GOP Realists vs. the True Believers

It's not exactly firing on Fort Sumter, but it may be said that the Republican Civil War has begun in earnest as the "establishment," or "pragmatists," or "realists" -- or whatever derisive epithet you want to apply -- have thrown down the gauntlet to the righteous right and challenged their conception of political success. The notion that only the most "conservative" candidate should represent the party regardless of his or her chances of winning is under attack by GOP Whales who ultimately foot the bill for these forays into self-defeating, myopic fantasy land.

The money men, at the behest of Karl Rove, have formed the "Conservative Victory Project" -- a non-profit outfit that will supposedly vet Republican primary candidates, backing the most conservative candidate who can win.  Specifically targeted for defeat will be the bomb-throwers, the extremists, the weird, the wacky, and the incompetents who have blown at least four slam-dunk, sure-thing, in-the-bank races in the last two election cycles. And despite claiming that they won't be in the "incumbent protection racket," there is little doubt that the formation of the Conservative Victory Project is a shot across the bow to Tea Party groups who have primaried several incumbent senators who displeased the right wingers either because they committed the mortal sin of compromising with the other side or because they were thought to be insufficiently incendiary in their rhetoric against the opposition.

The major problem for the Rove-backed group is that their own record of failure in electing candidates to the Senate -- especially in Wisconsin and Montana -- makes their criticisms ring hollow. Rove's American Crossroads spent more than $100 million in attack ads for eight Senate races and came away with two victories -- Nebraska's Deb Fischer and Dean Heller in Nevada. The notion that Rove and his deep-pocketed friends can do better than the Tea Party in picking winning candidates takes a hit when one considers their record.

Still, there's a difference between a Denny Rehberg, an establishment congressman who ran against incumbent Jon Tester, and Todd Akin, whose disastrous campaign ended in a loss to the most unpopular Democratic senator in the 2012 election cycle, Claire McCaskill. Rehberg's race was tough but winnable -- something that could have been said for the other Crossroads-backed Senate candidates who lost. Akin's race should have been a coronation. The party's major donors want to avoid debacles like Missouri in 2014, when 20 incumbent Democratic senators have to face the voters -- many in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. With President Obama making these incumbents' lives difficult by pushing gun control and immigration reform, Republicans can ill-afford to field gaffe-prone candidates who suffer terminal cases of foot-in-mouth disease.

The right wing is understandably upset. Erick Erickson was in high dudgeon when he penned this rant:

American Crossroads is creating a new Super PAC to crush conservatives, destroy the tea party, and put a bunch of squishes in Republican leadership positions. Thank God they are behind this. In 2012, they spent hundreds of millions of rich donors’ money and had jack to show for it.

It is interesting though. The people who brought us No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, TARP, the GM bailout, Harriet Miers, etc., etc., etc. are really hacked off that people have been rejecting them. In 2012, about the only successful Republican candidates were the ones who directly rejected the legacy of these people.

So now they will up their game. They don’t like being shut out. They blame the tea party and conservatives for their failure to win primaries. They’ll now try to match conservatives and, in the process, call themselves conservatives.