BILL MOYERS: If you want to see the personification of how the Citizens United decision is playing out in this campaign, look no further than Karl Rove. Yes, that Karl Rove, the political strategist once known as Bush’s Brain. Rove was a big winner in 2000, when the court’s conservative majority gave the presidency to his client, George W. Bush. Rove went with Bush to the White House as his political czar, but left seven years later as damaged goods. He was enmeshed in the president’s failures and in scandals of his own, including millions of missing emails, congressional hearings, and a near indictment over leaks that outed covert CIA agent Valerie Plame and exposed her to danger.

But then the five conservatives on the Supreme Court – three of whom had been appointed by Rove’s two Bush patrons, Bush the First and Bush the Second – came down with the Citizens United decision, giving Karl Rove a second lease on life as a bagman – the biggest in town.

You could see him at the Republican National Convention, backslapping and glad-handing plutocrats and politicos. He told a private breakfast meeting during the convention that the super PAC he helped create, American Crossroads, plans to spend $200 million dollars on the presidential race and another $100 million dollars on this year’s Senate and House campaigns.

Then there’s his affiliated nonprofit, Crossroads GPS, that’s a 501(c)4 where all donations are anonymous, perfectly cozy and covert. Just a few days ago, Crossroads GPS bought $2.6 million worth of TV ads in Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, three states where Republicans hope to grab Senate seats, and bring them that much closer to the permanent GOP majority of Karl Rove’s dreams.

Bush's Brain has become Boss Rove, virtuoso of what BusinessWeek calls “partisan money management,” the undisputed maestro of the politics of plutocracy.

How does he do it? Investigative journalist Craig Unger has been on the case for years. The author of two books on the Bush dynasty, he’s now written this account of an astonishing comeback, "BOSS ROVE: Inside Karl Rove's Secret Kingdom of Power."

Craig, welcome to the show.

CRAIG UNGER: Thanks for having me, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: You've taken on Karl Rove in this latest book. What prompted that?

CRAIG UNGER: It was really, once the Citizens United came down, I saw him go into action. And I could see what was happening was not being followed by the mainstream press. And I thought, "Here is going to be one of the great untold stories of the 2012 election." And we saw it start to play out in 2010. And the Republicans won, I believe, with 63 seats in that. It was a tremendous victory for them.

And this was at a time when Rove was supposedly out of it. And there he was behind the scenes with these super PACs, with American Crossroads. And I could see that he was preparing himself for 2012. And not just 2012, but beyond. That he was something other than people had thought he was. Most people thought he was a creature of the Bush family. And I think he's a force that’s more powerful than that.

BILL MOYERS: I actually mapped the connections where you place Rove. From the Republicans in Congress to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is the largest business lobby in America. To multibillionaires like the Koch Brothers, to the Tea Party, to the Christian Right, Ralph Reed. To Grover Norquist. To the National Rifle Association. To Rupert Murdoch, the Wall Street Journal. Fox News, to the super PACs, by which he directs multimillions of dollars. How does he hold it all together? What's his secret?

CRAIG UNGER: Well, a lot of it, you know, I go back to the early days in the '80s, when he was really sort of a nobody. And the Texan Republican party was not powerful then. The big business people in Texas said, "Well, why should we give to the Republicans. The Democrats are doing everything we need." And Rove made his entree there through the issue of tort reform.

BILL MOYERS: He was actually working for Phillip Morris back in nineteen, the late '70s, early '80s. And you say in here and outline how he, in effect, transformed the Texas State Supreme Court into a pro-corporate, anti-tort court. And that became, as you say, a cash cow. How did he turn this tort campaign into a cash cow?

CRAIG UNGER: He went to big companies and said, "Look, you risk billions and billions of dollars in product liability lawsuits. Let me help you out. All you have to do is contribute a few million dollars to political action committees for my candidates."

And he managed to get a lot of people elected to the Texas State Legislature. He managed to get George W. Bush elected governor. And in doing that, he managed to turn the Texas Supreme Court, which had been almost entirely Democratic, and flip it so it was entirely Republican.

He was getting millions of dollars in donations from these huge corporations who were benefiting from tort reform bills that were passing the Texas legislature. I mean, there were an enormous number, over 40 bills passed to Texas legislature that hindered, that were along his lines. And tort reform—

BILL MOYERS: Made it harder for average Joes to sue corporations, right?

