In an op-ed to the Wall Street Journal this past week, longtime GOP strategist and one-time campaign advisor to former President Donald Trump, Karl Rove, criticized Trump's speech the prior weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), saying, "There was no forward-looking agenda, simply a recitation of his greatest hits. People like fresh material. Repetition is useful to a point, but it grows stale."
Rove also noted that Trump "only" garnered 68% support in a straw poll for president among the CPAC participants, while 32% did not want him to run or had no opinion.
Rove likely knew his piece would bait Trump to attack. The reasons for his challenge aren't clear, but he may have concluded that Trump at the top of the ticket in 2024 would be a repeat of 2020 or worse.
His call for "fresh material"—knowing that Trump is incapable of anything but rehashing his old points—reads like a veiled hope for another contender.
Trump struck back quickly and angrily in a press statement.
"He's a pompous fool with bad advice and always has an agenda." Trump wrote, "Karl Rove has been losing for years, except for himself. He's a RINO of the highest order."
Trump went on to blame Rove for the recent Georgia senate losses.
"He ran the campaign for two Senators in Georgia, and did a rotten job with bad ads and concepts. Should have been an easy win, but he and his friend Mitch blew it with their $600 vs. $2,000 proposal. Karl would be much more at home at the disastrous Lincoln Project. I heard they have numerous openings!"
Together with other establishment GOP attacks on Trump, Rove's strategy appears to be to weaken Trump long ahead of the primary season.
Rove, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and others understand they only have a brief period before Trump begins to endorse in the GOP primaries. Should extremists within their own party prevail in them, they could fail miserably in the general election.
Worse still, 2022 could turn out not to be a referendum on Biden's first two years, but rather a pushback against Trumpism. That could bring out the anti-Trump voters in force once again.
Rove shrugged off Trump's criticism and emphasized his long history of working for the party.
He told Reuters, "I've been called a lot of things in my career, but never a RINO. I've voted for every Republican presidential candidate since I turned 18 and have labored only for GOP candidates since then."