Here's one of the frustrations of political journalism: We know the people we're covering are liars, but on first blush we have to take what they're saying as if they mean it. Thus, Karl Rove's Professor Trelawney claims about Hillary Clinton–She's doomed! She's in grave danger!–are reported as if Karl Rove really thinks Hillary Clinton is a formidable presidential candidate and wants to takes some whacks at her.
Peter Wallsten argues that this isn't true at all and that Rove is using really basic reverse psychology. For evidence, here's what Rove and the White House thought about 2004.
With his Southern base, charismatic style and populist message, Edwards, they believed, could be a real threat to Bush's reelection.
But instead of attacking Edwards, Rove's team opened fire at Kerry.
Their thinking went like this, Dowd explained: Democrats, in a knee-jerk reaction to GOP attacks, would rally around Kerry, whom Rove considered a comparatively weak opponent, and make him the party's nominee. Thus Bush would be spared from confronting Edwards, the candidate Republican strategists actually feared most.
Unlike Kerry, who had been in public service for decades, Edwards was a political newcomer and lacked a long record that could be attacked. And, unlike former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who had been the front-runner but whose campaign was collapsing in Iowa, Edwards couldn't easily be painted as "nutty."
I know plenty of Republicans who think that Edwards could have actually beaten Bush–a few less gaffes, a less alienating image to present to those Iowan and Ohioan voters, and he takes the ball game. Right now I don't know any Republicans who think that if Barack Obama can actually defeat Hillary Clinton in the primary, demonstrating he's got the political acumen to match his charisma, that they can beat him in November. It's silly to think Rove hasn't gamed this out.
The mystery is why Democrats aren't trying the same thing with one of the GOP's candidates. Mitt Romney would be an obvious target since he underpolls Giuliani, Thompson, and even poor old John McCain substantially, and even a chamelon like Hillary Clinton could nail Romney for all his on-camera issue flip-flops.