Dude, they’re feeling it. The RINOs are ready to charge.

Assuming they’re successful and a bunch of tea-party incumbents get bounced from the House, it’s pretty much third-party time for grassroots conservatives, right?

From Alabama to Alaska, the center-right, business-oriented wing of the Republican Party is gearing up for a series of skirmishes that it hopes can prevent the 2014 midterm election from turning into another missed opportunity. This will not be a coordinated operation. It will be messy, ugly, and prone to backfiring. And if the comeback succeeds, it will be in fits and starts, most likely culminating in the selection of a presidential nominee in 2016.

“Hopefully we’ll go into eight to 10 races and beat the snot out of them,” said former Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio, whose new political group, Defending Main Street, aims to raise $8 million to fend off tea-party challenges against more mainstream Republican incumbents. “We’re going to be very aggressive and we’re going to get in their faces.”…

Tactics being discussed among Republican strategists, donors, and party leaders include running attack ads against tea-party candidates for Congress; overthrowing Ron Paul’s libertarian acolytes dominating the Iowa and Minnesota state parties; promoting open primaries over nominating conventions, which can produce Republican hard-liners such as Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli and shutdown-instigator Mike Lee of Utah; and countering political juggernauts Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks that target Republican incumbents who have consorted with Democrats…

“This conflict could be the new normal,” warned Rob Jesmer, former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Until we have a nominee people can rally around in 2016, I think we’re going to be the wilderness for a while.”

Political media has been filled with stories like this post-shutdown, but the establishment plan to counter-primary tea partiers is months old. News about it first started bubbling up around New Year’s, when GOPers were still licking their wounds from the Democratic rout in November. LaTourette, a longtime Boehner ally in the House who’d taken to calling his tea-party colleagues “chuckleheads” as the fiscal cliff battle raged, had just retired and taken the helm of the Republican Main Street Partnership. Among his first acts: Dropping “Republican” from the name and vowing to reach out to Blue Dog Democrats. A month later, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC announced that it was creating the Conservative Victory Fund, which was supposedly designed to make sure that only quality candidates were nominated in GOP primaries (i.e. fewer Angles and O’Donnells) but which many righties saw as part of an establishment effort to torpedo tea-party insurgents en masse, regardless of their caliber. Now, with RINOs and TPers at each others’ throats over Ted Cruz and the merits of a shutdown driven by the “defund” effort, it’s all come flooding back, replete with LaTourette scrapping for a punch-up with the right.

So here’s the question: What’s the real goal of all this? As much as these guys undoubtedly hate tea partiers, a broad-based indiscriminate assault on conservative candidates in the primaries would be poisonous for party unity ahead of 2016 — and maybe even self-defeating, as it would render a potential nominee whom they favor like Christie even more toxic to righties than he already is. Is the goal to bloody a few noses in order to teach the conservatives in Boehner’s caucus that it’s not just RINOs who can be primaried if they step too far out of line? Is it, as Rove’s group claims, an effort only to weed out the more Akin-esque right-wing candidates before they claim the nomination and end up as sitting ducks in the general? If so, why is Mike Lee suddenly hearing primary thunderclaps in Utah? I think his “defund” strategy was goofy but he’s solidly conservative, a serious legislator, and not prone to the sort of rhetorical bombthrowing that normally turns RINOs off to tea partiers. It’d be a genuine shame to lose him, no matter how ill advised “defund” was. Or is the big Rove/LaTourette/Chamber of Commerce centrist initiative here really just about muscle-flexing, to prove to grassroots righties that moderates and business interests are still very much in the driver’s seat of this coalition? If that’s the case, there’s no need to jump into eight to 10 races to prove the point. They could pick one big-name guy, on the order of Lee, and then go all out to take him down. Although maybe that gets us back to the problem of party unity in 2016: The bigger the scalp taken by centrists, the more righties will bristle and consider walking away.

One semi-silver lining here, though. Because the tea party didn’t elect its first members of Congress until 2010, no one in the Senate is at risk of an establishment primary challenge until 2016 — a presidential election year, when it would be exceedingly dangerous for either wing of the GOP to do something to fatally alienate the other. This may be why you’re seeing the centrists scramble now to take out some people in the House next year. If they defeat a few tea partiers, the wounds might heal in time for everyone to come together against Hillary two years later. If, on the other hand, they wage war against someone like Lee in 2016, the rift could be too deep to repair in time.