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When Rove's Crossroads moves sharply to the left

The Republican attack operation has a new message in Arkansas and North Carolina: Democrats are too conservative.
Former White House adviser Karl Rove in Oklahoma City, May 17, 2010.
Former White House adviser Karl Rove in Oklahoma City, May 17, 2010.
Last week, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS operation launched a curious attack in Arkansas, accusing incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D) of being too conservative. This week, as Greg Sargent reported yesterday, Rove's group is at it again, this time in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race.

Now Rove's Crossroads is back with another ad that does pretty much the same thing, this one hitting Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina over Social Security's retirement age. The spot, which is backed by more than $1 million, says Hagan is a "big believer" in a "controversial plan" that "raises the retirement age," while the words "raises Social Security retirement age" flash on the screen. It also claims the plan Hagan supports "increases out-of-pocket Medicare costs." Yes, it appears Rove's Crossroads is attacking Hagan for saying nice things about the Simpson Bowles debt reduction plan, which squeezes seniors by cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits.

In reality, Hagan really did say, "I am a big believer in what Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson did on their fiscal commission." In context, the senator appears to have supported the commission's goals, more so than its specific recommendations, but it's not as if Crossroads simply made up the attack out of whole cloth.
But that doesn't make it any less strange -- Rove's attack operation has basically positioned itself  in this case as aggressive liberals.
The Simpson/Bowles commission fell apart when its Republican members decided the chairmen's deficit-reduction plan was simply too liberal (actual liberals disagreed). Soon after, however, Republicans -- and much of the political media -- excoriated President Obama and congressional Democrats for largely ignoring the plan Simpson and Bowles came up with.
I realize this doesn't make rational sense, but the debate about deficit reduction rarely does.
As time progressed, a sort of Beltway litmus test emerged: Democrats who were sympathetic to Simpson/Bowles were necessarily considered "serious" by David Brooks and Sunday-show bookers. Hagan, no doubt eager to demonstrate her bona fides as a red-state centrist, offered the bipartisan commission some rhetorical support.
And for her trouble, along comes Karl Rove's group, accusing her of ... not being liberal enough.
There are some larger takeaways to this. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is the simple fact that Karl Rove's Republican operation is giving away the ideological game. For all the talk about a center-right nation, and the emerging GOP wave, Crossroads seems to believe the way to win, even in the South, is to run to the left and celebrate social-insurance programs.
Rove's group is effectively admitting, in the form of expensive ad buys, that liberal ideas are popular ideas, and as such, it makes sense for Republicans to attack centrist Democrats from the left -- even in Southern red states.
The second angle to keep in mind is the message Crossroads is sending to other Democrats nationwide: there's just no point in even trying to work out difficult bipartisan deals with Republicans.
If you're a Dem who opposed Simpson/Bowles, Republicans insist you're a reckless monster who hates America's grandchildren. If you're a Dem who supported Simpson/Bowles, Republicans will tell voters you're a callous conservative who hates America's grandparents.
Given this, what possible incentive will Democrats have for even trying to cut painful deals with GOP officials?