if I did run for office and win, I would serve out my term and I wouldn't leave office midterm."

Rove understood long ago that Sarah Palin was a massive and unnecessary political risk for the party. He refused to say she would be a good VP back in 2008 and has consistently criticized her thereafter. It's not clear whether Palin has the ability to understand why Rove also presents a huge problem for the GOP going forward, but she does know that he hasn't exactly been successful in recent years.

So who is ultimately the bigger threat to the GOP's future?

Here's our guide to Palin vs Rove in the battle toxicity (or as a friend of mine recently put it, 'Mercury vs Cyanide'):

Sarah Palin

1. Her persona alienates centrist Republicans and well, everyone else who isn't a hard core right winger.

2. She epitomizes what has gone wrong with modern politics. We thought George W. Bush pushed the boundaries of what was possible within the mainstream of American politics, but Palin took it to a completely new level. Palin is the ultimate product of image based campaigning and the relentless dumbing down of Americans to sell them garbage. McCain's election team weren't interested in a candidate who could actually do the job of a Vice President, they were interested in getting a candidate they could sell to a demographic McCain couldn't reach. It turns out Americans do actually care whether their politicians are capable of running a country, a fact Republicans are going to have to get used to.

3. Palin's disdain for intellectualism and knowledge reinforced the growing chorus in America that is proud to know nothing about anything.

4. Her presence in politics today makes the Republican Party completely unelectable at a national level. Her shameless speech at CPAC may have riled up the base, but it switched everyone else in the Republican Party off. The intelligent party planners know Palin is toxic to the GOP and they rightly want to get rid of her.

Karl Rove

1. Rove delightfully continued, refined, and improved on Lee Atwater's dirty political tactics that used race baiting and smear methods to discredit opponents. Amongst other dastardly deeds, Rove spread rumors in South Carolina that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black baby, almost certainly rigged the 2004 election in favor of George W. Bush in Ohio, and has most recently been engaged in voter suppression tactics. This might yield results in the short term, but these type of tactics are turning Republicans into 'The Nasty Party' and the stigma is getting harder and harder to shed.

2. There is a compelling argument to be made that Rove, or people like Rove, are responsible for the proliferation of politicians like Palin. Rover masterfully exploited George W. Bush's lack of curiosity, anti intellectualism and religious fundamentalism to appeal to traditionally apolitical Evangelical Christians (although Rove is an atheist himself), and has long understood that voters often make decisions based on image, not substance. Rove's Machiavellian instincts may now be leading the party astray - Rove is a masterful tactician, but not a masterful strategist.

3. Rove's meltdown on election evening in 2012 highlighted the fact that his time has come and gone. Contrary to all creditable evidence, Rove predicted a massive Romney victory and was left looking like a deer caught in the headlights as it became clear Obama was going to take the election handily. It was a major embarrassment for the GOP, and they won't want a repeat.

4. Rove is now out of favor with major Republican donors who financed his Super PAC given he delivered such poor results, meaning his brand may be irreparably damaged. No one likes a loser in America, and Rove's track record has been non existent since taking Bush to victory in 2004.

And the winner is.....

An even draw. Karl Rove is obviously the more overtly dangerous entity within the party, and has a long history of disgustingly manipulative  maneuvering that has helped ruin the American political system. But while Palin is ultimately a product of Rovian politics, she has become an entity unto herself and presents a huge threat to GOP electability going forward. Palin is not aware of much, but she understands her drawing power, and that makes her a very dangerous character. Rove is well aware of this and has worked hard to negate her influence in the party, but without a huge amount of success. And that's because he created a monster he could never control.

The truth is, if both Palin and Rove stick around and continue to play a prominent role in the party, the GOP is in very serious trouble. Their constant bickering means more attention is drawn away from engaging in productive solutions to the party's 'demographic problem', and ensure it stays stuck fighting a battle is no longer relevant.