Karl Rove Takes On the Tea Party to Save the GOP From Itself

Karl Rove has founded a new group designed not to beat Democrats, but to destroy a wing of his own coalition: the Tea Party.

The newly-formed Conservative Victory Project, an "offshoot" of Rove's American Crossroads super PAC, is designed to pump big money into local congressional primaries and prevent Tea Party-endorsed candidates from scoring Senate nominations. Tea Party-favored nominees have lost some embarrassing and high-profile Senate races, including Todd Akin in Missouri, Richard Mourdock in Indiana, Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware.

Rove is right to be concerned about this trend: Akin and Mourdock lost after they advanced factually incorrect remarks about rape that the vast majority of the country agreed were misleading and sexist, while Angle ran ads her opposition criticized as flat-out racist. O'Donnell ran one of the worst electoral campaigns in American history, shockingly admitting she didn't know that the First Amendment enshrined the separation of church and state and running a campaign ad in which she declared she was "not a witch." She lost by 17 points.

"There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected," said Steven J. Law, president of American Crossroads, to the New York Times. "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 first test of the new group may fall in Iowa, where six-term Rep. and Tea Party heartthrob Steve King is likely planning to run for Senate.

King has made quite a reputation for himself in the Capitol, including comparing undocumented immigrants to "dogs" and smearing D.C. maintenance workers installing energy-saving light bulbs in government officers as "Stasi troops."

"I would screw them out and send the interns out to get me some of those good Edison light bulbs," he told a cheering crowd at the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference. "And those interns would come back sometimes empty-handed in tears, because they couldn't come up with a regular Edison light-bulb."

"We're concerned about Steve King's Todd Akin problem," 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."

Running money against fellow Republicans is "a delicate and sensitive undertaking," Law said. "Our approach will be to institutionalize the Buckley rule: Support the most conservative candidate who can win."

The cleavage between Tea Party insurgent candidacies and the national Republican establishment is becoming a huge liability to their overall national strategy. Tea Party opposition sunk House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) plan to offer a GOP alternative to the widely-hated fiscal cliff compromise, allowing the president to walk away with a blood-splattered feather in his cap. More recently, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has proposed an immigration reform package that will force Congressional Republicans to fight what appears to be the party's only current success at bipartisan initiatives or face a Tea Party challenger in the next election cycle.

The Tea Party has become almost as major a headache to Republican leadership as the Democratic Party. And the left realizes it: they're gearing up for major initiatives to fund far-right challengers in the hopes of weakening mainstream GOP candidates. In the best-case scenario for Democrats, Tea Party politicians win the primaries outright and get slaughtered in the general election. If the situation gets desperate, Rove's new PAC may be used to fund defenses of previously locked down seats of senior Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Rove claims to be doing this to save the GOP from itself, but a lot of Republicans are going to feel differently. Expect Reagan's famous "11th Commandment," "thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican," to be cited endlessly by Tea Party candidates when nationally directed GOP funding begins flooding into their districts.

The Conservative Victory Fund might be able to save themselves from pointlessly losing a race or two, but that's no victory. The real victor in any of these battles is the Democratic Party. Every single red cent poured into a vicious primary race is a cent that can't be spent against a leftist later.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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