Wanted to get some feedback from members about a theory I have that Karl Rove's strategy for W's elections came around a bit too soon, and might be worth a second look for 2012/2016.
I think McCain ran a campaign that was much more similar in strategy and tone to Dole 1996, than the Rove tactics of 2000/2004. True McCain, at the end had a bunch of Rove disciples on his team. But they only implimented the negative "dirty tricks" side of the equation, while ignoring the other half which is the positive message of "Compassionate Conservatism."
McCain was in a tough place because Bush failed to govern with the "Compassionate Conservatism" he promised. So there were no accomplishments for McCain to point to and promise to preserve or deliver more of the same. McCain was never able to fashion a coherent and easy to understand, positive narrative about why he should be elected. His guys did try to bring down Obama with attacks, just as Rove did to Gore and Kerry.
But attacks alone won't ever win. Rove/Bush also had a positive narrative and even then just squeaked by with two narrow victories. I think Karl was smart enough to see all the pitfalls (demographic shifts, electoral map problems, etc) that would later vex McCain. And he came up with a way to repackage conservatism in a way that did indeed win elections.
People seem to be charting a course for the GOP in 2012/2016. I really believe that the playbook isn't broken, it was just ignored in 2008(at least half of it). Bush's "Compassionate Conservatism" does not seem too far from the proposals of Governor's Pawlenty and Samford or the strategies of Michael Steele and Newt.