CRAIG UNGER: Exactly. And through this, he was able to cultivate, his first donors were people like Bob Perry, who is no relation to Rick Perry, but was a billionaire Texas builder. And Harold Simmons, another Texas billionaire. And they’ve stuck with him. And if you look at the political action committees today, and who the big donors are, a lot of the people were with Rove back in the '80s.

BILL MOYERS As you say, the health care industry, the petrol chemical and energy industry, land developers, corporate lawyers, tobacco companies, they’re the ones who supported him then and they’re doing it now, right?

CRAIG UNGER: Absolutely. He's building institutions that have enduring power and can have real consequence for the future. I think if you look at some of his campaigns, like voter suppression, there are movements in dozens of states to require voters to have IDs and so forth that will suppress the vote among pop, among groups that are largely Democratic. That can have an effect for many elections to come.

BILL MOYERS: Do you find any of Rove's fingerprints on those voter ID campaigns?

CRAIG UNGER: Absolutely. You go back to 2004, and he talked about it publicly on Fox News. In a state like Ohio, there's a tactic called caging. And what the Republicans did in Ohio is they would send out hundreds of thousands of letters, and they might focus these especially in minority neighborhoods and so forth. These were letters requiring or asking for a response. And if they didn't get a response, the voters could be challenged at the polls as not having that residency. Once your voter registration's challenged, you're given a provisional ballot, which is not always counted in the case of Ohio.

But he also had deputies who were going around the country filing suits in various states, introducing bills in state legislature.

BILL MOYERS It's clear from reading this that Karl Rove could not be doing what he's doing without Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Is that right?

CRAIG UNGER: It is enormously helpful for a number of reasons. One, simply is, it provides him with an economic base, and a powerful platform. But Fox News is something special in American journalism, if that's the right place to put it. And I went back to the Nixon administration, and Roger Ailes was in the, who's the chairman of Fox News, was in the Nixon administration.

BILL MOYERS: He was Nixon's television advisor.

CRAIG UNGER: Absolutely. And he had a proposal back then that he called GOP TV. And today, he has it effectively. This is the Republican TV network. And at one time during this campaign there were five potential presidential candidates in the Republican party, that is, if you include people like Sarah Palin who was potentially a candidate, but never declared.

Who were on Fox News payroll. So, when you see them on TV, these are not mere commentators. These are actors in the Republican party. And Rove is being the party boss. And when he and Sarah Palin have a tiff—

KARL ROVE: She is all upset about this, saying I’m somehow trying to sabotage her, sabotage her in some way—

CRAIG UNGER: That is Karl Rove, the party boss, shutting down Sarah Palin.

BILL MOYERS: Well, let me walk you through this, because it's a fascinating part of your book. You've indicated that during the Republican primaries this spring, he'd be on TV picking off one Republican candidate after another. Palin, Cain, Bachmann, Gingrich. Rick Perry, Trump—

KARL ROVE: You know, now a, you know, a joke candidate, let him go ahead and announce for election on the apprentice. The American people aren’t going to be hiring him and certainly the Republicans are not going to be hiring him in the Republican primary.

BILL MOYERS: Then he would write a column about it in the Wall Street Journal, actually fulfilling the strategy he had spelled out.

CRAIG UNGER: One by one, another Republican candidate would surge ahead of Romney. There was Rick Perry, there was Santorum and so forth. And just as they surged, Rove would strike out at them, and sometimes it was very discretely, and it would be through putting millions and millions of dollars into an anti-Santorum campaign.

BILL MOYERS: Most people have probably forgotten that the press ran with the story that Romney won the Iowa caucus, when a few days later Santorum turned out to be the real winner.

CHRIS WALLACE: Karl, you've just gotten some word from a source in the Republican National Committee. Tell us what it is.

BILL MOYERS: He was on Fox News with Chris Wallace. And he says, in fact, "Romney's going to come out the champion here," when in fact, Santorum was winning.

KARL ROVE: And that it will show an 18 vote victory in that precinct for Mitt Romney, which will give him a statewide victory of 14 votes over Rick Santorum. […]

CHRIS WALLACE: Now, I, you know, this is obviously pretty big thing. That Romney is going to win the Iowa Caucuses by 14 votes.

KARL ROVE: By 14 votes.

CHRIS WALLACE: How solid is your evidence for your...

KARL ROVE: From a pretty good, reliable source.

CRAIG UNGER: So, he is able to almost literally count the votes, even though he's not counting correctly.

