Super size it! I’m not talking about your burger and fries order at your favorite fast food restaurant. The "super size" I’m referring to is the Political Action Committee, commonly known as a Super PAC. During the just-completed 2012 election cycle, there were 304 Super PACs listed as "conservative." Of those, six spent over $10 million; up to $132.1 million was spent supporting GOP presidential and congressional candidates. Additionally, there were 225 Leadership PACs funding candidates and issues. Given the president won both the popular and electoral votes and Congress remained basically unchanged, I don’t believe their efforts can be called successful.
Now the Republican Party is sorting things out, looking for the best way to reshape its image and regain positive political momentum. We saw evidence of this with the deal reached to avoid the fiscal cliff prior to the end of the 112th Congress. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) signaled a shift when he pulled radical Tea Party members from key committees. Both Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) stated last month that the GOP needs to choose its battles carefully. And just this month, the GOP is actively leading strong bipartisan discussions on immigration reform.
Will Super PACs help reestablish the GOP, or will they work to keep the party divided and leaderless? Recent developments do not present a promising outlook. Here's four groups trying, with various degrees of success, to recreate positive momentum in the party:
Karl Rove fired the first salvo in the Super PAC war by refocusing his American Crossroads organization, which spent $104.7 million supporting Mitt Romney. Because of Romney’s loss and the negative publicity heaped on Republican Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Murdock, Rove has initiated the Conservative Victory Project with a focus on providing money and support to conservative candidates that can win. Tea Party Republicans and the religious right are taking this as a direct attack on their candidates.
GOP consultant and CNN Pundit Alex Castellanos followed by forming this Super PAC aimed at presenting Republican conservative principles in a more modern and effective way. While it will not be hostile to Tea Party candidates, as the Conservative Victory Project is perceived, Castellanos calls former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal role models and is focusing the group on providing alternative methods of governance that give voters a reason to vote Republican. According to Castellanos, the driving force behind NewRepublican.org is too much division in the GOP.
The Tea Party Patriots, a leading group in the Tea Party movement with 15 million members, responded by forming the Citizens Fund. The fund will support candidates and issues central to the Tea Party, and states it will not base candidate support on political affiliation but rather on commitment to its ideals.
Finally, former Representative Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) announced this past week that he is forming a Super PAC to directly challenge Karl Rove and the Conservative Victory Project. Walsh, a Tea Party favorite, lost reelection to Democrat Tammy Duckworth. In his announcement, Walsh said this move was necessary to fight efforts to block ultra-conservatives like him from winning primary elections.
It appears that the Super PAC battle lines for 2014 are being drawn. The war starts now, as Congress debates immigration reform, gun control, and the sequester. It won’t take long before we see a winner, or a deepening of the divide within the Republican Party.