Pulling the strings

PULLING THE STRINGS…. When Barack Obama introduced Eric Holder as his choice to be the next Attorney General, the response was relatively muted on the right. There was some grumbling about the Marc Rich pardon, but even most Republicans conceded that Holder, with his extensive background and qualifications, would be confirmed.

Karl Rove appeared on the “Today” show soon after the nomination was announced, and called Holder “controversial,” and promising, in his best passive voice, that “there will be some attention paid to” Holder’s Clinton-era work.

This week, several conservative Republican senators, none of whom seemed to care about Holder before, began railing against the nomination, one even threatening a filibuster. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) argued this week that the new-found antagonism was a result of Rove pulling the party’s strings.

Adding to the story, Satyam Khanna noted that the Washington Post’s Ceci Connolly told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews this morning, “Word on the street is that Karl Rove is going to be helping lead the fight against Eric Holder when his nomination for Attorney General heads up to the Senate.”

Now, it’s certainly possible that this is true. Rove needs a new hobby, and targeting Eric Holder for character assassination might sound appealing to him.

But here’s the part someone’s going to have to explain to me: why on earth would Senate Republicans care what Karl Rove thinks? He helped advise McCain, and McCain lost. He led the Republican strategy in the 2006 midterms, and the GOP suffered sweeping and humiliating defeats. Rove was nearly indicted for helping expose the identity of an undercover CIA agent, and left the White House under a cloud of scandal.

Sure, he has a platform on Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, but why would the party care? Indeed, Rove may think Holder’s vulnerable, but what are the chances Holder’s nomination is going to be defeated in a Senate with 58 (or possibly 59) Democrats?

It’s possible that Rove, if the “word on the street” is accurate, may simply want congressional Republicans to prove a point, picking a fight they’re likely to lose in order to set a combative tone for the next two years. The goal, in other words, would be to maintain as toxic an environment as possible, and the Holder nomination would simply be a means to an end.

It sounds like a pretty dumb strategy for an unpopular party facing off against a man who’ll enter the White House with a lot of popularity and goodwill behind him.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.