BILL MOYERS: And he then writes a column to the effect in the Wall Street Journal that Romney won, even though the votes are still not all counted. And then, he directs his super PACs to go after that candidate, after Santorum. So, in effect, he's naming the winner before the votes are counted, and then carrying his story out into the public.

CRAIG UNGER: Right. He does two things. He directs the funding, but he's also creating a narrative, and he's brilliant at crafting a narrative, and having not just Fox News, but large portions of the press run with it as well.

BILL MOYERS: Rove once personified the Republican establishment that the Tea Party detested. Now you say he's coopted them, defanged their uncontrollable elements, marginalized their leaders, and seized their resources. How did he do that?

CRAIG UNGER: Well, he did it partly because he got the candidate and they had nowhere else to turn. He also, you see it playing out in a very interesting way now with the Todd Akin case, the fiasco, really, in Missouri that's going on now. Because here you have a real Tea Party candidate and Rove was pouring money in. If you looked at the Akin campaign, and he was leading Claire McCaskill by about five points.

BILL MOYERS: Rove was pouring money behind Akin?

CAMPAIGN ADS: Here’s Claire McCaskill, using special interest cash to hide the fact she’s voted against what’s best for Missouri. […] Obamacare? More like Obama Claire. […] Sorry Senator McCaskill. No more reckless spending . No new taxes. And no more blank checks.

CRAIG UNGER: Akin's campaign had about $2.2 million if I'm not mistaken. Rove's super PACs had put in more than $5 million in the campaign. So, they were crucial to its success. And now, what happened immediately after the episode came to light, Rove acted swiftly and brutally. And he said, “Akin’s got a lot of explaining to do.” He immediately pulled the plug on all funding. And again, this is the party boss announcing on national TV, "You are finished, we're not giving you another dime."

BILL MOYERS: And he has no public office of, for himself. He's not elected to any office.

CRAIG UNGER: He's not elected to any office even within the Republican party. He—

BILL MOYERS: Yet, he's the boss as you said.

CRAIG UNGER: He is. Absolutely.

He's brutal, he's ruthless, he, it's a scorched earth kind of partisanship. If you're not on his side 100 percent, he will destroy you. There are Republican, other strategists who were with him 95 percent and they found their careers destroyed. And he will go after you. And he, but he's managed to retain the loyalty of these multibillionaires for decades.

BILL MOYERS: What does it mean, Craig, that a man like Karl Rove can keep secret the sources of huge sums of money coming into his control?

CRAIG UNGER: I think if there's no transparency, then there's no accountability. And here you have billionaires, really, who are funding a political party, a political candidate, and they want certain favors in return. And I think Rove is playing a very, very long game. And he's sort of in a win-win position. That is, Romney is a deeply flawed candidate.

The Republicans are probably at a disadvantage and may well not win. If Rove pulls it out of the fire, Rove, he'll be declared a genius. And if Romney loses, Rove can blame it on the undisciplined behavior of Tea Party candidates like Akin. He can blame it on their extremism. And come back in 2016 with none other than Jeb Bush.

BILL MOYERS: The book is, Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove's Secret Kingdom of Power. Craig Unger, thanks for being with me.

CRAIG UNGER: Thanks for having me, Bill.

Craig Unger on the Continuing Power of Karl Rove

Bill talks with Craig Unger, author of Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power, about Rove’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering to once again affect the outcome of a presidential election.

“Most people thought he was a creature of the Bush family,” Unger tells Bill. “I think he’s a force more powerful than that.”

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  • Susan Lenfestey

    I don’t doubt a word of this. What’s so depressing is that there doesn’t seem to be a thing any of us can do about it. Yes, I’m hustling to get out the vote, I’ve raised and given money, I’m not sitting idly by, and yet if Rove is really in charge the way Unger indicates he is, then none of it matters. The bit on Roger Ailes/Fox and the WSJ is particularly disheartening, even though we already knew it. What do smart informed people like Craig Unger and Bill Moyers recommend that we do?

  • Anonymous

    Rove is a S O C I O P A T H

  • Lois Smithers

    People of America – wake up and vote straight democratic ticket! These guys must be stopped and only our votes can do that.

