In 2010 and 2012, Democrats successfully defended their Senate majority, but they had a little help from far-right primary voters. In races in Delaware, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, and elsewhere, more electable Republican candidates likely would have won, but they never made it to the general election – the GOP base instead backed fringe candidates who lost.
In February 2013, just a few months after Democrats enjoyed another strong cycle, Karl Rove announced he had a plan to prevent future fiascos: the Conservative Victory Project would help ensure more competitive Republican candidates stopped losing to extremists.
Whatever happened to the project? A year later, Ben Dimiero discovered that Rove’s hyped solution barely exists.
After debuting in 2013 to major media coverage and virulent opposition from conservative activists, Karl Rove’s Conservative Victory Project political group is seemingly defunct. According to FEC filings, as of March 31, the group has $667 cash on hand after taking in only $2,214 in the first quarter of 2014.Rove’s Conservative Victory Project was announced in a 2013 New York Times article, which explained that the Fox News contributor and former Bush administration official was joining forces with “the biggest donors in the Republican Party” to create a group which would “recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts.” The Times reported that the “project is being waged with last year’s Senate contests in mind, particularly the one in Missouri, where Representative Todd Akin’s comment that ‘legitimate rape’ rarely causes pregnancy rippled through races across the country.”
As the time, many conservatives were apoplectic, fearful that the Republican establishment was poised to respond to 2012 defeats by moving closer to the mainstream, using vehicles like the Conservative Victory Project to crush far-right candidates in GOP primaries. With primary season already upon us, it appears groups like Club for Growth didn’t have too much to worry about after all.
But let’s not lose sight of the larger circumstances: Rove’s project appears to have flopped in large part because it’s not needed. The Conservative Victory Project lost, insofar as it’s a non-entity in electoral politics, but in practical terms, it also won – the problem it sought to address isn’t seriously plaguing the party in 2014.
Two years ago, for example, Sen. Dick Lugar (R) was a lock for re-election, right up until he lost a primary to Richard Mourdock, who proved to be too extreme for Indiana. Party insiders agreed debacles like these couldn’t keep happening.
But at this point, they’re not. While it looked for a while like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) might face a credible challenge in South Carolina, he now appears to be cruising past his primary opponents. Matt Bevin initially seemed like he might give Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) a run for his money in Kentucky, but Bevin has struggled badly to gain traction. Sen. Pat Roberts (R) seemed mildly vulnerable in Kansas, but his primary challenger is going nowhere fast.
Perhaps the most competitive Senate GOP primary this year is in Mississippi, but even here, party leaders aren’t too concerned – incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R) is still the favorite, and in the unlikely event he loses, Republicans still don’t see Democrats winning the seat.
In other words, the dynamic that prevented greater Republican gains in the two previous cycles doesn’t appear to be repeating itself. Talk of “Tea Party challenges” doesn’t even seem to come up in conversation much anymore.
There’s more than one explanation for this – with no credible Tea Party “movement” recruiting candidates, for example, the competitive races just aren’t taking shape – but I think the most compelling is the fact that Republican incumbents are already so far to the right, there’s not much for the GOP base to complain about.