Karl Rove starts the wrong conversation

Former White House adviser Karl Rove in Oklahoma City, May 17, 2010.
Former White House adviser Karl Rove in Oklahoma City, May 17, 2010.
If Karl Rove hoped to generate some chatter with his cheap shot at Hillary Clinton last week, he succeeded -- the political world has now been chewing on the "brain damage" story for nearly a week. But by all appearances, Rove has started a conversation that's focused more on his propensity for sleazy tactics than the former Secretary of State's health.
Yesterday, making his fifth appearance in five months on "Fox News Sunday," Rove doubled down.

Karl Rove said on Sunday he had no regrets about his comments about Hillary Clinton's health. "I'm not questioning her health. What I'm questioning is whether or not it's a done deal if she's running," the Republican strategist said.... When host Chris Wallace asked Rove whether he has questions about her "physical ability" to run for president, Rove said: "No, no, no, no. I don't. I don't. But I do think that it would not be human if you're sitting there to say, 'I've had a serious brain injury.'"

Got that? Rove isn't questioning Clinton's health, so much as he's arguing that Clinton suffered a serious brain injury. There's nothing contradictory about the message because, well, Karl Rove says so.
But again, note the nature of the conversation: nearly all the major Sunday shows discussed Rove's latest salvo, but the focus was on Rove, not Clinton and her 2012 illness. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) blasted Rove for "struggling to be relevant." Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) dismissed Rove's rhetoric as "stupid" and "pathetic." Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) called Rove's offensive "outrageous."
Karl Rove wanted to manufacture a story about Hillary Clinton. He instead created a story about Karl Rove.
Perhaps the most amusing reaction came on the same Fox program on which Rove himself appeared.

Bringing up Rove's long history of personally attacking political opponents as an operative for President George W. Bush and other Republicans, Fox News contributor Juan Williams argued that the remarks "remind everybody that you, your past as a very effective political operative, have gone after people, the Swift Boating of John Kerry, going after people ... you may be helping Hillary Clinton."

In other words, on Fox, the problem isn't that Rove is taking a cheap shot. The problem is Rove's cheap shot seems likely to backfire and help a prominent Democrat.