One morning in the summer of 2004, James Harding, now editor of The Times, found himself on the campaign trail in Troy, Ohio, part of a huge press pack following George W Bush on a whistlestop tour through the American heartland. While the reporters were tucking into a heaving fried chicken buffet, Karl Rove, the strategist nicknamed ‘Bush’s brain’, wandered over to say hello. During the idle chatter that followed, a Japanese reporter pointed at Rove’s case, bulging with documents and folders. ‘What’s in the bag?’ he asked. Rove laughed and put a protective hand on the bag. ‘Secret shit’, he said.