Remember that intra-GOP war pitting Karl Rove and his establishment Republican allies against the Tea Party? It’s not showing any signs of abating. In fact, these days the party often seems more focused on its own infighting than on opposing President Obama and the Democrats.
The battle was joined earlier this month, when Karl Rove and friends launched a major new initiative to help recruit establishment Republicans, as well as defend Senate incumbents against challenges from more conservative candidates. The response from Tea Partiers was outraged. Rove’s goal, wrote RedState’s Erick Erickson in a typical example, was to “crush conservatives,” and “destroy the Tea Party.”
Now, that response is starting to go beyond rhetoric. On Monday, a veteran conservative activist announced a $10,000 prize to be awarded to the author of the best plan to help grassroots conservatives “take over the Republican Party.”
The activist, Richard Viguerie, left no doubt that the contest was a direct response to Rove’s new organization. “With big government establishment Republicans, led by Karl Rove, launching a multi-million dollar PAC to control Republican Primary elections,” Viguerie wrote on his website, “conservatives must have a well-organized and well-thought-out plan to take control of the GOP from the grassroots up.”
Viguerie, who has close ties to the Tea Party, is renowned as the pioneer of conservative direct mail, a tactic that played a major role in the success of the grassroots conservative movement over the last 50 years—and a world where Rove, ironically, got his start.
It’s not just Viguerie who’s gearing up to stop Rove et al. The Tea Party Patriots, a well-funded national umbrella organization for local Tea Party groups, recently announced a new political action committee to support conservative candidates.
"We formed this brand new PAC to help Tea Party candidates challenge entrenched big-government Republicans for the nomination,” Tea Party Patriots chair Jenny Beth Martin wrote last week in a fundraising email to supporters, obtained by msnbc.com. “But, in light of recent events,”—an apparent reference to Rove’s new group—“we need to also be ready to defend our conservative incumbents as well.”
And Tuesday morning, Tea Party Patriots raised the volume on the fight by sending out a fundraising pitch that included a photoshopped image of Rove in the uniform of the SS, the elite Nazi paramilitary organization. The group told Politico that the photo was "a mistake which was never approved by TPP.”
And the fight looks to be having an impact on Capitol Hill, too. As Redstate’s Erickson explained in a blog post Tuesday morning, Rove’s new group, the Conservative Victory Project, is officially led by a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell became a bête noir of Tea Party types like Erickson, after he stepped in to help avert the fiscal cliff at the end of last year, in what the right saw as a betrayal of conservative principles. (Erickson dubbed the deal “the McConnell Tax Hike.”)
Erickson calls the Conservative Victory Project “nothing more than Mitch McConnell’s Super PAC,” and accuses the Minority Leader of recruiting Sen. Ted Cruz, a Tea Party favorite, to serve on the GOP’s Senate campaign committee in order to co-opt him, and to falsely provide candidates endorsed by the committee—and by Rove’s group, which likely will back the same candidates—with some Tea Party cred. But because Cruz hasn’t moderated his outspoken style as McConnell and co. may have hoped, Erickson charges, they’ve been subtly trashing the Texas senator to reporters.
If that’s too deep in the weeds for you, here’s the larger point: The Establishment-TeaParty rift is making itself felt at the highest levels of the GOP’s congressional leadership.
All this rancor comes at a time when conservative thinkers and GOP strategists are engaged in a heated debate over whether the party can revive its fortunes simply by tweaking its communications tactics and improving its use of technology, or whether some of its fundamental premises need to be rethought, or at least adapted to an increasingly racially diverse, culturally liberal country.