Karl Rove, left, talks with Sen. Orrin Hatch in Tampa during final preparations… (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GETTY…)
In the post-mortems of the 2012 election campaigns, it is already being written that the much-feared super PACs — those ostensibly independent, billionaire-funded outside organizations and their hundreds of millions in negative ads — turned out to be a bust.
At the center of the wreckage stands Karl Rove, the GOP strategist and supposed dark genius who for more than a decade has figured in the mythos of both parties.
With more than a little glee, Democrats and even some Republicans say the electoral defeat of so many candidates backed by his brainchild, a behemoth super PAC called American Crossroads, is proof that politics has finally passed Rove by.
It will be no surprise that Rove, not known for self-doubt, differs with that assessment.
“We did good things this year,” Rove said in an interview from California, where he had just given a speech with former Obama White House press secretary Robert Gibbs at an Association of Equipment Manufacturers convention. “But look, it’s the way of politics that you’re going to have some good years, and you’re going to have some bad years.”
As Rove sees it, the campaign proved that American Crossroads and its more secretive issue-advocacy arm, Crossroads GPS — which allows donors to remain anonymous — are here to stay.
Rove is pondering new missions for Crossroads to address weaknesses laid bare by the GOP’s back-to-back failures to win the White House and the fact that the party fell short when expected to win back the Senate.
Where until now it battled only in general elections and against Democrats, Crossroads is considering whether to start picking sides in Republican primaries. The idea would be to boost the candidate it deems most electable and avoid nominating the kind of flawed and extreme ones who cost the party what should otherwise have been easy Senate wins in Florida, Missouri and Indiana.
That, however, could put Crossroads at odds with the tea party and other groups that devote their energies to promoting the most ideologically pure contenders.
Crossroads also is likely to invest more deeply in organizations such as the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has been trying to build a more appealing GOP farm team by, among other things, recruiting Hispanic candidates to run for state-level office.
And it is raising money to run advertising shoring up the congressional Republicans during the upcoming negotiations to avert the “fiscal cliff.”
For Crossroads, 2012 was a $300 million learning experience.
“We’ve got to carefully examine, as we did after 2010, an after-action report looking at everything with fresh eyes and questioning and figuring out what worked and what didn’t work,” Rove said.
The failure of Crossroads to live up to expectations is not the only thing that has put Rove back into the news and revived the intrigue that surrounds a man whose seen and unseen hand works in so many places in politics.
In his role as an election-night pundit on Fox News, Rove got into a much-talked-about, on-air argument with the network when it decided to call Ohio for President Obama.
He also created a stir two days later, when he accused Obama’s campaign of “suppressing the vote,” using language that Democrats apply to measures such as voter ID laws that make it more cumbersome for people to cast ballots. Rove said he was referring to the denigration of Mitt Romney that made him less palatable to voters looking for an alternative to Obama.
Rove’s is the most famous name associated with Crossroads, but he said he receives no money from it, not even travel expenses, for his work as a strategist and fundraiser. Its day-to-day operations are run by its president, Steven Law.
Outside their circle, many of the performance reviews have been scathing.
The Sunlight Foundation, which tracks money in politics, calculated that only 6 percent of Crossroads money went to winners; by comparison, the Service Employees International Union, an old war horse of Democratic politics, had a 70 percent victory rate.
Celebrity real estate developer Donald Trump taunted on Twitter: “Congrats to @KarlRove on blowing $400 million this cycle. Every race @CrossroadsGPS ran ads in, the Republicans lost. What a waste of money.”
And Obama strategists David Axelrod said: “If I were one of those billionaires funding Crossroads and other organizations, I’d be wanting to talk to someone and asking where my refund is, because they didn’t get much for their money.”
However, Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, insisted Crossroads and the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future “had a very positive impact on leveling the playing field in key target states.”
“Obama for America had a strategy to put Gov. Romney and his campaign away early,” Rhoades wrote in an e-mail. “In looking back, it might have worked if these organizations hadn’t countered them in the spring and summer.”