We knew this was coming, no? A month ago, Politico reported that Senate Republicans were planning to intervene more aggressively in GOP primaries in hopes of clearing the field for their preferred candidates. A few days later, Steve LaTourette announced that the Republican Main Street Partnership was dropping “Republican” from its name and would intervene on behalf of centrist candidates from both parties in congressional elections. Now here comes Rove’s group, American Crossroads, pledging untold millions towards electing the most allegedly “electable” candidate in Republican primaries. No more Akins — and maybe no more Marco Rubios, Rand Pauls, and Ted Cruzes too?
The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races.
“There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected,” said Steven J. Law, the president of American Crossroads, the “super PAC” creating the new project. “We don’t view ourselves as being in the incumbent protection business, but we want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win.”…
The group’s plans, which were outlined for the first time last week in an interview with Mr. Law, call for hard-edge campaign tactics, including television advertising, against candidates whom party leaders see as unelectable and a drag on the efforts to win the Senate. Mr. Law cited Iowa as an example and said Republicans could no longer be squeamish about intervening in primary fights.
“We’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem,” Mr. Law said. “This is an example of candidate discipline and how it would play in a general election. All of the things he’s said are going to be hung around his neck.”
Is it really about Steve King? Politico’s Jonathan Martin floats a compelling alternative theory:
Rove certainly buys in to getting Xroads involved in primaries, but this move flows from Steve Law & nudging from McConnell, Cornyn.
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) February 4, 2013
Xroads gets involved in primaries the yr before the top 2 Sen R ldrs r up for re-elect in deep-red states & face primary threats
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) February 4, 2013
Read Erick Erickson, Ben Shapiro, and the boss emeritus, all wondering why we should trust a guy like Rove who has TARP, Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, huge federal deficits, and an abysmal record of 2012 election spending to his record. I said most of what I have to say about the big establishment pushback effort in the posts linked up top, but let me add three things:
1. I think in most cases the threat of a party’s nominee being badly damaged in the general by a tough primary is overblown (see, e.g., Obama vs. Hillary), but the threat increases a lot if one of the primary candidates is being attacked by his opponent as a crank and a nut. If the “crank” goes on to win, public opinion of him will likely have dropped enough by the time the general campaign begins that he’ll start in a deep hole polling-wise. Even if the “crank” loses, his supporters may be so alienated by the establishment GOP effort to demonize him that they stay home. Bad outcomes, either way.
2. Will the Conservative Victory Project target tea partiers based on their policy preferences or their penchant for saying “crank-ish” things? A guy like Cruz may vote much more conservatively than Rove et al. would prefer but it’s hard to imagine him stumbling onto a rhetorical landmine with national implications a la Akin. If they stick to going after candidates whose main liability is destructive soundbites, that might encourage grassroots candidates to be more circumspect in opining publicly on things like, oh, say, rape. If they’re going after people because, e.g., they oppose a path to citizenship, that’ll create much deeper, more bitter intraparty divisions.
3. Will they target races that involve open seats only, a la Iowa’s Senate seat, or will they actually go so far as to try to oust tea-party incumbents from Congress? That would be nuclear war in the GOP, so I assume no, it’ll only be open seats.
Exit quotation from Erickson: “I dare say any candidate who gets this group’s support should be targeted for destruction by the conservative movement.”
Update: Whole lotta money’s going to be spent in Republican primaries next year:
But the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, both of which boost candidates on the right, said the new group — which they mockingly nicknamed the “Conservative Defeat Project,” is another example of “the Republican establishment’s hostility toward its conservative base.”
“Rather than listening to the grassroots and working to advance their principles, the establishment has chosen to declare war on the party’s most loyal supporters,” said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund…
“They are welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst,” Keller said of the new Crossroads group. “We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.”