Well, this is a surprise. I thought Karl would be there to turn out the lights and write naughty graffiti on the walls to greet the new administration in 2009.
Some hints about why Rove is actually leaving can be found in this excellent piece in The Atlantic by Josh Green, in which it is argued that Rove’s real agenda–as the man himself told Nick Lemann in the New Yorker many years ago–was to make the GOP the dominant U.S. party. But there was a fundamental incoherence to the strategy: to build a realigned Republican majority, Bush-Rove (or, perhaps, Bushrove) had to reach out to moderates, but his electoral strategy was to build and win from a (fairly nutball) base on the right. And the few attempts Bushrove made to build a larger coalition–immigration policy, for example–were shot down by GOP extremists.
My guess is that Josh Bolten, the pragmatic chief of staff, greased the skids for Rove to leave–that the mere presence of Rove stood in the way of trying to build a new, better relationship with Congress for the last 18 months of this dread regime.
Finally, Rove is right about 2008, if not about his reflexive demonization of Hillary Clinton: this may not be a Democratic walkover. Indeed, the surest way to make it a close election is to ape Rove. You can’t run from the base and then try to govern from the center. You can’t govern from the base and succeed. This is not a plea for half-a-loaf moderation: on some issues, like universal health insurance, corporate (especially oil company) tax breaks and a tax system that treats wealth far more leniently than work, there are real distinctions that should be made. But there’s a smart bipartisan national security policy to be promoted, now that Bush’s pre-emption has been proved a failure. And there may even be some common ground to be had on global warming. A smart Democrat will do both–stand on principle, and find areas where a larger coalition is possible. A smart Democat will study Rove and do the opposite.