Mr Rove’s legacy, the so-called “Rove Strategy,” was his focus on mobilizing the base(s) of the Republican party. While Rove was quite effective at this, it is hardly an original strategy. Every time I teach “Introduction to American Politics” my students read Vic Gresham’s “Why Didn’t Conservatives Turnout?” (Campaigns & Elections, Feb, 1999). Notice the date of publication.
In Gresham’s analysis, it is practically impossible to separate message from turnout. Therefore, Republicans need to develop, foster and deliver a compelling message that appeals to conservative values and traditions. This in combination with their proven direct mail and phone operations will deliver the election.
Quoting Gresham at Length:
As we know, conservatives participate because of ideology. Conservatives vote ideology first and party-affiliation second. The obvious, but apparently overlooked reality for Republicans is, our base, the fiscal and social conservatives, votes only when the Republican Party and our candidates believe in and openly promote a conservative legislative agenda that addresses the issues of its concerns. Without a conservative message, neither mail nor telephone calls, regardless of quantity or frequency, will drive conservative voters to the polls.
The basis of conservative voter participation is a conservative legislative agenda that is molded into a tightly woven campaign message. This message must be delivered in a disciplined manner without equivocation.
When considering the voter participation of the fiscal and social conservatives, the Republican Party base vote, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to separate the issues of message and turnout. The participation of conservative voters is directly proportional to the quality of an issue-driven campaign message combined with the discipline and consistency with which that message is delivered.
In short, the simple answer is: Conservative voter turnout equates to developing and delivering a well-thought-out message founded in conservative values and traditions combined implementing an aggressive, mechanically sound turnout operation based in direct mail and phones.
So was it Rove’s strategy or Gresham’s?