The headline to Tuesday's lead story by Jim Rutenberg and Steven Lee Myers on the impending resignation of Karl Rove, Bush's chief political advisor, included the subhead "A Bare-Knuckle Style of Politics."
Rove as ruthless partisan brawler was indeed a theme that permeated both Tuesday's lead story and chief political reporter Adam Nagourney's accompanying analysis.
From Rutenberg and Rove's lead:
"With his voice breaking at times, and with President Bush at his side on the South Lawn of the White House, Karl Rove said Monday that he would resign as a deputy White House chief of staff at the end of the month. The decision ends Mr. Rove's role as the president's longest-serving and closest aide, and the one who most personified the bare-knuckle brand of politics Mr. Bush favors."
Rutenberg and Myers did note Rove drew heat from both right and left, quoting blogger Michelle Malkin criticizing Rove's second-term policy pushes that alienated conservatives, such as what Malkin called the "illegal alien shamnesty" (Bush's amnesty program for illegal immigrants) and the Medicare prescription drug plan.
In Nagourney's view, Rove apparently invented negative campaigning.
"Certainly, Mr. Rove has to a considerable extent changed the way presidential politics are played. Modeled on his example, campaigns have become more disciplined in driving simple, often negative messages. They begin in trying to identify the vulnerabilities of potential opponents, and they do extensive negative research as they prepare to exploit those vulnerabilities early and often."
"If some of Mr. Rove's signature achievements have been eagerly imitated, others - including an emphasis on turning out Republican base voters by focusing on polarizing issues like same-sex marriage - have been discredited by polls suggesting that the base is shrinking in Mr. Bush's second term.
"Not incidentally, Mr. Rove also leaves the White House as an extraordinarily polarizing figure, as was evident on Monday in the way some conservative bloggers joined Democratic ones in expressing delight at his departure."
(Would it have killed Nagourney to say "liberal bloggers" to balance out the reference to "conservative bloggers"?)
"Many wonder if a strategy aimed entirely at methodically identifying and stoking the party's conservative base, with issues like gay marriage, abortion and terrorism, was ever a recipe for long-term political dominance, much less for governing a country."
That summary conveniently ignored other issues which angered conservatives and that had Rove's handiwork all over them, such as the failed illegal immigration amnesty program, the failed Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, and the successful Medicare drug bill. But including those in the Rove legacy would have ruined Nagourney's convenient shorthand of Rove as right-wing divider.