Rove Vows to GOP: No ‘Triangulation’

Posted January 31, 2003 at 6:37pm

Senior White House adviser Karl Rove has sworn off the concept of “triangulating” his fellow Republicans, the approach to Congress once synonymous with the Clinton administration. At a closed-door House Republican leadership retreat last Wednesday, Rove repeatedly stressed that the concept of “triangulation” does not work and said President Bush would not alienate House Republicans by moving to the center, leaving them isolated in efforts to rally the party’s conservative base.

“His message was that we should sink or swim together,” said Stuart Roy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas). “That was a useful way to build on the cooperation of the past because in a presidential election year, there’s always a little apprehension about everyone singing from the same song sheet.”

In fact, Rove underscored the importance of the message by highlighting the words “triangulation does not work” and “sink or swim together” in a PowerPoint presentation he gave to the group of top House Republicans gathered for a retreat in St. Michaels, Md., late last week.

Other Republican GOP leadership aides said the comments worked to reassure lawmakers after the president appeared to burnish his compassionate conservative credentials in last week’s State of the Union speech by calling on Congress to dedicate more money to combat AIDS in Africa and develop hydrogen-powered cars.

During the discussion with Rove about Bush’s speech, DeLay surprised colleagues by embracing the idea of sending more money to Africa to fight the AIDS pandemic. Delay told colleagues that he had sat through seven State of the Union speeches in his time in Washington and that Tuesday’s truly moved him.

“[DeLay] said, ‘The president stood on principle for an hour [during the speech] and if he wants to do the HIV/AIDS money for Africa and he wants us to work on that and try to deliver it, I’m going to do it,’” Roy said.

The comments came during a larger discussion about how the White House and Congress will interact this session while the media is focused on an impending war with Iraq and the flagging economy. While the nation and media are focused on the war, the lawmakers and senior staff discussed the need to continue working on a domestic agenda, passing welfare reform, a prescription drug bill and medical malpractice reform, so that after the dust clears and military action ends, Republicans can cite a string of accomplishments.

“Basically, we’re not going to be distracted by a possible war,” John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said Friday after the retreat.

Feehery also noted that, despite criticism from some Republican centrists in the House and Senate, House GOP leaders remained optimistic about passing an economic growth package that includes an end to the double taxation on corporate dividends as well as language to eliminate the marriage penalty and estate taxes.