THE announcement that Karl Rove, White House deputy chief of staff and President Bush's top political counselor, will step down at the end of the month has fanned much speculation - and not a little relief on the part of some Democrats, who are happy to see him go.
Universally, the theories of why Mr. Rove is leaving place no stock in his publicly stated reason - to spend more time with his family.
Assessments of the impact his departure will have on administration policies, and on Republican prospects in future elections, turn, in part, on judgments of the fundamental relationship between Mr. Rove and his principal counselee.
What is clear is that in developing policies, making personnel choices, and charting election strategies over the years, Mr. Rove has served as the power behind the throne - Cardinal Richelieu to the President's Louis XIII, in Texas before 2000 and in Washington since.
Those who appraise the remnants of a tightly-run Republican machine view Mr. Rove's departure as a careful tweak to improve the party's image by reducing the heat generated by his presence inside the White House.
But not all Democrats are pleased to see him go. They would like him to stay, and with good reason.
Congress and the public still want to know what role Mr. Rove played in the firing of the U.S. attorneys and the smearing and destruction of the career of former CIA agent Valerie Plame. The country also deserves to know the relationship, if any, between Mr. Rove's political strategies and the launching of the Iraq war. On the witness stand under oath, Mr. Rove could cast considerable light on these subjects, including the role of Mr. Bush himself in the U.S. attorney firings and the Plame affair.
Another theory of why Mr. Rove is leaving now posits a President and a Republican Party in serious trouble with the electorate. The image evoked is that of Count Dracula racing across the icy tundra in his cart with the wolves close behind, perhaps kicking off a victim to distract his pursuers.
Policies won't change much, if only because Vice President Dick Cheney remains the wheelhorse of the administration. Mr. Rove will still be available to provide counsel, although the GOP's defeat in the 2006 congressional elections severely tarnished his image as a political wizard. As to President Bush himself, he will still have access to his long-time aide if he wants it, though it won't be quite the same as having him just down the hall.
For those who think that the Bush presidency has been a boon for the country, Karl Rove is a hero, having played an important role in putting him in the Oval Office twice. For those who see Mr. Bush's two terms as a disaster, Mr. Rove is, as the President has tagged him playfully, that Texas witticism for a flower that grows out of manure in a pasture.
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