Over the weekend, this article in the New York Times stirred up a hornet’s nest among some of the conservatives I’m in touch with:
The biggest donors in the Republican Party are financing a new group to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party’s efforts to win control of the Senate.
The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races.
“There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected,” said Steven J. Law, the president of American Crossroads, the “super PAC” creating the new project. “We don’t view ourselves as being in the incumbent protection business, but we want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win.”
Erick Erickson is among those fuming: “The people who brought us No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, TARP, the GM bailout, Harriet Miers, etc., etc., etc. are really hacked off that people have been rejecting them… I dare say any candidate who gets this group’s support should be targeted for destruction by the conservative movement.”
Keep in mind, American Crossroads is coming off a deeply disappointing cycle: The two related groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the 501(c)(4) “social welfare” group, spent a combined $170 million in 2012. The Center for Responsive Politics summarizes:
Including Obama and Romney, American Crossroads spent money for or against 20 federal candidates in 14 races, while Crossroads GPS focused on 27 in 24 contests.By our calculations, American Crossroads came out on the winning side in three of its 14 races, with one still too close to call — that’s about 21 percent. GPS did only slightly better, getting its desired outcome in just seven of the 24 elections it spent on; one contest also remains undecided. GPS’ success rate comes to 29 percent.
So, having failed to achieve what they wanted to do in 2012, American Crossroads has to go back to its donor base with a revised mission, one that donors will want to support. And their mission is, in short, “no more Todd Akins.”
Of course, the formation of this group – and the Times’ decision to feature it on page A1 of the Sunday edition — re-opens the old wound of whether one branch of the party is to blame for the 2012 results. As I’ve written before, this is not merely a moot or pointless debate but one that warps the perception of what happened last cycle, as candidates from every branch of the party failed.
Tea Party enthusiasts have to come to grips with Richard Mourdock losing a winnable Senate race in Indiana, Allen West losing in Florida, and Mia Love losing a winnable House race in Utah. But it not just Tea Party stalwarts who lost. Linda McMahon’s attempt to persuade Connecticut voters she was really an “independent” candidate didn’t work, and Scott Brown, perhaps the least conservative Republican in the Senate, lost to Elizabeth Warren, a flawed candidate in Massachusetts. The least conservative Republican in the House, Illinois’ Bob Dold, also lost.
Anyway, rehashing the establishment-vs-the-grassroots fight is premature until we see the lineups for the various 2014 Senate races.
The only race that is really discussed in the Times article is Iowa’s open seat Senate race, with those behind the self-proclaimed “Conservative Victory Project” expressing skepticism about Rep. Steve King.
Now, King strikes me as a tough sell statewide. (Katrina Trinko looks at his interest in the Senate seat here.) Then again, he did just beat Christie Vilsack, the wife of the former Iowa governor and current Secretary of Agriculture, in a year when Obama was winning the state pretty handily. So the entire debate is premature until we know:
Maybe the 2014 races will be marked by gaffe-prone, predictable-liability self-proclaimed Tea Party candidates wrecking winnable races. Considering how the Democrats and the mainstream media turned Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock into national figures, it’s a phenomenon worth keeping an eye on and being ready to combat.
But for now, we have a Super-PAC project forming to fight a problem that hasn’t manifested itself, and people fuming about the formation of a group that hasn’t done anything yet.