by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jonathan S. Tobin‘s latest online contribution for Commentary explores the arguments pitting Karl Rove’s new Conservative Victory Project against existing groups such as Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Rove’s outfit will operate under the premise that the other groups helped the GOP snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by nominating “extreme” candidates in recent U.S. Senate races.
It’s easy to fault Tea Partiers for foisting on the GOP crackpot senatorial candidates like Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle–whose victories over more moderate candidates in Republican primaries cost the party all-but-certain wins in the last two election cycles. More to the point, Akin’s astoundingly stupid remarks about rape and abortion not only led to his defeat but helped sink Richard Mourdock in Indiana and tarnished the brand of the party everywhere. But not every insurgent is a loser, and not every establishment type is likely to win. The party’s problem is not only that it is not always easy to predict who is the better candidate but also that these top-down efforts are band-aids on a broader dilemma that must be addressed. The question is not just who should be running but what does the Republican Party stand for. The Victory Project’s Steven Law defended the initiative as nothing more than an effort to do what William F. Buckley always advocated, to pick the most conservative candidate who can win to face off against Democrats.
If, the group can in some way help prevent people like Akin, O’Donnell or Angle from winning primaries they will be doing the Republicans a service. But there is also good reason to be skeptical about the process by which this determination will be made. If this amounts to an incumbency protection plan it will only infuriate grass roots activists who will rightly resent the effort. It’s also true that sometimes, as was the case with people like Toomey and Rubio, it is not just that the insurgents are more faithful proponents of conservative ideas than their moderate rivals, but that they are also better candidates. Moreover, the prospect of national groups being able to override local sentiment in the name of victory is doubtful, as is the assumption that throwing more money at a race can determine the outcome.