Is this another sign of the center — this time the center right — showing that it ain’t dead yet? According to the New York Times, what I call the GOP’s reflective right — thoughtful conservatives who don’t think discussion is talking in talk show sound bites or kowtowing to the Tea Party — is forming a group to bolster conservatives against challenges from Tea Party and talk show types:
The biggest donors in the Republican Party are financing a new group to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party’s efforts to win control of the Senate.
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.
You might say it’s the anti-Sarah Palin. Even though Fox News Roger Ailes made her an offer he knew she could and would refuse (and did) Palin has some big bucks saved in her PAC and has made it clear she intends to use it to fight “the establishment” — i.e. Republicans who might believe that Republican and conservative goals can be partially met by considering compromise and consensus building as virtues, not wimpishness. MORE:
“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 effort would put a new twist on the Republican-vs.-Republican warfare that has consumed the party’s primary races in recent years. In effect, the establishment is taking steps to fight back against Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations that have wielded significant influence in backing candidates who ultimately lost seats to Democrats in the general election.
It is literally a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.
Not to mention it’s viability as a competitive national political party. (Read this column.)
And it’s good news for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who are not political tea drinkers because it could bolster their style of Republicanism.
The first test of the group’s effort to influence primary races could come here in Iowa, where some Republicans are already worrying about who will run for the seat being vacated by Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat. It is the first open Senate seat in Iowa since 1974, and Republicans are fearful of squandering a rare opportunity.
The Conservative Victory Project, which is backed by Karl Rove and his allies who built American Crossroads into the largest Republican super PAC of the 2012 election cycle, will start by intensely vetting prospective contenders for Congressional races to try to weed out candidates who are seen as too flawed to win general elections.
The project is being waged with last year’s Senate contests in mind, particularly the one in Missouri, where Representative Todd Akin’s comment that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy rippled through races across the country. In Indiana, the Republican candidate, Richard E. Mourdock, lost a race after he said that when a woman became pregnant during a rape it was “something God intended.”
As Republicans rebuild from losing the White House race and seats in the House and Senate last year, party leaders and strategists are placing a heightened focus on taking control of the Senate next year. Republicans must pick up six seats to win a majority.
Representative Steve King, a six-term Iowa Republican, could be among the earliest targets of the Conservative Victory Project. He said he had not decided whether he would run for the Senate, but the leaders of the project in Washington are not waiting to try to steer him away from the race.
One thing is this: Rove better keep a low profile since he is now a walking SNL caricature of partisan spin and tiresome partisan hackery. You can be partisan and not be a hack. Tea Partiers often paint Republican establishment types as hacks. So just as the Tea Party has to shake some “high concept” caricatures, so must the GOP establishment.
The reflective right — those who seek to present affirmative principles and details on specific policy alternatives rather than simply saying no and seemingly rattling off refined Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity talking points — has to fight on two fronts. One: within the GOP to protect the flanks of non-Tea Party conservatives. Two: in the general electorate to convince moderate and independent voters who they’ll need in a coalition to win that they’re not just fixated on attack lines or outrage-of-the-moment stories such as Barack Obama and skeet shooting but serious, thoughtful, policy-offering adults.
It is do-able — but no matter what happens in the long term, in the short term it is a positive development that there will be a countervailing financial force within the GOP to protect politicians who don’t think the way the Tea Partiers and/or talk show hosts do, and who want to aggregate interests — versus aggravating potentially supportive demographic constituencies.