  • DrSleuth

    KARL (German: with a K) ROVE: Xref. Himmler DNA (Gudrun/other): Tells: receding chin, jawline, “low-set” ears, earshell, nostrils, (did Rove have slight rhinoplasty?), temple hairline, male pattern baldness, glasses (Are HimmlerDNA teeth available for a Tell certain?). A trusted forensics expert should be consulted. Other: American Crossroads logo: “arrows crossed” (get it?); Rove’s Nazi purpose/strategy, with Chamber global fascist network/cover (Xref Bush Network, “billionaires”).

    Note: In video, Harold Simmons appears as “spit&image” of “Romney’s” Adelson. Adelson (w/ hair dyed red: a Tell): Xref Venetian DNA of Rialto (Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Fondaco dei Turchi), Royal Navy, Maritime Republic NATO Port and Marine System; Xref. “Venetians” in MI-6/OSS-CIA NATO’s “Operation Gladio;” Xref Vegas”Venetian” and “Sands” Mob System connecting with China; Xref Chinese Mob and other Key “Gomorrah” (Roberto Saviano) “Maritime” “Sea Land” Mob Systems of Naples (Maritime Republic NATO Port) connected with the “traffic” and “flow” to/from unnamed “billionaires.” Connect with U.S. Coastline (Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific) served by the Panama Canal, for delivery unto “Maritime System” Ports–esp. of New Orleans and the current “Sea Land” Kingpin Port of HOUSTON.

    Realize that Rove is in charge of Mob Money Laundering–into and out of the “Heartland of the Homeland,” by way of the Bush Dynasty Set-ups: NAFTA, the North American SPP, and the TPP Mob Transportation System–with “financing” through the Texas/Mormon/CIA Mob in the System Hub, linked with Mobs of New Orleans, Arkansas, Chicago, New York, and Las Vegas. The Bush Dynasty squares every circle, via G.H.W. Bush’s (CIA) Fourth Reich Network.

    Consider the magnitude of “Chinese Flow” via Mega-container Shipping, and the GAIN from it DERIVED by Insiders of the Global Maritime/Marine NATO System enterprise: CONNECT the Li (Lee) Dynasty’s “Golden Lily” hoard with Bush Dynasty’s looted “Marcos Gold” hoard, and VOILA! we see that Karl Rove serves the Global Fourth Reich (the .01%DNA+.99%Agency today) under the “American Elite Godfather” George Herbert Walker Bush. This is the source/reason for Rove’s “incredible power” and the answer to why he is an “Untouchable.”

  • DrSleuth

    Mr. Moyers,

    You have been working for social justice for a long time, and you are living long. Is your life long for a good reason? Please connect New York University with: — and reshuffle the deck.

  • TWells

    One thing that we can do is educate ourselves and our families about cognitive biases. Rove and others have made a fine science of exploiting the brain’s default mechanisms and short cuts (that many people are not even aware exist).
    We live in a “buyer beware” society –therefore we must become wise to the ways marketers, politicians, pundits (and snake oil salesmen) operate. It is one way to defend ourselves, our families, and our nation.

  • Thomas Staggs

    As was Bush, are you controlled by Karl Rove?

  • Eric Tanner

    Rupert Murdoch is well known for his political clout, i.e., no one in Britain dared to run unless they had HIS blessing. Is Karl Rove the U.S. spokesperson for Rupert? I am still waiting to see if the FOX News Empire utilizes the same tactics that its British Counterparts have. Or has any thought of an investigation died out?

  • Pole

    I don’t believe there is anything the average citizen can do to turn the power of money. All politicians have been inflected by it and Carl Rowe confirms what a dedicated money influencer can do. I believe the final solution will come when Mother Nature intervenes and destroys enough life, property and security that the super rich, powerful and corrupted officials won’t be able to make any more excuses.

  • Ed Spalding

    I first heard of Carl Rove from Joe Lough several years ago. Joe was concerned about him before he became well known. This book should be required reading.

    Another great Bill Moyers interview!

  • A Green Road

    Vote Green Party. It is the only way to vote, without throwing away your vote on corporate controlled candidates. The Green Party accepts NO corporate money.

  • Anonymous

    Turd Blossom rides again!

    The more Bill digs, the worse it looks for American democracy.

  • Midori Futabatei

    Rove is a Fishead. What can WE do is the question I have. He and his ilk are like a CANCER ON AMERICA. As we all know, cancer is basically hard to kill.

  • Midori Futabatei

    No! Not this Election. That will throw away our vote!! Why do you think the GOP hasn’t attacked the Green Party? They want to split our vote!

