First came the criticism of O’Donnell on the night she won the primary, then came the knock on tea partiers for being unsophisticated, which earned him Rush’s ire. Now this.

Is he … trying to alienate grassroots conservatives? And if so, why?

“With all due candour, appearing on your own reality show on the Discovery Channel, I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of ‘that helps me see you in the Oval Office’,” Mr Rove told The Daily Telegraph in an interview.

He added that the promotional clip for Sarah Palin’s Alaska could be especially detrimental to any political campaign. It features the mother of five in the great outdoors saying: “I would rather be doing this than in some stuffy old political office.”…

Mr Rove was asked if the 46-year-old Mrs Palin, who is among the front-runners for the next Republican nomination, would be a wise choice if the party wanted to seize the White House from President Barack Obama. He replied: “You can make a plausible case for any of them on paper, but it is not going to be paper in 2011. It’s going to be blood, it’s going to be sweat and tears and it’s going to be hard effort.”…

“There are high standards that the American people have for it [the presidency] and they require a certain level of gravitas, and they want to look at the candidate and say ‘that candidate is doing things that gives me confidence that they are up to the most demanding job in the world’.”

His excuse for this will be that he’s just being honest, as he’s duty bound to be when he has his commentator hat on, but no one on either side gives Karl Rove that little credit strategically. If he thought there was advantage to be had here in ducking the question, I’m sure he would have done so. Three theories, then: (1) This is pure payback for Palin needling him on the night of O’Donnell’s victory, calling him a “good old boy” who’s part of the GOP establishment “machine.” (2) This is him trying to run down a formidable presidential contender so that his own candidate of choice in the primary will benefit. Who that candidate might be, I don’t know, and maybe Rove doesn’t know yet either. But Daniels is, of course, a Bush alum, and Rove had some very nice things to say about him just a few weeks ago. (3) This is a ploy to try to reorient Republicans who are leery about Palin back towards the “establishment” and away from the tea-party grassroots. It’s one thing for the average conservative joe to harbor doubts about her, but if a guy who helped get George Bush elected twice is hint-hinting that she’s disqualifying herself by doing this, it may goose the perception among undecideds that she’s unelectable.

Exit question: Isn’t the response to this simply that Palin plays by her own rules and is playing … pretty darned well right now? The reality show is unorthodox, but being authentic and unpretentious and outdoorsy have always been key to her appeal, and the show feeds all of that. No doubt Rove would have said three months ago that appearing on Maher’s show in the 90s meant that O’Donnell could never beat Mike Castle, and yet here we are. Voters turned viciously on the GOP in 2006 and 2008 and now they’re about to turn viciously on Democrats; they’re utterly exasperated with what they’re getting from Washington, in which case if there’s ever a moment to try something out-of-the-box, now would be it. High risk, but high reward too.

Update: The AP’s seen the first eight episodes of the show and has nice things to say.