GOP Wars: The Establishment Strikes Back

Concerned about a new crop of candidates with "Todd Akin problems" ruining GOP Senate pick-up opportunities in 2014, a group of elite Republican insiders have formed the Conservative Victory Fund, with the aim of providing support to establishment candidates facing primary challenges from the far-right. Iowa's Steve King, a far-right Congressman with a firebrand reputation -- and a close ally of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) -- is widely expected to run for his state's open Senate seat -- and is thought to soon become Public Enemy No. 1 of the Victory Fund.

Unsurprisingly, the right-wing base hasn't taken well to this news:

"Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, branded it the 'Conservative Defeat Project.'

'The Conservative Defeat Project is yet another example of the Republican establishment's hostility toward its conservative base. Rather than listening to the grassroots and working to advance their principles, the establishment has chosen to declare war on the party's most loyal supporters,' Hoskins said. "If they keep this up, the party will remain in the wilderness for decades to come."


Conservative activists have countered that Washington-approved Republican Senate nominees didn't fare much better in 2012: if ideological standard-bearers like Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock went down in defeat, so did establishment-backed nominees like Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg and North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg.

It is true that Republicans of all varieties lost last year. But candidates in competitive races with an establishment pedigree were universally more successful than their anti-establishment counterparts. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) won by a mere 1 percent margin against Republican Congressman Rick Berg. Center-right former Congresswoman Heather Wilson lost by only 5.6 percent in the deep-blue state of New Mexico. Congressman Denny Rehberg lost to Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) by 4.9 percent. Former Senator Scott Brown lost by a surprisingly wide 7.4 percent margin, but in the deep-blue state of Massachusetts, it still represented the GOP's best showing in decades. All of these are respectable finishes in races that were considered toss-ups.

Contrast with Indiana's Richard Mourdock, who snatched the nomination away from longtime Sen. Dick Lugar and threw away a safe Republican seat in a state that Mitt Romney won by double-digits -- ultimately losing by 5.6 percent, the same margin as Heather Wilson, who ran in hostile territory. More infamously still is Congressman Todd Akin, whose comments about rape led him to a crushing 15-point defeat against Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill -- once considered one of the cycle's most vulnerable incumbents -- also in a state that Mitt Romney carried by double-digits. Like Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Ken Buck in 2010, these two radicals tarnished the GOP's brand, helped to sink other candidates across the country, and distracted conservatives from working together to put forward a coherent, respectable message.

The Senate Conservatives Fund notes that several of their past candidates have, in fact, won. Conservative insurgents who actually made it to the Senate include Marco Rubio (R-FL), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Ted Cruz (R-TX), all of whom were disciplined, professional candidates with elite pedigrees. Those who failed universally had unprofessional reputations marking them as either undisciplined, radical, or -- to put it mildly -- a bit kooky. Christine O'Donnell, in other words, is no Pat Toomey. The Fund's unwillingness to figure out why some of their candidates won and why others lost is proof that winning elections is not their primary goal -- rather, they view it as an ongoing, long-term battle for absolute philosophical purity against a pragmatic establishment for whom abstract ideology is not a paramount concern.

It is for that reason that the Conservative Victory Project should understand that their common-sense logic -- to support the most conservative candidate who can win -- will not sway the Jim DeMints of the world. The Senate Conservatives Fund is not interested in building a Republican majority -- it interested in excommunicating "impure" elements from the party. DeMint once memorably stated that he would rather have a Senate made up of thirty truly conservative Republicans and seventy liberal Democrats than sixty moderate Republicans. He does not merely disregard pragmatism -- he actively rejects it. His is a radical temperament. It therefore must be fought. Organizations like the Conservative Victory Fund indicate that the establishment is done playing ball with these radicals -- and that it is ready to begin the work of reclaiming the GOP from its fringe elements. And not a moment too soon.