WASHINGTON – If the measure of a man is calculated by how much he can provoke or agitate others, Karl Rove's resignation proved that President Bush's political guru is one of the most powerful and hardball strategists ever to come along.
Monday's announcement that the president's deputy chief of staff and senior adviser is stepping down on Aug. 31 was met with the type of pleasure and remorse that ensured Rove's departure would be no different than his time spent in Washington.
Rove and Bush came to the cameras in a bittersweet moment for the decades-long pals, as the president called his top aide a "dear friend."
"We've been friends for a long time, and we're still going to be friends. I would call Karl Rove a dear friend. ... And so I thank my friend. I'll be on the road behind you here in a little bit," Bush said from the White House South Lawn before the two and their families left for Texas for a brief summer break.
But as Bush hugged Rove in an emotional display, Democrats rejoiced.
"Goodbye, Rove!" screamed a headline on the Democratic National Committee's Web site.
"Goodbye and good riddance," offered Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, speaking with reporters in Des Moines, Iowa.
Another Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, also sent a parting shot: "Karl Rove was an architect of a political strategy that has left the country more divided, the special interests more powerful and the American people more shut out from their government than any time in memory," he said in a campaign statement that called for Americans to reclaim government.
For those who love Rove's laser-like focus and cheery disposition, the announcement of his impending departure was greeted with warm memories and mourned with fond farewells.
"People know him for his involvement in the political process, but he is very smart, very well-read. He also played an important role in allowing the president to relax and laugh," said former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card.
"He's very competitive. He and the president would compete over reading books. Great jokesters — the president will miss his ability to laugh with Karl Rove. But no one is irreplaceable. Karl Rove can be replaced, but it won't be by one person. It will probably be by a collection of people," Card told FOX News.
"He is a brilliant, funny, passionate advocate for the president and his policies. I know he'll continue to play that role outside the administration. We'll all miss him a great deal of course," added former White House adviser Karen Hughes, an old school Bushie who served with Rove in the president's inner circle.
“The president and our party have benefited from his commitment, along with his good counsel, his optimism and his sense of humor. He has served his country long and well," said Republican National Committee Chairman Robert "Mike" Duncan. "Karl was and is, at heart, a policy person, someone who has strong beliefs and a deep commitment to making our nation better."
Those on the other side of the aisle were quick to point out their grievances with Rove, who has been embroiled in two major investigations of this administration — the CIA leak case and the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.
"He has every bit as much of a legal obligation to reveal the truth once he steps down as he does today," Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy — who along with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers is heading a wide-sweeping probe of the White House's role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys — again accused Rove of helping to orchestrate the firings as well as the leak of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity.
"Mr. Rove's apparent attempts to manipulate elections and push out prosecutors citing bogus claims of voter fraud shows corruption of federal law enforcement for partisan political purposes, and the Senate Judiciary Committee will continue its investigation into this serious issue," Leahy said.
He added: "There is a cloud over this White House, and a gathering storm. A similar cloud envelopes Mr. Rove, even as he leaves the White House."
Rove was never charged with any wrongdoing in the now closed investigation of the leak of Plame's name. Bush has claimed executive privilege to prevent Rove from testifying about the firing of the prosecutors, which the White House claims is an internal deliberative matter.
On Monday, Bush spokesman Tony Snow said Rove will still fall under executive privilege after he leaves the White House.
Even before the probes, however, Rove had made firm enemies of Democrats. He is credited with masterminding two stinging defeats for Democratic Party in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, as well as helping to give congressional Republicans a rare mid-term election boost in 2002.
Some had questioned in 2006 whether the baby-faced "boy genius" had lost his mojo after Democrats regained control of the Senate and House of Representatives, but Rove warned Monday not to count him out of Election '08, even if he takes no formal role with any campaigns.
As Rove announced his plans to leave — a decision he said he began making a year ago but was committed to doing once White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten told staffers to leave now or stay with the president until January 2009, the end of Bush's term — one Democratic leader refused to be drawn in by the news.
"As speaker of the House, I'm not going to address a change of personnel at the White House," said Nancy Pelosi, in New Orleans to survey hurricane Katrina-damaged regions.