Rove’s Move Into Republican Primaries Enrages Tea Party

Leaders of the anti-tax Tea Party are fuming about plans by some Republican strategists, including Karl Rove, to tap the party’s wealthy donors and raise money to help “electable” candidates win primary races.

Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for Conservative Victory Project, said in an e-mail yesterday that Republicans lost some Senate races last year and in 2010 because of “undisciplined candidates running bad campaigns.” The new group “seeks to help elect the most conservative candidates in Republican primaries who can win in general elections.”

Leaders of the Tea Party and other Republican groups that oppose abortion and gay rights responded by calling Texas-based political strategist Rove, a founder of the victory project, a “fake conservative” who had “declared war” on the Tea Party.

The victory project also was attacked as “Orwellian” by Matt Kibbe, the head of the Washington-based FreedomWorks, which identifies itself as a “grassroots” Tea Party booster.

Rove’s group “is created with the sole operating mission of blocking the efforts of fiscally conservative activists across the country,” Kibbe said, according to the FreedomWorks blog.

The exchanges provide the first public glimpse of a power struggle inside the Republican Party in the wake of its November losses, including in the presidential campaign. If neither side backs down, the rift could lead to more costly Republican primary fights, with the nominees forced to quickly recover as they confront Democrats in the general election.

Project Defender

Steven Law, another founding member of the Conservative Victory Project, in an interview with syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham this morning defended the new group as being compatible with the Tea Party, saying it would back a wide range of candidates in Republican primaries.

Ingraham shot back: “Why should you be the arbiter of all things conservative in the primary process?” Law reiterated that his group’s goal is to help the most electable conservative candidates win office.

Tea Party-backed Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana, who lost support while explaining their opposition to allowing rape victims access to abortions, were defeated last year in contests that Republicans once viewed as certain victories. In 2010, Tea Party-supported candidates also stumbled in competitive Senate races in Delaware, Nevada and Colorado.

Iowa Race

Law told The New York Times that the group, which will be organized as a super-political action committee and will disclose its donors and spending, may get involved in the Iowa Senate primary next year. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin is retiring, and one of the first names floated as a candidate to replace him was Iowa Representative Steve King, a Republican and leading Tea Party voice in Congress.

King’s allies in the movement are rallying to protect their newfound ability to sway the outcome of party primaries and promote candidates aligned with their small-government, low-tax philosophies.

“Their idea of the most electable presidential candidate was Mitt Romney, and before him John McCain and before him Bob Dole,” said Brent Bozell, the leader of For America, a social media group that identifies its goals as promoting limited government, a strong national defense and Judeo-Christian values.

“These fake conservatives need to go away before they do more damage,” he said in an e-mail and blog post yesterday, referring to those behind the victory project.

Rove Focus

Rove was a top political strategist for President George W. Bush, and Bozell and others have argued that the Republican Party has suffered from its propensity to back “moderate” candidates such as Bush.

One by one, Tea Party groups released statements yesterday condemning the victory project and singling out Rove, 62, for criticism.

The Tea Party Express, a political action committee based in California, said in a statement that Rove is making a “big mistake” that won’t lead to victories in 2014.

Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots Inc., based in Georgia, issued a statement calling Rove part of “the consultant class” that “has been on the wrong side of history.”

Martin said it is “time for conservatives to wake up and stop funding their sabotage of conservatism.”, a social media group that aggregates information about the anti-tax movement, posted a headline on its blog: “Rove Declares War on Tea Party.”

‘Crush Conservatives’

Erick Erickson, editor of the website, wrote yesterday that Rove’s venture would “crush conservatives, destroy the Tea Party, and put a bunch of squishes in Republican leadership positions.”

Even developer Donald Trump fired at Rove from his Twitter account: “If Karl Rove & @GOP Establishment continue to attack the Tea Party, who delivered in 2010, then there will be a 3rd Party in 2016.”

Rove helped build American Crossroads, a super-political action committee, and its companion nonprofit, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, into the biggest-spending outside group of the 2012 federal elections. The two groups invested more than $175 million in last year’s elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks campaign finance.

The Crossroads groups spent more than $127 million on 82,000 television spots to help Romney in his unsuccessful bid to topple President Barack Obama, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, an ad tracker based in New York. In Senate races, 10 of the 12 candidates they supported were defeated and four of the nine House candidates they backed lost their races.

(Updates with Law remarks under sub-headline Project Defender.)
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