  • Joan Bacon

    Our country has been bought and sold. I hope we have enough $ to buy it back.

  • Micia Hussein Obama

    Karl Rove is nothing more than a political bagman between the republican party and the corporate special interest that own them.

  • Anonymous

    People! WAKE UP! You are being used by Democrats as “victims” for votes! Social programs the Democrats have created have used more of the government’s money than every war we’ve ever been in combined, yet we still have poverty and unemployment. Socialism doesn’t work, ask Greece. Don’t be a mindless troll, consider the facts before voting… like that the top 1% pay 40% of taxes, and 47% pay no income taxes, and depend on the government. Do you want a state where you depend on the government for everything? Can they really provide for you?

  • Luke

    Just curious… while Karl Rove is a bit ( used loosely ) of an underworld figure who’s covertly controlling what he can ( man behind the curtain thing and all ), will Moyers do a similar piece on the mainstream media and their overtly controlling the masses with the dis or lack of information available without their pious, I mean bias and heavily opinionated perspectives?

  • David F., N.A.

    I learned a lot from “House of Bush, House of Saud” so I’m definitely going to read “Boss Rove.”

    Another guy who has made a comeback is Bandar Bush, former Saudi/Neocon liaison. He just became the head of Saudi intelligence. I wonder what Mr. Unger knows or thinks about this.

  • MB15

    No, I just want a Government I can trust.

  • Jeff Sponberg

    What allows republicans like Carl Rove to flourish, thrive and unravel the tapestry of American democracy? Have we abandoned the basic priciples of… We the people in favor of a plutocratic soulless regime of dark money where wealthy puppet masters pull the strings? The Orwellian age of politics arrived and must be stopped! We must exercise our right of one ballot, one vote at the voting booth and remove these pervasive cancers. No matter how difficult, all Americans need to register and vote on election day. I am an optomist. I believe in America. And I believe that the republicans can be defeated this November, but only if our combined voices are heard. Stand up for what we believe. Stand up for America…and stand up for justice.

  • mbvermont

    Where does “mindless troll” really fit into meaningful dialogue? Are you listening? Are you awake? Are you Greek? Are you aware of all the facts? How do you know what you know?

  • Anonymous

    I notice that “Orrin Hatch” in one of the Pictures with Rove. Rove is from Utah and Hatch has done so much damage to this country, corruption, stacking the courts with Corporate Attorneys, but at the same time, getting re-elected time after time by voters who Hatch does not represent.
    Hatch, Rove, Romney, – the ‘Utah Connection”.

  • Jack Lynch

    As always, Bill, a great show. I so enjoy your sanity. I keep passing your stuff on to facebook. A pebble in the ocean, but maybe a butterfly wing’s influence upon the clouds of Jupiter.

  • Chris Hutchings

    “Social programs the Democrats have created have used more of the government’s money than every war we’ve ever been in combined”

    Technically, almost every federal program that is NOT war is a social program… so what? I’m supposed to use war as a barometer for what we should and should not spend on things? If every dollar put towards war was instead put towards education, we’d know how to reason through bad arguments like this one.

    “Socialism doesn’t work, ask Greece.”

    What would Greece know about socialism? They’re a Capitalist Parliamentary Republic. Aside from single payer healthcare, they’re as socialist as you are.

    “…and 47% pay no income taxes, and depend on the government…”

    Ha! Does “depend” mean participate in some government program somewhere? Like Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Pell Grants, farm subsidies, energy subsidies, etc etc etc? The number’s bigger than 47% in that case – it’s nearly 100%. And income tax is only one kind of tax. Mitt Romney doesn’t pay any income tax either – does that make him free-loading moocher?

    Yelling at me to “Wake Up” does not actually make you correct. It’s something you heard somebody else say and you like hearing it… and now you think that it makes you sound just as convincing to people outside your political circle. To be honest, those of us outside the circle are tired of hearing it. We’ve been awake – we’re just not paying attention to your echo chamber. Thanks.

  • W.Powers

    Thank you for putting to words the way I have felt about the systematic ‘brain washing’ of the masses by repeating the lies over and over again until they ultimately believe that they are true. Of course it is much more complex with many other factors involved revolving around people’s core beliefs and biases. As I have said to others – this is the same technique used by a famous [albeit a war criminal] man who changed the minds of many of a nation driven by his hatred for a certain segment of the population of that nation and throughout Europe and everywhere worldwide. >^..^<