Via-NY DAILY NEWS
The Republican establishment must give way to new leadership
Republicans were sent to the woodshed in 2012. And when you’re sent to the woodshed, you sit there quietly and think about what you’ve done
But somehow, Karl Rove doesn’t think he played a part in all that. Despite more than $170 million spent through his American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS super PACs, and nearly nothing to show for it, Rove believes the simple solution is to slap a new label on his outfit and go rake in some more dough.
“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,” reported The New York Times over the weekend.
But there are plenty of Republican donors who are furious at Crossroads for wasting their money and aren’t going to be fooled by Rove’s rebranding strategy — or his promises that he will get better results the next time around.
I talked to one Republican operative in Washington who put it this way: “These guys took millions of dollars from big donors last year and lined their pockets. The new money will benefit all the same staff, pollsters, admen and vendors. It’s throwing good money after bad.”
Frustrated donors are looking for new places to put their money, and they’ll have no shortage of grassroots organizations to consider.
As my colleague Steve Kornacki wrote in Salon, “Given their demonstrated ability to rile up the conservative grassroots and deliver serious financial boosts to their preferred candidates, they probably have the means to fight Rove’s new effort.”
But the problem with Rove’s easy solution — which is reliant on new candidates, not new ideas — isn’t just that it’s blithely unaware of its own past shortcomings, or that it will likely rely on the same old-guard apparatus that felled conservatives in 2012. It’s that its stated mission is startlingly defeatist.
Crossroads President Steven Law offered this obtuse description of the new group’s objectives: “We want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win.”
First, this begs the obvious question: What was the strategy before, if not to pick conservative candidates who can win?
But worse, the implied desire to root out Tea Party candidates in favor of establishment and moderate choices is an entirely wrong approach that will cannibalize the party.
As 2010 proved, Tea Party candidates can win, and they can win big. That’s because the principles of the Tea Party — limited government, cutting spending and balancing the budget — are principles that are popular with most Americans.
If Tea Party public relations have suffered some since then because of a few truly terrible candidates like Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, that doesn’t mean it’s time to throw out the baby with the bathwater and ignore the successes of others like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tim Scott and Nikki Haley.
Maybe they didn’t wear tricorn hats at John Galt rallies, but these are all Republicans who were elected on Tea Party promises of small-government solutions and fiscal responsibility, ideas that can still win elections.
But if 2012 proved anything, it’s that Fox News doesn’t have enough viewers to deliver Republican victories, and if it does, they sure weren’t motivated to turn out this year. Cutting the party down the middle and reverse-purity-testing conservatives to weed out those who are most stridently principled will shrink an already vulnerable base.
Rove’s project is already having that undesired effect.
Club for Growth spokesman Barney Kelly told Politico that Rove is “welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst. We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.”
This isn’t healthy for the Republican Party. We need an all-of-the-above approach that identifies good messaging to sell all kinds of conservatives to voters. That includes libertarians, moderates, fiscal hawks and social conservatives.
We shouldn’t be judging conservatives on a horizontal sliding scale of conservativeness. Candidates should meet a broad array of criteria on a vertical scale of effectiveness, answering questions like: Are they skilled communicators? Do they have good ideas? What’s their record? Do they serve the interests of their district or state? And, finally, can they win?
It’s the last question on which Rove clearly intends to fixate. It’s an important one, but not at the expense of the others, which, had they been asked in earnest, may have weeded out more than one failed Republican candidate in the last two elections.
Rove is a smart guy — but like many establishment Republicans working the 2012 presidential election, he may be unable to see the reality of the road ahead. Why should we trust him to pick the winners and losers again?