After the drubbing Republicans took at the polls, we’ve all expected a Republican freak out. But I didn’t expect it to reach the level of civil war this quickly. But Karl Rove, who presumably is now willing to admit the Mitt Romney lost the election, is raising the stakes already. Rove declared that his SuperPAC, American Crossroads GPS, is going to start inserting itself into Republican primaries to bolster the more “electable” candidate. What happened to not picking winners and losers?
This marks the opening shot in a coming war between the Republican “Establishment” and the Tea Party. After botching potential Senate pickups in Missouri and Indiana, Republican leaders are starting to blame the Tea Party for ousting better Republican candidates in the primaries.
But Rove’s new strategy carries substantial risk. Tea Party candidates are not universally weak, with Tea Party darling Ted Cruz winning his Texas Senate race. Whether or not the Tea Party has broad appeal, they have energized the Republican Party, and have substantial financial backing from the Koch Brothers and others. Jamming a public wedge between the grassroots and the leadership can turn off the Republican base who they rely upon to staff the phones and knock on doors.
This could also undermine American Crossroads itself. Karl Rove is not funding his SuperPAC out of pocket. He raises money from the very donors who actively support the Tea Party. Will they still back Rove now that his stated mission is to defeat their pet candidates?
Historically this sort of philosophical battle would be waged behind the scenes. A public declaration of war places the Tea Party in a defensive position can encourage more candidates to challenge an Establishment that they perceive as “bullying.” Karl Rove has made a rhetorical choice that limits efforts to quell the Tea Party without either side losing face.
But what should terrify the Republican Establishment the most is that these weak Tea Party candidates have cost Republicans in the Senate and Karl Rove has a remarkable track record of helping opposing candidates win.